The Super Bowl in 2014 pits the Seattle Seahawks against the Denver Broncos, and both teams cruised through the regular season with top seeds.
Denver features Peyton Manning and the top-ranked offense in the league, but offensive production could still be extraordinarily difficult to come by. The reason for this is Seattle's league-leading scoring defense (14.4 points allowed per game) and passing defense (172 passing yards allowed per game).
Making matters worse (potentially) for offensive production, the weather could turn the game even more into a defensive slugfest. According to Weather.com, temperatures will be anywhere from the low 40s to the high 20s, with cloud cover throughout the day and a 20 percent chance of precipitation.
With these factors in mind, it's difficult to predict how the game will unfold. That said, it's always a fun exercise to make an attempt.
When: Sunday, Feb. 2, at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Live Stream: FoxSports.com
Betting Info (via Bovada)
Spread: Broncos (-3)
Money Line: Seattle (+115), Denver (-135)
Predicting Top Performers
Passing Leader: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
Russell Wilson is a promising young signal-caller, but he's nowhere in Peyton Manning's league right now—if ever.
And as good as Seattle's secondary is—or the entire defense, for that matter—there isn't anything Richard Sherman and the "Legion of Boom" can present on the gridiron that Manning hasn't already seen 1,000 times before.
That doesn't mean he'll have a huge game, though.
After throwing 55 touchdowns in 16 regular-season games, Manning has thrown just four in two playoff games. Furthermore, the Broncos averaged just 25 points per game in those contests after scoring nearly 38 points every week to lead the league prior to the postseason.
Already, against two defenses that can't compare to Seattle's, we've seen a downturn in production, and Manning knows the upcoming challenge will be his toughest to date.
"Their ability to play together as a unit jumps out at you," Manning said, via Bob Ehalt of The Denver Post. "They communicate so well. They're on the same page. You don't see anyone who is out of position and they combine that with great talent. That's what makes them so tough to face."
Projected Stats: 310 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions.
Rushing Leader: Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Of all the offensive weapons for both teams coming into the Super Bowl, Marshawn Lynch is on the biggest roll.
After rushing for 1,257 yards and 12 touchdowns during the regular season, Lynch has picked up his game to another level this postseason. He eclipsed 100 yards in both playoff games, totaling 249 yards rushing with three touchdowns.
While Denver's Knowshon Moreno has been extremely productive all year long, he's only cracked 100 yards once all year long. During the playoffs, Moreno has rushed for just 141 yards and one touchdown, operating as a secondary option in Denver's pass-first offense.
Broncos fans will surely point to their team's stellar showing against the run in the playoffs (129 yards and one touchdown allowed in two games), but neither the Chargers nor the Patriots had Lynch in their backfields.
He's been unstoppable all year long, and he'll undoubtedly go "Beast Mode" on Denver's defense a few times.
Projected Stats: 125 rushing yards, two touchdowns.
Receiving Leader: Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos
It's Eric Decker's time to shine. The receiver posted career bests in catches (87) and yards (1,288) this past season, and Vic Lombardi of CBS 4 in Denver has seen him get better every week:
Has anybody shown more improvement than Eric Decker this season? Better every week.— Vic Lombardi (@VicLombardi) December 22, 2013
Julius Thomas is likely going to be bottled up in similar fashion to Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis, who totaled three receptions for 24 yards in the first two postseason games against Seattle. The same can be said for Demaryius Thomas, who'll likely be matched up against Richard Sherman all game long.
Sherman hasn't allowed more than three catches to any receiver the past two years except once, as pointed out by Pro Football Focus:
In the last 2 seasons Richard Sherman has allowed a single receiver more than 3 catches in a game just once...Titus Young! (5)— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 24, 2014
With Manning's two top targets potentially bottled up, it'll be Decker's chance to emerge as the go-to receiver down the field for the Broncos. Wes Welker will do work underneath, but he's not going to bust out a 100-yard game—a feat he hasn't accomplished once this season.
It's always possible that one of Seattle's receivers ends up with the top receiving numbers in the game, but that'll be a huge shock. It's far more likely that Decker will come through with a big performance for the Broncos.
Projected Stats: Six catches, 120 yards, one touchdown.
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