Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Date and Time: Sunday, Feb. 2, at 6:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Spread: Broncos -2.5, per Vegas Insider (as of Jan. 31)
Over/Under: 48, per CBS Sports
Super Bowl XLVIII is being billed as a showdown between the Denver Broncos record-breaking offense and the Seattle Seahawks stifling defense, and for good reason.
Peyton Manning will test his 5,477 regular-season passing yards, 55 regular-season passing touchdowns and arsenal of elite receivers against Richard Sherman and the “Legion of Boom” Seattle secondary. It is a media-made case of strength versus strength with a number of superstars to drive up interest.
It also gives the Seahawks a final chance to prove that their impressive defense wasn’t just a result of the schedule that ESPN Stats & Info pointed out:
Seahawks had NFL's best D in terms of pts & yds allowed. But they faced only 1 top-10 offense all season (including playoffs): No. 4 Saints.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 31, 2014
However, assuming one team doesn’t completely dominate time of possession, Manning and the Seahawks defense will both be on the sidelines for approximately half of the game.
Who wins the contest between the Seattle offense and the Denver defense will have a major impact on which squad is holding up the Lombardi Trophy.
On paper, Denver’s defense looks like a weak point that ranked 27th in the league against the pass, but it has been a legitimate strength recently. Through the first 14 games, the Broncos allowed 26.6 points and 371.5 yards a contest, but in the last four (including postseason), Denver allowed just 15 points and 268.5 yards a game.
The Broncos completely shut down the New England Patriots high-octane attack in the AFC Championship Game until they instituted a prevent defense in the fourth quarter to protect a sizable lead.
What’s more impressive, Denver has turned it around on defense without the services of linebacker Von Miller (went down in Week 16) and cornerback Chris Harris (went down in the divisional round). The injuries are unfortunate, but it’s hard to argue with the Broncos’ results.
However, as ESPN Stats & Info points out, Denver may be better equipped than most teams to deal with Lynch:
Marshawn Lynch: 7.7 yds per rush up middle in playoffs. Broncos D: NFL-best 3.2 yds per rush up middle in reg season. pic.twitter.com/arWGGXHmsm— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 31, 2014
With a strong rush defense and an extra focus on stopping No. 24 of the Seahawks, Denver’s defense will force Russell Wilson to beat it.
For as talented as Wilson is, he has struggled as of late. He threw 22 touchdowns and six interceptions in the first 12 games this year, but only tallied four touchdowns and three picks in the last four contests of the regular season. What’s more, he only has one touchdown pass in the postseason.
Wilson has also been sacked an alarming seven times in the playoffs, which could be a factor with a Denver defense that has totaled six sacks of its own in the postseason.
This may create some doubt regarding Wilson’s ability to win the Super Bowl with his arm, but fortunately for Seahawks fans he is accustomed to being doubted. Any hesitation about this Super Bowl will fall right in line, as Wilson pointed out to Larry Holder of The Times-Picayune:
I had a lot of critics tell me, 'He's too short.' That's really all they could say in terms of my game, and I wasn't going to believe it. I wasn't going to allow that to stop me from doing what God put me on this earth for. To be honest with you, that I was a prototypical second baseman.
As far as second basemen go, even Robinson Cano couldn’t lead a team to the Super Bowl like Wilson has this year.
Sure, there have been some struggles statistically as of late, but he knocked off the San Francisco 49ers with 215 passing yards and a critical fourth down touchdown pass in the final quarter. He looked more than comfortable bouncing back from an early fumble as well.
Denver’s defense will force Wilson to beat it by stuffing the box all game. Look for Wilson to do just that, as the Broncos’ injuries finally come into play.
Wilson will freeze the linebackers that are keyed in on Lynch with play action in the fourth quarter, which will allow him to use his feet or arm depending on what is open. Doug Baldwin or Percy Harvin will be waiting to haul in a game-winning touchdown pass to cap off a back-and-forth affair.
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