If there’s one thing about Super Bowl XLVIII that every person in America is likely to know, it’s that the occasion calls for snow.
10-Day Forecast Says 30 Percent Chance Of Snow On Super Bowl Sunday http://t.co/4EKUZQpFep— CBS New York (@CBSNewYork) January 24, 2014
As such, fans should see a heavy dose of handoffs, which gives Denver the edge more than you might think.
The Super Bowl is all about matchups. With adverse conditions likely to grace the biggest game of the year, the battles in the trenches will be more than just an undercard to Peyton Manning vs. Russell Wilson or the Legion of Boom vs. Denver’s receiving corps.
Irv Moss of the Denver Post put it best:
The numbers tell the story. Fifty-five touchdown passes and 5,477 yards passing by Manning, 606 points scored as a team, all NFL records for a season. The work of Denver's offensive line made it all possible.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Seattle is the better running team. Led by would-be Pro Bowlers Marshawn Lynch and Wilson, Seattle racked up 2,188 rushing yards during the season—fourth best in the NFL—and 289 yards in two playoff games. They also ran the ball more than every team except for Buffalo.
The pass-happy Broncos were not far behind, compiling 1,873 yards in the regular season and 240 yards in their two playoff games. Knowshon Moreno isn’t exactly a beast or a regular on the highlight reel, but had a career year in 2013 with 1,038 rushing yards, 60 receptions and 13 total touchdowns.
On the offensive side, the two lines played relatively evenly this season. Using Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards as a measuring stick they are neck and neck with Denver’s 4.06 just ahead of Seattle’s 4.05.
The difference, somewhat surprisingly, is in the short game. Denver’s power success—third or fourth down runs with two or less yards to go that result in a first down or touchdown (and all goal-to-go plays from inside the two)—came in at 64 percent, the league average. Seattle converted such plays 49 percent of the time, or less than every NFL team.
Seattle runners were stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage by a defender on 19 percent of running plays, 15th in the NFL, while Denver’s 16 percent was third lowest.
Even though Lynch should be picked over Moreno as the back you want in almost any situation that doesn’t involve catching passes, Denver’s offensive line gets the nod when it comes to game-deciding short yardage situations.
Manning’s passing efficiency certainly explains some of the offensive line’s run blocking success. But All-Pro right guard Louis Vasquez and Pro Bowl-alternate center Manny Ramirez played well above expectations.
The same goes for the air.
Despite losing Pro Bowl tackle Ryan Clady for the year, the Broncos front five surrendered just 18 sacks and 42 quarterback hits. Per Advanced NFL Stats, they also own the best Win Probability Added.
This tweet from SB Nation Seattle writer Jacson Bevens sums it up nicely:
Per Football Outsiders, Denver's O-line is #1 in Adj. Sack Rate. Seattle is #32. This entire freaking game is a study in massive contrasts.— Jacson Bevens (@JacsonBevens) January 27, 2014
Pro Football Focus ranked Seattle’s offensive line 26th at the end of the season, citing poor play from Paul McQuistan and Max Unger. Denver’s made the top grade.
Expect backs on both sides to find big holes on a snowy, slippery field, and don’t be surprised if Lynch ends up with the highest rushing total on the day.
But look for Denver’s lethal screen game and zone blocking to help control the ball and give Manning the space he needs to work his magic for a second Lombardi trophy.