Super Bowl XLVIII: Projecting Winners & Losers for Every Key Matchup
Pitting the Denver Broncos' No. 1 offense against the Seattle Seahawks' No. 1 defense, Super Bowl XLVIII is absolutely loaded with excellent one-on-one matchups.
From the perimeter battle of DeMaryius Thomas and Richard Sherman to the trench warfare that'll go on between Terrance Knighton and J.R. Sweezy, these top seeds will pit star against star all over the field.
Remember, they say the game of football comes down to the one-on-ones.
Let's run through some of the game's biggest matchups and decide a "winner" for each.
Shaun Phillips vs. Breno Giacomini
Without Von Miller zooming around the edge, Shaun Phillips has been a pass-rushing savior for the Denver Broncos during their journey to the Super Bowl.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the former San Diego Charger has registered two sacks and two quarterback hits on 60 pass-rush attempts during the postseason.
While those numbers don't tell a story of extreme efficiency, without Phillips, the Broncos wouldn't have any semblance of an outside rush.
Seattle Seahawks right tackle Breno Giacomini isn't a stalwart on the edge, but he's a much better pass-blocker than he is a run-blocker.
During the regular season, he allowed four sacks, one hit and 19 pressures on Russell Wilson on a mere 285 pass-blocking snaps, but he's been steadier during the playoffs, as he's yet to surrender a quarterback takedown.
Neither Phillips nor Giacomini has been tremendous of late, but the size and speed combination of the Broncos defensive lineman will lead to him getting the best of this matchup.
Winner: Shaun Phillips
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie vs. Golden Tate
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has become the youngest, most spry and reliable cornerback in the Broncos secondary, and he'll likely match up with Seahawks pesky wideout Golden Tate for most of Super Bowl XLVIII.
After he set career highs with 64 receptions and 898 yards during the 2013 regular season, the former Notre Dame standout has only made five catches for 44 yards in two playoff games for Seattle.
Rodgers-Cromartie was PFF's No. 5-rated cornerback during the regular season and earned a plus-1.2 grade for his performance in the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots.
The 5'10'' Tate is an underrated wideout, but at 6'2'', Rodgers-Cromartie will pose a difficult matchup, due to his size, sound technique and general athleticism.
Winner: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Brandon Mebane vs. Louis Vasquez
Brandon Mebane is a 6'1'', 309-pound line of scrimmage disruptor and quietly was one of the more dominant players on the Seahawks defense in 2013.
He remarkably finished third in PFF's defensive tackle rankings during the regular season—behind only Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy—despite not registering a single sack.
On 540 total snaps, the California product registered six quarterback hits and 26 hurries. However, during the playoffs, he's cooled off.
Louis Vasquez, a 2013 All Pro, was PFF's No. 3-ranked guard during the regular season and has maintained his steady play with the highest pass-blocking grade of any guard during the playoffs.
While Mebane's non-stop motor and low center of gravity will make him a factor in this game, Vasquez has been on a roll this season, and that'll continue in the Super Bowl.
Advantage: Louis Vasquez
Terrance Knighton vs. J.R. Sweezy
Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton has been an underrated force for the Denver Broncos in 2013. During the regular season, PFF ranked him as a top-10 defensive tackle, and he's graded as the top player at his position during the playoffs.
At 6'3'' and nearly 320 pounds, Knighton moves exceptionally well, and he'll be an absolute handful for Seattle right guard J.R. Sweezy, who's been consistently inconsistent this season.
Fortunately for the Seahawks, the 2012 seventh-round pick is coming off his finest game of the year against the menacing San Francisco 49ers defensive line in the NFC Championship Game—he earned a plus-3.2 grade from PFF.
Seattle's offensive line has largely been a disappointment this year, but one can expect Pete Carroll's club to focus on stopping interior pressure from Knighton.
While the defensive tackle may penetrate from time to time, Sweezy—with the help of center Max Unger—should win this matchup.
Winner: J.R. Sweezy
Orlando Franklin vs. Cliff Avril
Seattle's Cliff Avril has one of the most explosive first steps in the NFL at the pass-rushing position, and Denver's Orlando Franklin is a mountain of a man at 6'5'' and around 320 pounds.
The latter has been given the highest overall grade at the tackle spot by PFF during the postseason, but Avril simply isn't a good matchup for him.
Especially because he'll typically be rushing right next to the 6'5'', 330-pound Red Bryant, Avril will be put in a position to succeed flying off the edge.
Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, teammate Michael Bennett, Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn were the only 4-3 defensive ends who graded out as more efficient pass-rushers than Avril during the regular season, and he's registered two sacks, one hit and five hurries on a mere 44 pass-rush snaps during the playoffs.
This matchup could play a major role in the outcome of Super Bowl XLVIII, and the Seattle defensive end should have the upper hand.
Winner: Cliff Avril
Julius Thomas vs. Kam Chancellor
It's unlikely that Seattle safety Kam Chancellor will be the only defender to cover Denver's matchup-nightmare tight end Julius Thomas during the Super Bowl, but at 6'3'' and 232 pounds with decent speed, he's probably the best guy for the job purely from a physical perspective.
Thomas has caught 14 passes on a robust 18 targets for 161 yards during the playoffs, and with Richard Sherman likely covering DeMaryius Thomas out wide, expect the Broncos to prominently feature the 6'5'', 250-pound tight end.
Chancellor was a middle-of-the-pack cover safety during the regular season according to PFF, and he hasn't been much stingier in the postseason.
While Chancellor may get help underneath from Seahawks linebackers, Thomas will simply be too much for the safety to handle over the middle—he's made at least three catches in every game he's played in this year.
Winner: Julius Thomas
Knowshon Moreno vs. Bobby Wagner
This isn't necessarily a one-on-one matchup, but when the Broncos offensive line opens holes for running back Knowshon Moreno, Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner will be waiting at the second level.
A fluid cover man and blitzer, the weakest part of Wagner's game is his ability in run support. Out of 55 qualifying inside linebackers, he ranked 27th as a run defender during the 2013 campaign, per PFF.
However, Moreno only forced 21 missed tackles as a runner on 241 carries during the regular season and has been the "least elusive" back in the playoffs according to PFF.
On the rare occasions in which he gets beyond Seattle's defensive line, Moreno will encounter one of the game's rangiest and underrated linebackers in the hole, a guy who's missed only two tackles on 61 run-stopping snaps in the postseason (via PFF).
Winner: Bobby Wagner
Marshawn Lynch vs. Danny Trevathan
Marshawn Lynch is probably the most eccentric running back in the NFL, and he's also one of the most devastating and difficult to bring down.
During the postseason, Lynch has forced 20 missed tackles, 12 more than second-place running back Mark Ingram of the New Orleans Saints who forced eight in his two games.
Danny Trevathan is easily the quickest linebacker on Denver's defense, and one of his main responsibilities will be to stop Lynch at the second level before he can gather enough steam to break one of his long, destructive runs.
Trevathan has yet to miss a tackles on 36 run snaps in the playoffs, but it's hard to envision the youthful linebacker winning a one-on-one matchup with Lynch in the open field. Then again, he'll likely get some help from Wesley Woodyard and Co.
Winner: Marshawn Lynch
Chris Clark vs. Chris Clemons
Chris Clemons hasn't been the same player in 2013 as he was in 2012 after he suffered a knee-ligament tear during last year's playoffs, and that's not surprising.
Per PFF, in 58 pass-rushing snaps during the postseason, he hasn't registered a sack or hit on the quarterback and has only mustered four pressures.
While Chris Clark was an admirable stand-in at the left tackle position after All Pro Ryan Clady went down, he's regressed during the playoffs, especially from a pass-blocking angle.
This isn't the classic monumental right defensive end vs. left tackle matchup, but expect Peyton Manning to get the ball out quickly, thereby negating Clemons and helping Clark for most of the game.
Winner: Chris Clark
Richard Sherman vs. DeMaryius Thomas
Saved the best for last.
Richard Sherman has cemented himself as the finest cornerback in the NFL—and he's certainly not timid about letting everyone knows how he feels about his game.
He's physical, long and exceptionally intelligent and has tremendous ball skills.
Because Sherman primarily lines up as Seattle's left cornerback and Thomas takes about half of his snaps as Denver's right wideout—according to PFF he's been the RWR for the Broncos since Week 14's win over the Tennessee Titans—the two stars will likely be matched up for a good portion of Super Bowl XLVIII.
Thomas may not be the most polished route-runner, but he's better than advertised in that area and is an incredible yards-after-the-catch wideout at 6'3'' and 230 pounds.
While he'll likely be featured on a variety of bubble screens and down the seam, Sherman's been glued to receivers' pockets all season, so expect that to continue on Sunday.
Winner: Richard Sherman