After two weeks of hype, Super Bowl XLVIII is nearly here.
Having had plenty of time to break down the tape, crunch the numbers and analyze this year’s matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, it’s finally prediction time.
Without further ado, below are my last-minute predictions for the big game on Feb. 2.
Date: Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014
Start Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Spread: Denver (-3), according to Bovada.lv.
Super Bowl XLVIII Champion: Seattle Seahawks
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
There are strong cases to be made for both the Seahawks and the Broncos, but it’s difficult to pick against Seattle given its unrivaled defensive prowess. Although both teams have played lights-out on that side of the ball through the playoffs, the Seahawks’ ability to force turnovers at a high rate clearly sets them apart.
While both units are allowing under 17 points per game in the postseason, the Seahawks have also forced four total turnovers, compared to zero for the Broncos. It’s no secret that turnovers are game-changers this time of year and can befall even the most prolific offenses.
Plus, Seattle’s elite secondary and pass rush has neutralized opposing passing attacks all year long. With Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor leading the way, watch for the team’s defensive backs to disrupt the timing of the Broncos receivers, thus giving its dominant front seven more time to get to Peyton Manning, as Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll points out via ESPN Seattle’s Brady Henderson:
Carroll on the Seahawks’ pass rush against Manning: “We’ve got to move him.” Not just about sacks but about getting him off his spot, too.
— Brady Henderson (@BradyHenderson) January 30, 2014
The Broncos offensive line has been incredibly stout all season long—allowing zero sacks in the playoffs—and Manning will have a plethora of weapons to choose from. But keep in mind that Denver has yet to face a secondary as physical or communicative as Seattle’s.
Offensively, the Seahawks have a powerful running game to lean on and a dual-threat quarterback in Russell Wilson to bail them out.
Prediction: Seahawks 23, Broncos 21
Super Bowl XLVIII MVP: Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks
Harry How/Getty Images
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch prefers to let his game speak for itself, per ESPN’s Kenny Mayne, and on Super Sunday, Beast Mode is sure to steal the show.
Lynch is paid to run..whether he wants to yield to interview requests is his call.. Here “We need to establish the run..” -Marshawn Lynch
— Kenny Mayne (@Kenny_Mayne) January 29, 2014
The NFL’s leading rusher this postseason, Lynch has accounted for 249 rushing yards and three touchdowns in two Seattle wins, powering the Seahawks offense and, at times, putting the team on his back.
Although Denver’s ability to stop the run has been its biggest strength defensively, Lynch and his offensive lineman proved in their NFC Championship Game victory over the San Francisco 49ers that they are capable of overcoming the league’s top run-stopping units.
Assuming Seahawks center Max Unger and starting guards J.R. Sweezy and James Carpenter can get to Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and move him on a consistent basis, Lynch’s bruising style of running is sure to pay off for Seattle.
He’s averaging five yards per carry this postseason and has surpassed the 100-yard mark in each of the past two games. If he can continue that trend vs. Denver and the Seahawks win, he’ll have a great shot to become the first running back to win Super Bowl MVP honors since Denver’s Terrell Davis back in 1998.
Seahawks vs. Broncos
6:25 p.m. Eastern, Fox
Line: Broncos by 2
The buildup to Super Bowl XLVIII for Seattle was largely defined by players the news media have scolded for talking too much (Richard Sherman) and for not talking enough (Marshawn Lynch). For Denver, the discussion centered on what a win or a loss would mean for the legacy of Peyton Manning. Any time left over was devoted to speculation about the weather at kickoff. Football rarely entered the conversation.
On the field, the game will be a study in contrasts. For the first time since 1990, the Super Bowl will pit the N.F.L.’s highest-scoring offense (Denver) against the defense that gave up the fewest points (Seattle). Matchups like this traditionally favor the dominant defense, and Manning’s record-setting offense did not appear to intimidate the second-youngest team in the N.F.L.
Russell Wilson was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2010 and played in their farm system.
Russell Wilson, the Man Behind Center, Could Have Wound Up as a Second BasemanJAN. 31, 2014
Britton Colquitt, the Broncos’ punter, signed a deal in August that averaged $3.9 million a year, making him the highest-paid player at his position.
A Family of Punters Demonstrates the Heredity of Hang TimeJAN. 31, 2014
The Seahawks’ owner, Paul Allen, exhorting his team in the N.F.C. title game.
Paul Allen, the Seahawks’ Man in the Shadows, Shows Them the LightJAN. 31, 2014
Video: Super Bowl XLVIII, by the NumbersJAN. 27, 2014
Video: Securing the Super BowlJAN. 16, 2014
Johnny Avello of Wynn Las Vegas said his job involved “a little math, a lot of gut and a premium on customer service.”
Video: The Wizards of OddsJAN. 27, 2014
“This is what we want,” said Seattle free safety Earl Thomas, a contender for defensive player of the year. “We want to face this kind of offense. We don’t want to take the easy way. If it’s easy, you shouldn’t do it.”
Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas led the Broncos with 92 catches for 1,430 yards and 14 TDs. Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press
That attitude is what makes the Seahawks’ secondary so imposing, and worthy of the nickname Legion of Boom. In the middle of the field, they have Thomas and Kam Chancellor, two of best safeties in the game, and in coverage they have Sherman, the N.F.L.’s best cornerback. Even the loss of the starting cornerback Brandon Browner to an indefinite suspension did not slow a unit that allowed 14.4 points a game. The secondary was aggressive, leading the N.F.L. with 28 interceptions and allowing only 172 passing yards a game.
Although Seattle’s front seven is also disruptive, many Seahawks players said the unit had been overshadowed.
“Our defensive line, they’re savages,” Chancellor said. “I can say that hands down. They’re savages.”
Super Bowl XLVIII
The 48th Super Bowl is the first time the game to decide the champion of the National Football League will be played in the New York City area since the Super Bowl era began.
Visitors Guide | Crystal Bowl | Full Coverage
Led by Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, Seattle had 44 sacks this season, tied for eighth in the N.F.L. If they can find a way through Denver’s offensive line, which has not allowed a sack during the playoffs, Manning may be forced to make unwise throws.
But if ever there was an offense built to deal with the Seahawks, it would be Denver’s. Manning, with a lightning-quick release, rarely contends with pressure, and the Broncos are so stocked at wide receiver and tight end that it is futile to try to cover them all.
Demaryius Thomas is Manning’s favorite receiver, leading the team with 92 catches for 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns, but Eric Decker (87 for 1,288 and 11), Julius Thomas (65 for 788 and 12) and Wes Welker (73 for 778 and 10) are all capable of game-changing plays. Sherman & Company thrived on staying in the team’s cover-three scheme regardless of the opponent, but they have not faced a team with as many reliable threats as Denver. Cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond will have to raise their games.
Free safety Earl Thomas is a key part of the Seahawks’ Legion of Boom secondary. John Froschauer/Associated Press
But the Super Bowl will be decided when Seattle has the ball. Russell Wilson, the dynamic second-year quarterback, does not have the size or the background of an elite N.F.L. quarterback (he once left college to play professional baseball) although his ascent has been rapid. At 25, he is the fifth-youngest quarterback to start a Super Bowl, and his talent and demeanor have taken age out of the equation.
“He’s an incredible competitor in every way,” Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll said. “In preparation, in game day, he’s the epitome of what you want in your competitor.”
Behind Wilson is Lynch, who seemed to wear down during the season before rediscovering Beast Mode in the playoffs. In Seattle’s two postseason games, Lynch rumbled for 249 yards and 3 touchdowns, averaging 5 yards a carry while punishing defenders who got in his way. Although his reluctance to answer questions annoyed the news media, Lynch, 27, has remained remarkably popular among his teammates and Seahawks fans.
“He doesn’t talk any more to us than he talks to you, really,” Carroll told reporters. “He is a live wire though at times, because he has a great energy about him; for the most part, it isn’t with his words, it’s with his actions, and we respect the heck out of that.”
Denver’s defense improved as the season went along, but the unit still appears overmatched by the youthful and exciting Seattle offense. With a little help from his friends on defense, Wilson could easily turn the discussion of Manning’s legacy into one about his own.
Prediction: 25 carries, 115 yards, one touchdown
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Clinton McDonald, defensive tackle
The Broncos use at least three wide receivers 90% of the time. That means Seattle’s nickel defense will be on the field most of the time. McDonald anchors the middle of that front as the nickel nose tackle.
Byron Maxwell, cornerback
Considering how much Peyton Manning throws the ball, the Seahawks need a solid corner opposite All-Pro Richard Sherman. Maxwell showed his value after Brandon Browner was hurt and Walter Thurmond was suspended.
Michael Robinson, fullback
This game will be about playing keep-away from Manning, and that means the Seahawks controlling the clock. Robinson is the blocking back who helps open holes for Marshawn Lynch, getting him to linebacker level.
WHO MUST COME THROUGH
Russell Wilson, quarterback
Wilson is incredibly elusive, and he can make plays with his feet as well as his arm. He can also get into trouble by scrambling too much. Can he maintain his composure on the biggest stage of his life?
Marshawn Lynch, running back
The centerpiece of Seattle’s offense, “Beast Mode” generally needs to be gang tackled. He has had back-to-back 100-yard games in the playoffs, and he wears defenses down, often breaking big runs in the fourth quarter.
Richard Sherman, cornerback
A confident trash talker, Sherman is also among the best defensive playmakers in the league. His pass breakup that clinched a trip to the Super Bowl exemplified his incredible length and athleticism.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Trindon Holliday, receiver/returner
Holliday is a scary returner who can change the game with one play. Since joining the Broncos in 2012, he has led the NFL in kick-return average (32.5 yards) and is second in punt returns (10.8).
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