Super Bowl XLVIII: The Ultimate Guide to Sunday's Big Game

Ty Schalter@tyschalterNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 31, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII: The Ultimate Guide to Sunday's Big Game

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    You don't have a hotel room in New Jersey.

    You don't have a ticket.

    You aren't going to Super Bowl XLVIII—but you do have a program.

    You're reading Bleacher Report's Ultimate Guide to the Super Bowl, which has everything you want to know (and everything you didn't know you needed to know) about the big game on Sunday, February 2nd.

    Just like the thousands of attendees who'll spend way too much money on slick, glossy booklets, you'll have plenty of information at your fingertips—but you'll have even more than they will.

    Those fancy collectible programs won't have up-to-date injury analysis from Bleacher Report's Sports Injuries Lead Writer Will Carroll, in-depth film breakdown from National NFL Lead Writer Matt Bowen or prop bet advice from Fantasy Football lead writer Eric Mack. 

    The official programs won't have our experts' consensus opinions, projections or predictions, or any of our many amazing features on the players, coaches, units, matchups or storylines.

    So settle in at home and enjoy your free parking, climate-controlled seating, perfect view and reasonably priced food and drink while reading your complimentary copy of the Ultimate Guide to Super Bowl XLVIII.

What, Where, When: The Crucial Info

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    You can't watch the game if you don't know when it is, or what channel it's on.

    You don't want to invite everyone over for a Super Bowl party, only to frantically mash remote buttons with one hand and Google "super bowl what channel" on your phone with the other while opera singer Renee Fleming belts the Star-Spangled Banner.

    Never fear, our Ultimate Guide has all the crucial info right here.

    What: Super Bowl XLVIII

    Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

    When: Sunday, February 2nd, 6:25 p.m. ET

    Who: Seattle Seahawks vs. Denver Broncos 

    Which Channel: FOX; live pre-game begins at 2:00 p.m. ET in New York City, continues at 4:00 p.m. in East Rutherford, New Jersey

Meet the Teams: The Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    This season's Super Bowl is not only the "Big Game," it's actually a big game: It's only the second Super Bowl matchup between each conference's No. 1 seed since 1993. It's a meeting of one of the best defenses in recent memory and one of the most prolific offenses of all time. By almost any metric, it's a true meeting of the two best teams in football.

    Featured Columnist Keith Myers has your complete introduction to the Seahawks roster, with a breakdown of every contributor in each Seahawks position group.

    Myers gave you not just a thorough picture of all the superstar pass-rushers and defensive backs that make up the "Legion of Boom," but relative unknowns like defensive tackle Brandon Mebane that hold the unit together.

    Myers also, of course, broke down young quarterback Russell Wilson and the rest of the Seahawks offense. No slouch themselves, the Seahawks were the eighth-ranked scoring offense in the NFL this season, outscoring their opponents by an average of 11.6 points per game.

    The Seahawks had home-field advantage in the playoffs (and, with the Guinness-certified loudest fans on Earth, that was a huge advantage), but their road to the Super Bowl was anything but a primrose path.

    NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland broke down exactly how the Seahawks got to the Super Bowl, despite calling the NFL's toughest division home.

    On the other side of the field, of course, will be the Denver Broncos. Though quarterback Peyton Manning just might be the NFL's most familiar face, the second-highest per-game scoring offense of all time relies heavily on less-famous guys like wide receiver Eric Decker and guard Louis Vasquez.

    Featured Columnist Cecil Lammey wrote up a full strengths-and-weaknesses analysis of the Broncos roster, including not just everyone who contributes to that historic offense, but everyone who'll have a hand in slowing down the Seahawks come Super Bowl Sunday.

    2013 marked the second consecutive season the Broncos went 13-3 and earned the AFC's top seed, but in 2012, Manning and the Broncos were housed by the upstart Baltimore Ravens in their only playoff game.

    Christopher Hansen, AFC West Lead Writer, told the story of how the Broncos spent a year getting right back to where they were—then, emphatically, taking the next two steps to the Super Bowl.

Expert Consensus Thoughts

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    Super Bowl XLVIII is saturated with storylines: Offense against defense, talented youth versus skilled experience, an all-time great looking to define his legacy and young upstarts looking to prove themselves on the game's biggest stage.

    A quiet, conservative coach who overcame life-saving heart surgery in the middle of the season will face an aggressive, media- and player-friendly skipper who was a two-time flop in the NFL before finding wild success in college.

    There are an incredible amount of stories to tell in this game; it's impossible to reduce the game to just one crucial narrative. From the biggest (Peyton Manning could be the first quarterback to lead two different teams to Super Bowl wins) to the smallest (Trindon Holliday's knack for return touchdowns), all of them could have a massive effect on the final outcome.

    Yet, National NFL Lead Writers Matt Bowen, Michael Schottey, Matt Miller and I joined NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon, AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen and NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland in doing just that: breaking down one critical angle of Super Bowl XLVIII.

Leadership Head-to-Head: Coaches, Quarterbacks and Executives

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Quarterbacks get too much credit when their teams win, and too much blame when their team loses. Head coaches are much the same. Executives seem to be the last to get credit or blame, removed as they are from the public eye.

    Make no mistake: This Super Bowl is about leadership, from the executive level on down. Neither of these teams are flukes or one-year wonders; they've been carefully crafted to be perennially successful.

    In Denver, Broncos vice president of football operations John Elway is the architect. As NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman wrote, Elway can pull off an unprecedented feat in NFL history: win two rings and a Super Bowl MVP as a starting quarterback, then lead the same team back to the mountaintop as chief football executive.

    It's Elway who swooped to hire John Fox as head coach when Fox's relationship with Carolina Panthers ownership soured, and Elway who boldly signed Manning to a five-year contract when nobody was sure if he could throw a football.

    At the press conference announcing the signing, according to Eddie Pells of the Associated Press (via The Florida Times Union), Elway was asked if he had a Plan B lined up in case Manning wasn't Manning anymore.

    “Plan B?” he said. “I don’t have a Plan B. We’re going with Plan A.”

    Good plan.

    In Seattle, head coach Pete Carroll was hired to be the top-down orchestrator of the entire Seahawks organization. He picked his own general manager, former Green Bay Packers director of football operations John Schneider.

    As NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland wrote, the two have collaborated beautifully on player evaluation and acquisition, unearthing gems late in the draft and making splashy-but-prudent moves in free agency—not to mention, assembling one of the best assistant staffs in the NFL.

    The centerpieces of the Seahawks offense and defense, quarterback Russell Wilson and cornerback Richard Sherman, were third- and fifth-round picks, respectively. What's more, Carroll had the confidence to chuck it all and start Wilson as a rookie, when Wilson dramatically outplayed the Seahawks' $20 million Plan A, Matt Flynn.

    On the field, Fox and Carroll couldn't be much more different. I recently broke down the coaching philosophies and tendencies of both them and their staffs, from the deeply conservative fourth-down decision-making of Fox to the run-first playcalling of Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

    As National NFL Lead Writer Michael Schottey pointed out, Fox hasn't gotten too much credit for the Broncos' success.

    Let's put this in perspective: After the disastrous flame-out of previous head coach Josh McDaniels resulted in a 4-12 season and top-down housecleaning, Fox immediately led the Broncos to three straight division championships.

    Oh, and this season Fox missed four games after undergoing a life-saving heart surgery. If there was any doubt about the Broncos' surplus of talent and leadership, going 3-1 with defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio keeping Fox's seat warm dispelled it.

    Carroll's never been to a Super Bowl, but Fox has lost it twice—once as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants, and once as head coach of the Carolina Panthers. One of the two will be getting their first Super Bowl Championship ring.

    Of course, the game is ultimately played by the players, and these two teams have outstanding field generals. I broke down Manning and Wilson in a tale-of-the-tape comparison; while Wilson can't literally stand up to Manning in terms of height, you might be surprised at how closely they've measured up as passers this season.

    Of course, Wilson's tale has barely begun; he's a second-year phenom with his whole career in front of him. Winning a Super Bowl now would be fantastic—and ensure he doesn't fall victim to Dan Marino syndrome—but he and the second-youngest roster in Super Bowl history, per Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar, should have plenty of opportunities going forward.

    Manning is on the opposite end of his career: 37 years old, he's firmly established himself as one of the greatest of all time, vying for his second Super Bowl Championship in three appearances, and to stake his claim as the first quarterback to lead two different teams to the mountaintop.

    As Schottey wrote, Manning desperately wants to win this Super Bowl not because he needs it for his legacy, but because he's one of the most victory-obsessed, ruthless competitors the NFL's ever seen.

    If there's anyone in MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 who can claim to outstrip Manning's competitive fire, it's the suited man in the Broncos' luxury suite who wooed Manning to Denver in the first place: Elway.

When the Broncos Have the Ball

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    Here's the matchup every football fan is drooling over: Peyton Manning and the Broncos receivers against Richard Sherman and the Seahawks pass defense.

    We know Manning is one of the best of all time; he and his Broncos have put up more points per game than anyone since Norm Van Brocklin's 1950 Los Angeles Rams, per NFL Media's Elliot Harrison.

    Just how good, though, is the Seahawks defense? I recently compared the "Legion of Boom" secondary and pass-rush-by-committee front seven to the best defenses of the modern era, and found that the Seahawks stand shoulder-to-shoulder with defenses like the mid-2000s Ravens, the 2002 Buccaneers and the 1991 Saints.

    The Broncos and Seahawks are such an intriguing matchup because it's not just offense against defense, it's specific strength against strength. NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland looked at whether the Legion of Boom is built to shut down the Broncos' four-option passing attack.

    Cornerback Richard Sherman has gotten a lot of attention lately; Langland also looked at whether Sherman's game-film clips match his press clippings. His size, verticality, short-area burst and strong mental game make him an intimidating matchup, even for a big receiver like the Broncos' Demaryius Thomas.

    NFL head coaches rarely bother butting heads against an opponent's strength. As San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick found out in the NFC Championship Game, testing Sherman one too many times will get you killed.

    The real battle will be between targets like Broncos receivers Eric Decker and Wes Welker, and Seattle cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond. The Seahawks love to use first-team All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas as the "center fielder" in a single-high zone, while the cornerbacks press receivers at the line and strong safety Kam Chancellor sneaks up to support the run game.

    AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen went to the film to break down how Thomas, Decker and Welker have attacked similar press coverages this season, and concluded they've got more than a few tricks up their sleeve.

    Welker, as I wrote this week, has an interesting combination of storylines related to this game, and perhaps the best opportunity to sneak between the levels of the Seahawks defense and do real damage.

    Of course, the Broncos greatest threat is their quarterback. Manning famously uses plenty of pre-snap calls and audibles to adjust protections and routes in reaction to what looks defenses present.

    Hansen looked beyond "Omaha," one of Manning's most-barked line calls, to reveal how he disguises and switches up those concepts. Featured Columnist Cian Fahey took a deep dive into the Broncos film, dissecting those passing concepts and how they can pick apart even the stoutest of secondaries. 

    Getting less attention, but no less important, is another strength-versus-strength matchup: the Seahawks pass rush against the Broncos pass protection.

    The Seahawks pass rush, as Langland wrote, is the real X-factor in Super Bowl XLVIII. Defensive ends Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Chris Clemons combined for 23 sacks, 35 quarterback hits and 95 quarterback hurries, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    The Seahawks' sack rate of 7.7 percent, per Pro-Football-Reference, was fifth-best in the NFL, despite not relying on excessive blitzing to bring the heat.

    With Broncos franchise left tackle Ryan Clady lost for the season to a Lisfranc injury back in September, Hansen wrote that the Broncos' best pass protector might be Manning himself.

    With quick, decisive reads, savvy pocket management and better-than-you-think feet, he's the least-sacked quarterback in the NFL. Per Pro-Football-Reference, Manning was sacked on just 2.7 percent of his dropbacks—far better, even, than second-best Matthew Stafford's 3.5 percent.

    Avril and company will surely make Manning sweat, but will they be able to get to him often enough to gain the upper hand?

    Lost in all this talk is the Broncos run game, featuring versatile tailback Knowshon Moreno in committee with power back Montee Ball and change-of-pace guy Ronnie Hillman.

    As Featured Columnist B.J. Kissel wrote, Moreno's flying under the radar as a game-changing weapon. Whether bouncing inside runs outside, cutting outside runs back inside, or catching balls in space, Moreno will attack the edges of the Seahawks defense.

    Of course, as NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman wrote, the key to this matchup isn't any of these players, or even the coaches drawing up the schemes.

    It's referee Terry McAulay, and the crew of officials who'll be patrolling the MetLife Stadium grounds on February 2.

    The Legion of Boom does a lot of their damage with extremely physical play. They test the boundaries of defensive holding, pass interference and illegal contact early and often; how early and how often the yellow hankies come out in response will have a massive impact on how open the Broncos receivers get—and how many points the Broncos score.

When the Seahawks Have the Ball

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Here's the matchup that will decide the outcome of the game: the balanced Seahawks offense against Denver's 22nd-ranked scoring defense.

    During the week-long run-up to Super Bowl XLVIII, star Seahawks tailback Marshawn Lynch owned the headlines for all the wrong reasons. As detailed by National NFL Lead Writer Michael Schottey, Lynch stonewalled the horde of reporters, analysts and personalities waiting to talk with him at Media Day.

    Whether or not Media Day is all it's cracked up to be from a journalistic perspective, Lynch failed to do his job as an NFL player—the only aspect of his job Lynch has failed at all season.

    The NFL's second-most called-upon running back in 2103, per Pro-Football-Reference, Lynch finished sixth in the NFL in rushing yards and tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns. NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland recently told the story of how Lynch evolved from a surprisingly under-offered 4-star college recruit into an elite NFL tailback.

    One of the most revealing looks behind Lynch's tinted visor came from Featured Columnist Ryan Riddle, who played with Lynch at the University of California, Berkeley. Riddle's "The Man Behind Beastmode" feature revealed Lynch's unassuming demeanor and playful personality.

    As one of just two teams in the NFL this season to call run plays more often than pass plays, National NFL Lead Writer Matt Bowen broke down the film to explain how the Seahawks use zone runs, stretch runs and tosses to get defensive lines moving—then attack them with Lynch's rare combination of size, speed and power.

    One vital part of the Seahawks run game is hearing-impaired fullback Derrick Coleman, whose incredible, supposed-to-be-impossible story was told by NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman.

    Looking to stop Lynch and the run game? The Broncos defensive line, led by their X-factor, Terrance 'Pot Roast' Knighton.

    The former Jacksonville Jaguars third-round pick has undergone a renaissance playing for his old head coach, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. The 6'3", 335-pound defensive tackle has evolved from a "pile jumper" who gets credit for tackle assists made after the initial stop, to a two-way force capable of penetrating and disrupting the run and the pass.

    Knighton has supplanted injured Kevin Vickerson as the Broncos' primary run-stuffer, one of five starters the Broncos defense has lost over the course of the season—none, of course, more valuable than outside linebacker Von Miller.

    AFC West lead writer Christopher Hansen detailed how Miller's absence has spurred role players like linebacker Danny Trevathan and defensive end Shaun Philips to new levels.

    In the playoffs, the Broncos held the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots—the AFC's second- and fifth-best scoring offenses, per Pro-Football-Reference—to just 33 combined points. This, after allowing an average of 24.6 points per game in the regular season.

    Much like the 2006 Indianapolis Colts, whose 23rd-ranked scoring defense kicked it up several notches in the playoffs (helping Peyton Manning earn a Super Bowl ring), it seems like these Broncos are a different unit entirely. That could be bad news Lynch and the Seahawks.

    Let's not, however, forget about Russell Wilson.

    As NFL Columnist Dan Pompei wrote, now is the time for Wilson to shine. He's been at less than his best, lately—and while that has something to do with playing top defenses like the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers twice since Week 14, well, there it is.

    Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell loves to combine his Lynch-driven power run game with deep passes over the top, and the Seahawks have a couple of weapons who can really stretch defenses. Foremost among them is receiver/returner Doug Baldwin, who had 50 catches for 778 yards and five touchdowns in the regular season, per Pro-Football-Reference.

    Baldwin's got an outstanding ability to adjust to Wilson's deep ball, and as NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland broke down, he's an excellent route runner who knows how to get open. In the NFC Championship game, Baldwin had six catches for 106 yards (including a 51-yarder). Keep in mind, those numbers were against the San Francisco 49ers, who have a defense that rivals the Seahawks' own.

    Meanwhile, the guy who might have been the offseason's most talked-about acquisition, explosive receiver/returner Percy Harvin, has been all but invisible this week. As Featured Columnist B.J. Kissel wrote, Harvin poses a matchup nightmare for Denver, who are without top cover cornerback Chris Harris.

    The whole game could turn on the play of 15-year veteran cornerback Champ Bailey, who spent much of his career as the best cornerback, if not the best defensive player, in the game. At age 35, is still playing for his first Super Bowl ring.

    Hansen wrote about how the future Hall of Famer can put the perfect cap on his career by helping his Broncos to a win on Sunday.

Matt Bowen's Second-Level Film Study

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen has been taking Bleacher Report readers to The Second Level all season with his unparalleled film analysis.

    For Super Bowl XLVIII, he's isolated five keys to the game for each team from his All-22 coaches' film study: Hi-Lo (rub) concepts, Seattle’s pre-snap disguise, Percy Harvin’s impact from a slot alignment, Peyton Manning’s three-deep beaters and the Broncos' secondary support versus the Seahawks running game.

    Bowen also isolated five things for fans to watch for as the game unfolds: Russell Wilson vs. pressure, Marshawn Lynch’s production, the Seahawks' defensive game plan, Julius Thomas removed from the core of the formation and special teams coverage units.

Up-to-Date Injury News and Medical Analysis from Will Carroll & Dave Siebert, MD

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    Sports Injuries Lead Writer Will Carroll, and medical Featured Columnist Dave Siebert, MD, provide Bleacher Report readers with insight on sports medicine year-round, and of course the Super Bowl is no exception.

    Dr. Siebert took a look into how players and medical staffs for both teams will have to change their preparation and in-game health management to guard against the cold and mitigate weather-related injury risk.

    He also looked at the health of two of Super Bowl XLVIII's most explosive offensive weapons: Seahawks receiver/returner Percy Harvin, and multidimensional Broncos tailback Knowshon Moreno.

    Caroll took a hard look at all of the lingering injury questions for both teams, and kept you up-to-the minute with concerns about Harvin, Wes Welker, Peyton Manning and more.

Best Prop Bets

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    Wayne Parry/Associated Press

    Whether the weather will cooperate, how long the national anthem will go and yes, even the coin toss: These are all things that the sports fan looking to make Super Bowl XLVIII a little more interesting can wager on.

    Will yet another San Francisco 49er pop off about Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman on Twitter? Is the smart money on the Super Bowl suffering an in-game power outage for the second consecutive season?

    If you want a savvy take on some of the most interesting prop bets available for Sunday's game, Bleacher Report Fantasy Football Lead Writer Eric Mack has got you covered.

Expert Predictions for the Game

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    Now you know the executives, the coaches, the players, the matchups, the game plans, the storylines, the latest injury info and the best prop bets to drop a dime on.

    Now, you want to know what's going to happen after toe meets leather, helmets and shoulder pads pop and confetti is launched into the New Jersey sky.

    Our expert panel of national and divisional NFL Lead Writers weighed in on everything that'll happen during the course of the game: the coin toss, the statistical leaders, the final score and—of course—the winner of the game.

    Hit it here for Bleacher Report's Super Bowl XLVIII expert consensus predictions.