With Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos' record-setting offense taking on Richard Sherman and the Seattle Seahawks' league-leading defense, the hype around this matchup is justifiably centered around what will happen when those two forces meet.
However, this game will be decided in the trenches. The battle along the lines is going to be vital when both teams have the ball.
Which team will have more sacks?
As good as the Seahawks' secondary is, I don't see it finding consistent success against Manning if it can't put a little pressure on him—not to mention what will happen if the Broncos find success with the running game to go with the passing attack.
Conversely, if the Seahawks' offensive line is popping consistent holes for the red-hot Marshawn Lynch, Seattle will be able to control the ball and keep Manning on the sideline.
Also, Russell Wilson hasn't enjoyed much protection this season. If the Broncos can get consistent pressure on Wilson, it will mask a weak secondary and help keep the Seahawks from gaining any momentum in the passing game.
Both teams have good lines on both sides of the ball. This will be an intense battle on every snap. Here is a closer look at that battle.
Seahawks' Offensive Line vs. Broncos' Defensive Line
The offensive line of the Seahawks had to deal with a lot of injuries this season and the group struggled all year in pass protection. Seattle finished the season 32nd in sacked percentage.
Things were better in the run game. The Seahawks finished fourth in rushing yards per game and 12th in yards allowed per rush.
Meanwhile, the Broncos' rush defense was the class of that side of the ball all season. Denver finished the year fourth in rushing yards allowed per game and seventh in yards allowed per rush.
Denver's pass rush was inconsistent this season, finishing the year 17th in sack percentage.
In the playoffs, however, the Broncos have six combined sacks in their two games and the rush defense has looked better than ever.
Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton is a big reason why. The massive defensive tackle has been a force in the middle of the defensive line and will have to be excellent if the Broncos want to slow down Lynch.
Marshawn Lynch when asked what makes the Broncos' defense good: “What’s his name? Pot roast. Big boy." From Lynch, that's effusive praise.— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) January 30, 2014
Knighton is not alone either:
Beast Mode has looked excellent in his two postseason games. He's rushed for 249 yards this postseason and posted a solid 5.0 yards per carry in both games.
As Gil Brandt of NFL.com reports, however, this isn't causing the Broncos to cower in fear:
#Seahawks ran ball more than any team this season but Fox confident in run defense. Pointed to AFC title game; Pats had 64 yds rushing— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) January 28, 2014
If the Broncos can can consistently bottle up Lynch, it is tough to see the Seahawks finding any success on offense. Wilson hasn't thrown for more than 215 yards or one touchdown in any game since Week 13.
Broncos' Offensive Line vs. Seahawks' Defensive Line
I'm sure there is an army of fans that feels Seattle's Legion of Boom is up to the task of slowing down the Broncos' passing attack. That isn't going to happen, however, if the defense doesn't get consistent pressure on Manning.
According to Giants 101, Peyton's brother echoed the importance of a pass rush:
Denver's legendary quarterback is too good and has far too many weapons to be slowed otherwise. He will eat this defense alive if he has time:
If Seahawks plan to play that Cover-3 all day, Manning will eat them alive.— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) January 20, 2014
I took a deeper look at this particular matchup last week, but let me just say that the three most comparable passing attacks to that of the Broncos that the Seahawks faced this season belong to Houston, Indianapolis and Atlanta.
In those meetings, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Harry Douglas combined to catch 27 passes on 35 targets. With Roddy White playing his first game back from injury and Julio Jones not playing, those were the four main receivers from those three games.
If the Seahawks couldn't limit those offenses built with strong receivers and pocket passers, what is going to happen against Manning if he has time? Nothing good for Seattle, that's for sure.
Manning stands an excellent shot of having time too.
The Broncos led the league in sacked percentage, which was just what Manning needed all season:
The Denver Broncos offensive line is the best aspect of their football team. They are exceptional as a unit.— Derwin L. Gray (@DerwinLGray) January 31, 2014
This is not to suggest that Seattle has no hope of getting pressure on Manning.
With defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, Seattle has a strong pass rush. That group has been solid in the postseason and picked up three sacks. Combine Denver's blocking with Manning's release time, and this will be the Seahawks' toughest test.
During the season, Denver did not pose a huge threat on the ground. The Broncos finished 15th in the NFL in rushing yards per game and 21st in yards per rush at 4.0.
The Broncos have picked up a solid 240 rushing yards this postseason, but failed to rush for more than 3.9 yards per carry in either game.
Meanwhile, the Seahawks' run defense has looked strong in the postseason—not counting the rushing of Colin Kaepernick, and I don't think Manning will be running many keepers in this game. Seattle held Frank Gore to 14 yards on 11 carries in the NFC Championship Game.
The Broncos simply need to have enough success on the ground to keep the Seahawks from pinning their ears back and rushing the passer. Seattle has the defense to prevent them from doing that.
If either team proves to have a consistent edge in the trenches, that team will win easily.
All season stats and rankings via TeamRankings.com.