It's finally here. The big game, the Super Bowl, it's time. When it comes to a game of this magnitude, we have to take a look into the game at its most basic level. Every game has lead to this point in these players' careers. Now, we all get to see the magic unfold. Will the Seahawks get their first Super Bowl trophy? Will Peyton get his second? Will the Broncos get their third as a franchise? Let's dive right in!
Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos
I'm going to ignore the weather in New Jersey (not New York, because the game is played in the Meadowlands which is in Jersey). Why ignore the weather? Because it is all any media outlet is arguing and debating over. As much as the weather may effect the outcome of the game, it also may have zero effect. Since the season started everyone has been saying the Super Bowl would be under snow or it would be unbearably cold. That's what the players live for, they don't care what the weather is, they just want a shot at the Lombardi Trophy. It has been argued that Denver never faced a Top defense, as much as that holds true, look at Seattle's schedule. They only played one Top Offense their entire season, the New Orleans Saints. Yes, they played the Saints at home, both times and with their 12th man they slammed the Saints. So I'd say it's almost unfair to even say they played a Top Offense. Both teams have faced adversity, and will have to face one more game filled with adversity before they can call themselves Super Bowl Champs.
On offense, the Seahawks weren't the most impressive team and it showed in the passing game. Over the course of the season Russell Wilson has failed to pass for 200+ yards seven times this year, four of those seven came in the last six games for the Seahawks. Now, if you don't want your QB to have to win the game--like the Seahawks apparently feel, Wilson only averages 25 attempts a game--you run the ball. According to NFL.com, the Seahawks ranked 26th in Passing and 4th in Rushing. Marshawn Lynch has been a force for years in Seattle, and he has been a key reason they've been successful. Lynch averaged 4.2 yards a carry in the regular season, and he ended the regular season with 1,257 yards on the ground. In three 100+ yard performances this season, Lynch only scored in one of those games, but in the postseason Lynch has scored in both games and rushed for over 100 yards each time. Now I know I'll hear that "Lynch had plenty of 'almost' 100 yard games" and this is true. In addition to the three 100-yard performances, Lynch also rushed for at least 90 yards four times.
Many consider Wilson and Lynch to be what keeps the Hawks going, but it's the offensive line that has to get the job done this week. They'll need to continue opening big holes for Lynch and finding ways to keep Wilson clean. If the O-line for the Hawks can keep Wilson's jersey "clean" they'll have a great chance to win the game. Along with the offensive line, the Seattle WRs/TEs need to show the Denver DBs that they mean business. Doug Baldwin, Zach Miller, Jermaine Kearse, and Golden Tate should be able to play well against the Denver secondary. Without Chris Harris Jr., the Broncos have struggled a bit. With Champ Bailey nearly at 100 percent--something that couldn't be said about the future Hall of Famer earlier this season--the Broncos will be better, but they need Harris in the slot. Baldwin, Tate and Kearse will need to find a way to beat Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tony Carter and Bailey off the ball. If they can do some good double moves or find the soft spot in the zone quickly, then it could be a long day for the Denver secondary.
Now to the only thing people seem to want to mention about Seattle, the defense. I'm not going to say much about the Legion of Boom because it is well documented how lethal they are. Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond III, Byron Maxwell, and Kam Chancellor have had their way with just about every offense they've face this season. The LOB will have to play solid man and zone coverage to stop the Broncos four-headed WR/TE attack. Looking at the rest of the defense, you still have a great front-7. The defensive line for the Seahawks is scary, and reminds me of the Giants the year New York beat the then undefeated Patriots. Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Red Bryant, Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin, and Brandon Mebane are the standouts and Peyton Manning will have to watch out every time he drops back. Then you have the real trouble Manning will face, the linebackers. K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, and Malcolm Smith could blitz or drop in coverage. They could cover the slot for a play, or they could follow Julius Thomas down the middle. These LBs have caused QBs headaches and nightmares because they are so talented. I think the D-line and the LBs have to be on point for the Hawks to win this game.
It's easy to talk about the Broncos offense because they set almost every positive offensive category this season. They scored an NFL record 606 points, 55 passing touchdowns, and most yards through the air in a single season, 5,477 (in 16 and a half games; Manning sat out the second half against the Raiders in week 17). The Broncos also had four receivers (3 WR, 1 TE) with 10 or more TD catches, two WRs with over 1,000 yards receiving, and a running back rushing for over 1,000 yards for the first time since Willis McGahee in 2011, but before that it was Tatum Bell back in 2006. Knowshon Moreno showed that he wasn't a bust that most Broncos fans had him labeled as at the beginning of the season. Moreno showed how good he can be in the passing game as well. When Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman failed to assert themselves as the best back Moreno took the reigns. Ball and Hillman tried to fumble away as many games as they could, and Ball got Manning planted on his rear against the Seahawks in the preseason, so they both lost the opportunity to start. Moreno took full advantage and as mentioned rushed for 1,000 yards, his first time eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark. Demaryius Thomas had a tough rookie and second year in the league, but now in his fourth year, Thomas has flourished with a QB who can actually get him the ball. Eric Decker, also in his fourth year has shown that he can be a great possession receiver, but can also beat guys deep. I won't get into Wes Welker, because he is possibly the best slot receiver that has ever played in the NFL. Well, except when Tom Brady needed him in the Super Bowl. Other than to Broncos fans, Julius Thomas was a seldom known TE. He was injured or hurt most of his first two years in the NFL, but he burst on the scene this year. The last time the Broncos had a TE this successful, was when Shannon Sharpe played in 2005. Talking about Manning would take forever, so let's just say he had the best statistical season a QB has ever had, and he is still hungry. He wants at least one more ring, and he could get it this year.
Many would argue that the Broncos defense is the weak link of the Denver team, but many also fail to realize how much the Denver defense has stepped up in the postseason. According to NFL.com, the Broncos are second best in terms of total yards per game and first in rushing yards allowed per game. The Broncos D also sits in second, right behind Seattle, in points allowed per game in the postseason. In Passing yards given up this postseason the Broncos are one yard behind the Hawks, Denver gave up an average of 225 in two games, whereas Seattle gave up an average of 224 in two games. The Broncos D-Line will need to be the X-Factor for the defensive unit. Terrance Knighton, Sylvestor Williams, Robert Ayers, Shaun Phillips and Malik Jackson will have to play big, no pun intended. Those five will have the responsibility of stopping Lynch and keeping Wilson in the pocket. Now the Linebackers, Danny Trevathan, Nate Irving and Wesley Woodyard, will most likely need to help, but if Lynch gets to the LBs it could be game over for the Denver D. Trevathan has played out of his mind this year, and continues to show that he can play at a high level and lead this Denver defense. In the secondary, Champ Bailey rules the roost, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is looking to take over and help as the Broncos #1 CB. The Broncos will need a big game out of Duke Ihenacho, Mike Adams, Kayvon Webster and Tony Carter. Those four will need to play better than they have in order for Bailey and DRC to keep the Seahawks down.
Everyone wants to talk about the #1 offense going against the #1 defense. Well, in order for the #1 defense to win they need their #17 ranked offense to score against the #14 ranked defense. I think the Seattle offense against the Denver defense will have a bigger impact on the game than has been discussed the last two weeks. Manning and the Broncos will get their points and the LOB will stop them as well, but if Wilson and the Hawks can't get into the endzone it may not matter that they have the best defense in the league behind them. I think this game comes down to the wire, but ends in regulation. I've got the Broncos pulling out the gutsy win, 24-20 on a Peyton Manning (duck) back shoulder fade to Demaryius Thomas against Richard Sherman (I mean come on, it wouldn't be drama if the game didn't come down to these two).