In what is arguably the best Super Bowl matchup in years, the Denver Broncos will try to keep their offense rolling against the stout defense of the Seattle Seahawks. The only question is how each side will fare against the other.
Peyton Manning has put together the best statistical season in NFL history, but it will be a challenge against the No. 1 pass defense in the league. Meanwhile, the Seattle secondary—also known as the "Legion of Boom"—has never faced a team with this many offensive weapons.
On the other side of the field, the Broncos defense will have its hands full with Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson.
The players who perform the best will likely lead their team to victory in Super Bowl XLVIII, but here is a look at how each star will fare individually in the big game.
When: Sunday, Feb. 2 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Streaming: Fox Sports Go
Mobile: NFL Mobile app
Spread: Denver (-2.5), according to Vegas Insider
QB Peyton Manning: 26-of-44, 305 passing yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions
With the season on the line, the Broncos are going to want the ball in the hands of their best player as often as possible. This means that even if possessions are limited, Manning will get his fair share of passing attempts.
Of course, Seattle led the NFL this season in opponents passer rating thanks to its ability to make plays on the ball in the air. They keep completion percentage and yards per attempt low, while interceptions remain high.
To make things even tougher, cornerback Richard Sherman was exactly right in his assessment of Manning, saying he throws "ducks." He did not back down from this statement in a recent media session, per Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times:
I still feel the same way I felt. He is a great quarterback, he does a great job. At the same time, when he catches the ball he doesn’t necessarily catch the laces all the time. He throws an accurate ball in regards to how he catches it, he just gets it on time and delivers it accurately.
The lack of arm strength has not been a problem for most of the year, and Manning will still get his yards and touchdowns on both short and long passes. However, Sherman's athleticism and Earl Thomas' speed could lead to a few turnovers on less-than-perfect throws.
RB Knowshon Moreno: 12 carries, 55 rushing yards; three catches, 21 receiving yards
Knowshon Moreno had a big season, but his usage was certainly inconsistent. He only had three games (including the playoffs) with at least 20 rushing attempts, and this is unlikely to be another one.
Denver will want to give Manning every opportunity to succeed, which will limit the ground attack. Moreno will only get touches to keep the Seahawks honest, and it will be difficult to rack up too many yards in this situation.
To make things even tougher, Seattle has only allowed four rushing touchdowns all season and was especially tough to beat in the red zone. This is where Moreno contributed the most this season, but he will be unable to help out as he is kept out of the end zone in the Super Bowl.
WR Demaryius Thomas: Five catches, 67 receiving yards, one touchdown
The Seahawks were certainly excited about the matchup between one of the best receivers in the league against one of the best cornerbacks:
When these two line up against each other, Sherman will have the advantage due to his physicality to prevent Thomas from getting a free release. However, the Seahawks cornerback usually stays on the left side of the defense instead of following the receivers.
As a result, Denver will try to get its No. 1 target involved in other ways. Thomas will be used in screen passes to get short gains and will be targeted deep against other defenders.
The talented player will be limited for much of the day, but you can expect at least one big play as he gets into the end zone.
WR Wes Welker: Eight catches, 92 receiving yards, one touchdown
As good as the Seahawks are in the secondary, they could end up being vulnerable in the shorter routes where Wes Welker shines. When Earl Thomas and Sherman are dropping back in a Cover 3, it will force a linebacker to cover the slot in routes like this display by Pro Football Focus:
Sam Monson of PFF also explained the specifics of how Welker will be utilized:
Across the middle the combination of Welker and Julius Thomas will likely be huge. The pair can run a combination of high-low drag or crossing patterns that put the linebackers in a bind...Welker in particular has caught all six passes thrown his way when he has been targeted on those intermediate depth crossing routes and will be a real danger against this formation.
Welker will be targeted early and often in this matchup, and he will be a vital part of the Broncos offense in the big game.
QB Russell Wilson: 16-of-26, 190 passing yards, one touchdown; five carries for 27 yards
The Seahawks will want to do whatever it takes to keep Manning off the field. This means a lot of running and conservative play.
Those expecting a breakout day out of Russell Wilson will be disappointed, as he will spend most of it handing the ball off to his running backs. Meanwhile, Pro Football Focus notes that the quarterback has regressed lately:
Russell Wilson graded at +25.6 over his first 12 games, but only -4.4 over his last six— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 24, 2014
Still, Wilson has done a great job of avoiding mistakes, and he will continue that on Sunday. He will make plays when asked and move the football when needed.
Although the numbers will not be there, the efficiency will be just fine.
RB Marshawn Lynch: 26 carries, 105 rushing yards, two touchdowns
Marshawn Lynch has been one of the best running backs in football in the last few years, but he somehow gets even better in the playoffs. In six games, "Beast Mode" has had at least 100 rushing yards and a touchdown in four of them.
Even Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan was impressed while studying Lynch, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle:
He refuses to go down. You don’t find many running backs that don’t try to avoid contact.
He’s one of those guys that keeps his feet moving. As a linebacker, I like the challenge. I’m not one to talk a lot, but I enjoy watching his running style. It’s going to be an honor to play (against) him.
Lynch will not have many big plays against a tough defensive front, but he will fight his way for extra yards every time out and finish off some drives with touchdowns.
WR Doug Baldwin: Five catches, 65 receiving yards, one touchdown
If you want consistency, Doug Baldwin might not be your favorite player. However, he certainly knows how to come through with a big play when needed.
The receiver made a big 24-yard catch to help seal the divisional-round victory over the New Orleans Saints. He then followed that up with a game-changing 51-yard catch against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
Do not be surprised if Baldwin comes through with a similar big play against the Broncos late in the game when the Seahawks need him the most.
With Wilson's ability to keep a play alive, Denver better make sure to have a man on Baldwin the entire time. Otherwise, he will make them pay.
WR Percy Harvin: Three catches, 53 receiving yards
Percy Harvin is expecting to play despite the fact that he has been limited pretty much the entire year with injuries. However, there is some precedent for a quality showing, according to ESPN Stats and Info:
Percy Harvin says he'll play in SB (1 rec in reg season). Elias: 4 players caught 2+ passes in SB after having 1 or fewer rec in reg season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 29, 2014
When he is on the field, Harvin has a game-changing ability to score from anywhere on the field. This is why Bovada lists him as the fourth most likely player to win Super Bowl MVP behind Manning, Wilson and Lynch.
Although the receiver might not get a touchdown, watch out for at least one big play for over 30 yards while catching the defense out of position.
Game Prediction: Broncos 27, Seahawks 21
This will be a very tight game throughout, but the Broncos will be able to move the ball more consistently and get into Seahawks territory. Although Seattle's defense somehow gets even tougher in the red zone, Denver should be satisfied with a couple of field goals.
Kicker Matt Prater will be the difference after leading the NFL in field-goal accuracy while displaying great kicking strength as well. His leg will help give the Broncos some added points that will decide this competitive battle.
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