When the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos meet up in Super Bowl XLVIII, it will be the ultimate clash of styles in what should make for a truly memorable game. The Seahawks, the top ranked defense in the league, will test the Broncos, the top ranked offense in the league. The Broncos are a finesse, up tempo, quick-starting offensive unit, while the Seahawks are a physical, bruising, “mash-it-down-your-throat” team that enjoys low scoring, ball-control, take-the-air-out-of-the-ball style of play. Peyton Manning and the Broncos act like they are frontrunners and play with an aura of supremacy and dominance that passes the eye test of a Super Bowl Champion. The Seahawks, on the other hand, play with chip on their shoulder each time they take the field, as if nobody respects them despite their dominating physicality, carrying the weight of seemingly the entire Pacific Northwest on their backs. Immersed in this clash of styles are a number of headlines that will provide no shortage of drama as the game approaches.
First and foremost, Peyton Manning has the chance to cement his legacy as one of, if not, the greatest quarterback of all time with a second Super Bowl win. This would quiet all of his doubters who constantly criticize him for his inability to succeed in the playoffs and would add to his incredible resume of NFL dominance. Speaking of dominance, Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman has dominated the headlines as of late, due to his theatrics at the conclusion of the NFC championship game. The world will have the opportunity to see if he can live up to his haughty words on the highest stage in all of sports. Another key headline will be the weather at MetLife stadium, where temperatures are expected to be between the 20s-30s and the winds will most certainly be a factor in the play on the field.
A few other subplots of intrigue: Pete Carroll is seeking to become the first coach to win both a college football national championship and a Super Bowl. This is the first Super Bowl where both teams hail from west of the Mississippi since the Chargers played the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX in 1995. Seahawks’ wide receiver Percy Harvin should return from his injury sustained in the NFC Divisional Round against the Saints, giving the Seahawks another offensive weapon. The experience gap between Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson, at 14 years, is the largest between any two quarterbacks to start the Super Bowl, and Wilson is the 6th youngest quarterback to start a Super Bowl. On the field, watching Denver’s talented core of receivers go up against the Seahawks’ vaunted secondary will likely be deciding the factor in the matchup, while watching Marshawn Lynch against Denver’s stout run defense will provide no shortage of entertaining, tough, physical play.
So, where will the game be won and lost? Five key factors as follows will go a long way in determining who wins Super Bowl XLVIII.
Which set of running backs will be tougher in the trenches?
Marshawn Lynch will be receiving all the hype in this matchup and deservedly so. He’s already run for 249 yards and three touchdowns in the playoffs after rushing for 1257 yards and 12 touchdowns in the regular season. However, Knowshon Moreno is having a career year of his own, rushing for a career high 1038 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 548 yards through the air. The Broncos leaned on him heavily in the cold, especially in their epic game against the Patriots when he rushed for over 200 yards. Despite battling a nagging rib injury, health will not be an issue for him in the Super Bowl. The ability for these two running backs to grind out tough yards against stout opposing run defenses will be crucial for getting their teams into manageable third down situations, especially considering the conditions and winds. Expect both running backs to carry the ball above their per-game averages.
Kickers and the Wind
Broncos’ kicker Matt Prater missed one field goal in the regular season. Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka missed two. Both of these guys are money in the kicking game. Both are also used to outside, cold, windy environment in their home stadiums. The wind will be a huge factor at MetLife Stadium, and the ability of these kickers to remain steady in the kicking game could make a difference in the game, especially if the weather conditions prevent offensive explosions. Eight of the last Super Bowls have been decided by seven points or less, meaning missed field goals become ever more painful to stomach.
Coaches in Unchartered Territory
John Fox’s last appearance in a Super Bowl came 11 years ago, when the Carolina Panthers lost to the Patriots by a field goal. Pete Carroll has won college titles but he’s never advanced this far into the postseason at the professional level. In a game with very low margin for error, every 4th and 2 decision, every time-out, every play, every challenge, and every 40 seconds rolling off the clock is important. Will the coaches let these moments get the best of them on the big stage? Will they handle the expanded press coverage, the exposure, the distractions, the longer halftime, and extended warm-ups properly? Will the coaches have their teams prepared to handle adversity with the stakes at their highest?
Russell Wilson’s Feet
While the Broncos certainly don’t lack for experience in terms of facing opposing mobile quarterbacks, as they faced the likes of Michael Vick, Terrelle Pryor, and Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson presents more complex problems in comparison. The Seahawks utilize less designed quarterback runs for Wilson compared to the number of designed runs utilized in the offenses of the aforementioned quarterbacks. Most of Wilson runs come as a result of scrambling once the play breaks down or carefully thrown-in designed run to keep the defense off balance. Wilson’s football IQ is also a couple of levels higher than his fellow dual threat quarterbacks, as evidenced by his 32 games played in his first two seasons, without injury. This alone will give the Broncos defense fits, and will be a key for the Seahawks in extending drives and keeping the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands.
Response to Adversity
Russell Wilson’s high football IQ has already been mentioned and it’s no secret that Peyton Manning is commonly regarded as one of the most intelligent players to ever play football. The precision and preparation with which each quarterback play on weekly basis spreads to the rest of their teammates. As a result, both of these teams are almost never caught off-guard, always stick to their plan, often controlling games from start to finish, whether it be on the strength of their defense or a fast-paced high powered offense. This game, on the other hand, won’t be easy for either team, as they may see their strength taken away or at least slowed. The winner of this game will emerge based on how they respond to adversity. Peyton Manning hasn’t trailed yet in the playoffs. How will he respond if he needs a touchdown in the 4th quarter? Richard Sherman hasn’t had a touchdown scored on him in weeks. How will he respond if Manning beats with a spectacular Manning-like throw early on? Responding strong to adversity separates champions from contenders, and adversity will certainly show its face in Super Bowl XLVIII in multiple facets. Who will step up and persevere?