Super Bowl XLVIII: Bleacher Report's Expert Predictions for NFL Title Game
The big night is almost here.
On Sunday, football fans around the world will be subjected to 17 hours of pregame festivities (OK, so it only feels like 17 hours), after which the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos will take the field for Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Given the magnitude of the game, there have been predictions and prognostications galore, running the gamut from the final outcome to which player will be filming the now-iconic Disney World promo after the game.
Well, it's the now the turn of the national lead writers and division lead writers here at Bleacher Report to take a crack at those predictions.
From everything to the coin flip to who lifts the Lombardi Trophy, here's how the Bleacher Report NFL brain trust expects Super Bowl Sunday to play out.
National Anthem Time
Shortest Pick: 2:00 (NFC North Lead Writer Zach Kruse)
Longest Pick: Four hours (NFL National Lead Writer Aaron Nagler)
Average Pick (not including Nagler): 2:22
You can place a prop bet on just about anything in Super Bowl XLVIII, including the length of the national anthem.
This year, the honor of singing the national anthem before the Super Bowl falls to opera star Renee Fleming, who told reporters she "feels a tremendous sense of responsibility to the 200th anniversary of the national anthem,” per Ronni Reich of The Star-Ledger.
Sports betting site Odds Shark has set the over/under for Fleming's rendition of the anthem at two minutes and 20 seconds, which would be longer than the average over the past eight years, which comes in at just under two minutes.
Last year's performer Alicia Keys came in much longer than average, taking two minutes and 35 seconds.
The average for the writers here at Bleacher Report was two minutes and 22 seconds, although NFL National Lead Writer Aaron Nagler thinks it could go on quite a bit longer.
Like say four hours.
Quipped Nagler, "It's an opera singer, right?"
Winner: Tails (nine votes)
Yep, you can wager on the coin toss too.
One would think that the Super Bowl coin flip would be the ultimate 50/50 bet, but as Odds Shark points out, there are a couple of interesting trends with the coin toss.
For starters, the NFC has bucked the odds in a big way. The AFC has won the toss in each of the past two Super Bowls, but prior to that, the NFC went on a 14-year run.
Also, the last five tosses have come up heads, which is the longest such streak in the game's history.
The writers at Bleacher Report feel that streak ends this year, mostly for the same reason.
In the words of AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen: "Tails never fails."
First Player to Score a Touchdown
Winner: Eric Decker, wide receiver, Denver Broncos (three votes)
There's something to be said for scoring first in the Super Bowl.
The team that scores first has won nearly two-thirds of the Super Bowls played to date, posting a 31-16 record.
If that holds true in Super Bowl XLVIII, then the prediction of the gang here at Bleacher Report bodes well for the Broncos.
A staggering 11 players received votes here, but seven of those players were Broncos. The only two players to receive multiple votes were Decker and Denver running back Knowshon Moreno.
As AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst wrote, "A little end-zone lob to Decker sounds like the best way for the Broncos to get the opening score."
First Quarterback to Throw an Interception
Winner: Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos (eight votes)
If scoring first is important in the Super Bowl, then winning the turnover battle is crucial.
In the Super Bowl's 47-year history, teams that have been plus-1 or better in the turnover margin have lost only three times.
Given the opinions of the Bleacher Report writers, it's a number that bodes poorly for the Broncos, at least where the game's first interception is concerned.
Somewhat surprisingly, Manning was the clear choice here, with NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland stating, "Even though Peyton Manning rarely makes mistakes, the Seahawks defense led the NFL in takeaways this year by a wide margin."
However, NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter not only thinks Wilson will throw the first pick, but that it will come at a very inopportune time.
"I see this coming in the middle of a stalemate in the third quarter," he said.
First Defensive Player to Force a Turnover
Winner: Earl Thomas, FS, Seattle Seahawks (three votes)
Much like with the voting for the first player to score, several players garnered votes here. Denver cornerback Champ Bailey, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman and Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril all earned multiple votes.
However, only one player received three.
Seattle free safety Earl Thomas is one of the anchors of the Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" secondary, and the fourth-year veteran gets the nod as the first player to notch a takeaway in Super Bowl XLVIII.
As AFC Lead Writer Chris Hansen explained, "He'll jump a short throw from Manning to Welker or Julius Thomas."
Peyton Manning Total Passing Yards
Highest Pick: 356 Yards (NFL Associate Editor Wesley O'Donnell)
Lowest Pick: 241 Yards (NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland)
Average Pick: 288 Yards
Peyton Manning had a pretty good year in 2013, with 5,477 passing yards (an NFL record) and 55 passing touchdowns (another record).
Now, he sits one win away from notching his second Super Bowl title.
In 13 of his 18 games this season, he has topped 300 yards through the air.
NFC South Lead Writer Knox Bardeen is one of four writers who feel Manning will top that benchmark in Super Bowl XLVIII.
His reasoning is simple: "Manning is going to have to win this game for the Broncos."
However, Manning's average among our writers places him slightly under 300, with NFL national lead writer Aaron Nagler's 287-yard projection coming closest.
"The Broncos will try to control the ball and stay ahead of the sticks," Nagler said. "Not a ton of opportunities for big chunks against this defense."
Russell Wilson Total Passing Yards
Highest Pick: 227 yards (NFL Associate Editor Wesley O'Donnell)
Lowest Pick: 175 yards (NFL National Lead Writer Michael Schottey)
Average Pick: 202 yards
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson may not post the gaudy numbers of his counterpart in Denver, but his story is no less compelling.
In the span of two short seasons, the athletic two-sport star has gone from an undersized third-round rookie to Super Bowl starter.
Now Wilson will try to spoil the end of Manning's dream season, although given Seattle's run-first offense, our writers aren't expecting the Seahawks QB to have a huge game.
NFL National Lead Writer Michael Schottey submitted the low pick among writers, but he expects the quiet evening to be as much by design as anything.
"This game is going to be defined on the ground for the Seahawks," he wrote, "and big (read: high risk/low-percentage) chunks through the air."
Wilson's average comes in at just over 200 yards, with NFL National Lead Writer Matt Bowen coming closest.
"Wilson will pick up an explosive gain down the field by extending the pocket," Bowen said, "but the Broncos keep a tent on top of the secondary for the majority of the night to hold the quarterback to just over 200 yards."
Knowshon Moreno Total Rushing Yards
Highest Pick: 77 yards (NFL Associate Editor Wesley O'Donnell)
Lowest Pick: 22 yards (NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter)
Average Pick: 55 yards
As late bloomers go, Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno's timing was perfect.
For the first time in his five-year NFL career, he eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground in 2013. He also set career highs in touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards.
Manning and the wide receivers may steal all the headlines, but Moreno has been an invaluable contributor as a runner, receiver and pass-blocker this season.
Unfortunately, our writers don't see him making much of a dent in what could be his last game for the Broncos.
NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter doesn't even expect Moreno to be the Broncos' leading rusher in the Super Bowl. According to him, "I actually see a bigger day rushing day for Montee Ball. Moreno will get more touches in the passing game."
AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst, who predicted a nearly identical night for Moreno as the average, feels his effectiveness won't necessarily be reflected on the stat sheet.
"The Seahawks' biggest weakness is the run," she wrote, "but that doesn't mean only Knowshon Moreno will get the touches for the Broncos. A workmanlike performance here."
Marshawn Lynch Total Rushing Yards
Highest Pick: 162 yards (NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter)
Lowest Pick: 97 yards (NFL Associate Editor Justin Onslow)
Average Pick: 120 yards
Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has been the talk of Super Bowl week...for not talking.
He may be shy around reporters, but he isn't on the football field. For the third straight year, the seventh-year veteran topped 1,200 yards and posted double-digit scores in 2013.
He followed that up with 100-yard efforts in both of Seattle's playoff wins, and the writers here at Bleacher Report expect him to keep right on rolling against Denver's top-10 run defense.
Only two of the 14 writers polled picked Lynch to gain less than 100 yards, while NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter believes Lynch will post an MVP-type performance.
"Beast Mode goes," Schalter said, "well, beast mode."
In fact, the average prediction for Lynch was a robust 120 yards on the ground.
That's right around what AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz thinks Lynch will get, although he cautioned that the Oakland native will have to work for it: "The Broncos' defensive game plan will hone in on shutting down Lynch, but he'll still find a way to pile up the yards with more than his share of carries."
Most Receiving Yards
Winner: Eric Decker, wide receiver, Denver Broncos (seven votes)
Given Peyton Manning's historic season, it's hardly a surprise that the Denver pass-catchers all had great years.
Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas all caught at least 10 touchdown passes in 2013. Thomas (the wideout) and Decker both topped 1,000 yards on the season.
The voting for biggest receiving night in Super Bowl XLVIII came down to Thomas and Decker as well.
AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz was among those who predicted a big day for Demaryius: "I don't think he'd come out and say he found a weakness in Richard Sherman's game unless he was very confident he could exploit that weakness."
However, Decker garnered the most votes, including NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon's.
"He'll have some opportunities against Byron Maxwell on an island," Gagnon said.
Winner: Danny Trevathan, LB, Denver Broncos (eight votes)
Danny Trevathan was something of a revelation for the Denver Broncos in 2013.
With the Denver linebacker corps besieged by injuries, he emerged as a steadying force for the Broncos.
The second-year pro paced the Broncos with 128 tackles and headed into a matchup with the run-heavy Seahawks, he is a runaway choice as the player who will notch the most stops in Super Bowl XLVIII.
In fact, Trevathan had more votes than all the other nominees combined.
In the words of NFL National Lead Writer Michael Schottey, "[Trevathan] led the Broncos in tackles by a large margin, and should be key to trying to stop the Seahawks run game."
Winner: Tie—Shaun Phillips, OLB, Denver Broncos and Cliff Avril, DE, Seattle Seahawks (four votes each)
The Seattle and Denver defenses both possess good (albeit not great) pass rushes. The Seahawks ranked eighth in the NFL in 2013 with 44 sacks, while the Broncos posted 41 and finished the year 13th.
For both pass rushes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and with neither team having a superstar sack artist, it's not a shock that we have a tie in this category.
NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon raised a salient point while casting his vote for Denver linebacker Shaun Phillips:
It'll likely be a Bronco since Manning was the least-pressured quarterback in the NFL and Wilson was the most-pressured quarterback in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. Phillips led Denver with 10 sacks.
However, an equal number of writers, including AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst, selected Seattle's Cliff Avril.
"Cliff Avril is going to get a piece or two of Manning on Sunday," Hangst wrote, "and he might be the only Seahawk to do so."
Winner: Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks (11 votes)
Much like this year's NFL MVP award, this should surprise no one.
With all due respect to Moreno, Ball, Robert Turbin, Russell Wilson and anyone else who may carry the football on Sunday, Lynch is far and away the best running back in Super Bowl XLVIII.
In picking Lynch to peel off the longest run of the game, AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst and 10 other scribes are just playing the odds.
"Huge, spotlight-stealing runs are what Marshawn Lynch does best," she said, "and he's good for at least one per game."
However, NFL National Lead Writer Aaron Nagler took the road less traveled, predicting that Seattle wideout Percy Harvin "will take an end-around for about 30 yards."
Winner: Percy Harvin, wide receiver, Seattle Seahawks (four votes)
As with some of the other predictions, the longest reception in Super Bowl XLVIII was a wide-open vote. Six players received at least one vote. Four received more.
Denver wide receiver Eric Decker and tight end Julius Thomas each accrued three votes, with AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen writing that, "Manning will hit Thomas on a smash route at some point for 20-plus."
In the end, a wideout who has barely played this year was the pick.
Seattle's Percy Harvin has spent the vast majority of the 2013 campaign on the shelf. Now, however, he is healthy, and NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland expects him to make an impact.
"It would only make sense," Langland wrote, "if Percy Harvin took a 70-yard bubble screen to the house."
Number of Times Richard Sherman Will Be Targeted
Highest Pick: Seven targets (NFL National Lead Writer Matt Bowen, NFL Associate Editor Wesley O'Donnell)
Lowest Picks: Three targets (NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland)
Average Pick: Five targets
Since his outburst following the NFC Championship Game, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman has been one of the most talked-about players in Super Bowl XLVIII.
It's easy to understand why. Not only is he the self-proclaimed best corner in the NFL, but the Super Bowl features the NFL's most prolific passing game against the league's stingiest secondary.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Sherman was targeted 58 times on the season or just under four times per game.
The writers here at Bleacher Report believe that number will be slightly higher against Manning and the Broncos.
In the words of NFC South Lead Writer Knox Bardeen, whose five-target prediction matched the average: "Manning is going to have to go after Sherman a few times to keep everyone honest. But they'll be calculated and safe attempts."
Number of Times Peyton Manning Says "Omaha!"
Highest Pick: 38 times (AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst)
Lowest Pick: Minus-three times (NFL National Lead Writer Aaron Nagler)
Average Pick: 18 times
Now we get to the really important stuff!
As the Broncos marched to the Super Bowl, something became clear to the American viewing public. When Peyton Manning is making calls at the line of scrimmage, he has a tendency to say "Omaha!"
The theories on what "Omaha!" means are as varied as they come. Some say it's an audible. Others say it's a line call. Others still insist it's nothing but gibberish meant to draw the opponent offsides.
Whatever the reason, it appears one thing is clear: The writers at Bleacher Report are getting a little snarky about it.
At one end of the spectrum, we have NFL National Lead Writer Aaron Nagler and his minus-three (yes, minus-three) prediction.
Nagler also passed along a request. "Can't we let this storyline die in peace?"
At the other end, we have AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst, who foresees Manning saying "Omaha!" nearly 10 times a quarter.
"Let's see, 60 to maybe 70 plays per game?" Hangst wrote. "Thirty-eight Omahas seem just about right."
Super Bowl Champion
Winner: Denver Broncos (10 votes)
Average Score: Denver, 26-23
OK, so maybe we should talk for a second about the game itself.
The writers here at Bleacher Report have spoken, and in their opinion Peyton Manning and the Broncos are going to make it two wins in a row for the AFC in the Super Bowl.
However, most of the writers predict a closely contested affair. The average score predictions for all 16 pollsters resulted in an aggregate score of 26-23 (in favor of Denver), and only one writer predicted a double-digit win by either team.
That writer, NFL Associate Editor Justin Onslow, forecast a 30-20 Broncos win, while NFC South Lead Writer Knox Bardeen thinks it will be slightly closer:
In a game that pits the league’s top defense with its top offense, I’m going with the unit that’s being led by possibly the greatest quarterback of all time. Peyton Manning will definitely find a way to churn yardage against this tough Seahawks defense. Manning won’t be able to make it look easy, but there’s no better mind on the planet at finding weak spots during the game and exploiting them.
The Seahawks do have their supporters. Six scribes picked Seattle as Super Bowl champs, among them AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen:
The Denver Broncos haven’t seen a defense like this all season. The Broncos have shredded teams with a good defensive line, good linebackers, a good secondary and even two of the three, but not one that is so good at all three levels. The Seattle Seahawks will also keep the ball on the ground and limit the number of opportunities Peyton Manning has to hurt them. On a per-drive basis, the Seahawks had a better offense than the New England Patriots this season. The Seahawks are also going to get wide receiver Percy Harvin back, which will make the offense more explosive. In the end, Denver’s defense just isn’t going to be strong enough.
Super Bowl Most Valuable Player
Winner: Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos (nine votes)
Make no mistake: Much like Saturday's regular season MVP award, if the Broncos win Super Bowl XLVIII, it will take something very weird happening to prevent Manning from being named MVP.
It's just the way things are. Quarterbacks hog awards, and the powers that be will stampede to the podium to fawn over Manning if the Broncos win.
Given the season he's had, perhaps that's as it should be.
NFL National Lead Writer Michael Schottey put it this way: "He could throw 20 INTs (no, not saying he will), but if the Broncos win this game, he'll be given the trophy."
Marshawn Lynch was the lead dog among writers who picked Seattle to win, including NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland.
"If the Seahawks want to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history," Langland explained, "they will have to pound the rock and control the clock. And they won't be able to do that without a big game from Marshawn Lynch."