Regardless of what the high-profile storylines say, a few key factors will ultimately decide the outcome of Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Seattle Seahawks and the league's best defense will face an uphill battle in stopping Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, owners of the league's best passing attack that shattered multiple records on this warpath.
This clash is the definition of what a title bout should be to close a season. With names like Manning and Richard Sherman to go with polar opposite strengths, the Seahawks and Broncos are set to put on a show fans everywhere will remember for quite some time.
When: Sunday, Feb. 2, at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
The Percy Harvin Component
The term "X-factor" is thrown around entirely too much these days, but if one wants to find the true definition, just look at Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin.
Seattle bet the house on Harvin and traded three picks, including a first, to the Minnesota Vikings for him last offseason—and then signed him to a six-year, $67 million contract, per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk.
Harvin responded by missing most of the season and has not made a major impact in the playoffs thus far.
But he surely can.
Veteran Denver cornerback Champ Bailey understands this all too well, via Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post:
That's a dangerous man right there. ... He can change the game if you allow him to. I remember playing him when he was in Minnesota, and he's one of the most explosive guys coming off the ball.
I don't know how they are going to use him. We don't have a lot of tape on him, if any, but they are going to use him. You don't have a weapon like that and not use it.
Is Harvin a secret weapon? Quite possibly. He is one of the NFL's most-feared returners and is someone the Denver defense must account for at all times despite the presence of Marshawn Lynch in the backfield.
Weather, Weather and Weather
The NFL has brought this on itself.
Rather than the attention on the game, the overwhelming story has, and will continue to be, about the weather.
Early indications were that snow was possibly on the menu, but the NFL seems to have avoided that mishap, per Weather.com. Perhaps the biggest black eye of all came from NFL legend Mike Ditka on "The Mully and Hanley Show" via CBS Chicago:
The World Series wouldn’t be played in inclement weather. That’s all I’m saying...You say, 'It’s cold, it’s the way football was meant to be.' Yeah, it was meant to be that way – I played that way 50 years ago. But now it’s different. Let’s make it right for the fans, for the sponsors and for the players.
Any publicity is good publicity, but this is a particularly negative aspect of this year' big game.
The weather itself will drastically impact the action on the field. If precipitation does occur, this favors the Seahawks as they can keep it on the ground with Lynch (three scores in the last two playoff games), while Manning may be unable to respond in a slick environment.
The forecast is still subject to change, so take nothing for granted as far as this one goes.
Which Well-Built Roster Will Win?
An underlying theme to the title game is simple—Denver and Seattle represent the best of the best in terms of roster building.
Both teams have done so well in the draft as of late that they have been able to spend large amounts of cap space on complementary free-agency pieces to round out their championship rosters.
Ben Volin of the Boston Globe has the eye-popping details for the Seahawks:
And the Seahawks were able to splurge for Harvin and their three defensive ends because Russell Wilson ($681,000), Richard Sherman ($600,000), Doug Baldwin ($560,000), Golden Tate ($880,000), Earl Thomas ($3.5 million), Bruce Irvin ($1.9 million), and Bobby Wagner ($979,000) are playing on their rookie contracts.
To summarize, that is a franchise quarterback (Russell Wilson), arguably the league's best corner (Sherman), one of the NFL's better safeties (Earl Thomas) and an elite middle linebacker (Bobby Wagner).
Each of the above players will play a gigantic factor in the outcome of the game.
The story is much of the same for Denver:
The Broncos were able to afford paying Manning $60 million over three years because Demaryius Thomas ($2.59 million cap number), Eric Decker ($1.5m), Von Miller ($4.9m), Julius Thomas ($651,000), and Danny Trevathan ($506,000) are still playing on their rookie contracts.
Three of those players (Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas) will ultimately decide if Manning can move the ball or not against the elite Seattle defense.
However, there is a theme here—both teams have a very obvious championship window with those deals in need of costly extensions soon, so this title bout is seemingly more important than most.
So will it be the physical grit of Seattle that emerges in a low-scoring affair, or will Manning outsmart elite opposition with help from an unheralded, physical defense?
Both franchises have molded their rosters for this moment, and they could not have encountered each other at a better time.