From the blue northwest corner of the country, we have the Seattle Seahawks, a run first tough team with a beast of a running back in Marshawn Lynch and a budding star in second year quarterback Russell Wilson. Then there’s Richard Sherman, you may have heard of him. He leads the best defense in the league and this defense is going to need to be at its best for this one.
From the orange corner, standing in at a mile high, we have the Denver Broncos. Led by quarterback Peyton Manning, they are an offensive juggernaut like no other, with arguably the best passing attack in the history of the NFL and an underrated running game that is good in its own right. The defense will play without their best player in Von Miller, but with Terrence Knighton and Champ Bailey, the defense is still capable of holding its own.
This Super Bowl is also unique in that it is the first cold weather Super Bowl, with temperatures expected to be in the thirties, winds between ten to twenty miles per hour, and possible snow. With weather expected to play a factor, along with a myriad of other variables and intangibles, this Super Bowl figures to be a classic. Let’s compare the teams across key areas.
Immediately starting with the QB comparison, we can tell how stark the differences are between these two teams. The Seattle Seahawks are led by Russell Wilson, a second year quarterback who took the NFL by storm with his poise, football IQ, scrambling ability, clutch, and leadership. Taken in the third round by the Seahawks to provide competition for then starting quarterback Matt Flynn, Wilson was never expected to be the star he is today. He has a certain Brady-esque aura to him, and while he is not one to put up monster stats day in and day out, he is a proven winner who can use his mobility to extend plays or make them himself when nothing is available.
While Wilson has a future of greatness ahead of him, Broncos QB Peyton Manning is already an established legend and a lock as a top five all time quarterback. Drafted first overall in 1998, Manning is in the twilight of an illustrious career with the Colts and Broncos, with a myriad of awards and broken records. Manning already has one Super Bowl victory under his belt, and it would only be fitting for him to go out as a winner. Manning has been putting up extraordinary stats this year and is a shoo-in for the MVP award. What Manning lacks in rushing ability, he more than makes up for with his passing prowess and pocket presence.
Russell Wilson is an up and comer who is already one of the best the NFL has to offer, Manning is on another planet with the yards and touchdowns he is producing. With his wealth of experience and the abundance of receiving targets available to him, it is impossible not to give the edge to Peyton Manning and his Broncos.
The differences between the two teams continue into the running back position. Seattle is led by the one and only Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch. Lynch, who was traded by Buffalo in 2010, has been absolutely phenomenal for the Seahawks, and is one of the best running backs in the league. He has over 1500 yards from scrimmage this year, along with 14 touchdowns, with only one lost fumble. Look for him to get at least 25 touches for the big game. With phenomenal blocking from fullback Derrick Coleman (what a great story he is), and the Seattle offensive line, look for Lynch to get plenty of yards and a touchdown as well.
In contrast to the more traditional approach of the Seahawks, the Broncos utilize a running back by committee approach. Despite all the press their passing game gets, Denver actually has a fairly good running game. The running game of the Broncos is mainly comprised of Knowshon Moreno, Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman. Moreno is a dual threat back who has been one of the most improved players of 2013, and he has 1000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving, with a combined 13 touchdowns. The rookie Montee Ball has been the short yardage and goal line specialist. Ronnie Hillman has been a quality backup to spell both backs.
When comparing the two running games that will take the field in the Super Bowl, one needs to take into account playing style. Seattle is a power running team with an offensive line that is built to run block. Denver, however, is a pass first team that doesn’t fully commit to the running game until it is firmly ahead. This might not happen against a team like Seattle. When putting into consideration Russell Wilson’s running ability, the edge has to go to the Seahawks.
In this part of the position comparison, there begins to be a stark difference in talent. Denver has arguably the best receiving core in Super Bowl history, with Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas all having over ten receiving touchdowns, the first time four receivers have had ten touchdowns. The best part about this receiving core is that they all cover different types of niches, with Demaryius Thomas as the deep threat, Julius Thomas as the physical and quick tight end, Decker as an intermediate range specialist, and Welker as a slot man who can get yards after the catch. And did I mention that the Broncos also have Knowshon Moreno capable of catching passes as well. This receiving core has been absolutely phenomenal, and it will take a herculean effort by the Seattle defense to hold them in check.
In contrast to the star studded receiving core of the Broncos, Seattle’s pass catchers can be considered average at best. They do have a Pro Bowl receiver in Golden Tate, as well as wide receiver Doug Baldwin and tight end Zach Miller. Then there’s the enigma that is Percy Harvin. Harvin, the much hyped explosive wide receiver that the Seahawks have traded a first rounder for, missed almost the entire season with injury and only has one catch to his Seahawk career. He is slated to play this Sunday, and he could potentially have an immense impact on the game. The possibilities are endless for him, and he could either play no role in the game, or put together a Super Bowl MVP performance.
With that being said, the numbers don’t lie. The Broncos are a pass oriented team, and their starting receivers have had a combined 327 receptions, 4282 yards and 47 touchdowns. The Seahawks’ receivers, meanwhile, only have 148 receptions, 2077 yards and 15 touchdowns. There’s hardly any way to argue around that one. Denver gets a resounding edge on receiving.
Denver enters the Super Bowl with the league’s 19th ranked defense. It has lost their defensive talisman in Von Miller for the season, but also regained the services of cornerback Champ Bailey. Bailey joins Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in covering Seattle’s best wide receivers. Shaun Phillips leads the team with ten sacks, and linebacker Danny Trevathan enters the game with a combined 129 tackles to his name. Free agent signing Terrence Knighton has been one of the Broncos’ more influential players this year on defense acting as the anchor of the defense. Their special teams is one of the league’s best, with the dynamic Trindon Holliday returning kicks and punts, and Matt Prater, who is capable of kicking it from 60+ yards, as the kicker.
What Seattle lacks in receiving, they make up for with their vaunted defense. The number one defense of the league is stacked on all levels of its unit. Their front seven features Michael Bennett and free agent signing Cliff Avril as the primary pass rushers, with eight sacks each, and is led by middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who has 120 tackles this year. However, the Seattle defense isn’t what it is without its menacing secondary, otherwise known as the Legion of Boom. The Legion features three Pro Bowl selections in Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman. Thomas and Chancellor, the safeties, have eight interceptions and over 200 tackles between them. And who could forget about the face (and voice) of the defense? Richard Sherman has been on an absolute tear this year, shutting down opposing receivers and leading the league with eight interceptions. On special teams, wide receiver Golden Tate doubles as punt returner and enter the game as the second best in return yardage. Kicker Steven Hauschka has had a stellar season ranking second in field goal percentage and fourth in total points.
As good as their offense is, the Denver defense has been somewhat of a liability. They have allowed 48 points to the Cowboys, 39 to the Colts, and 34 to the Patriots after initially leading 24-0 at halftime. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have kept seven of their opponents, teams like the Panthers, 49ers and Saints, to ten or less points. In terms of special teams, both teams are phenomenal, so I will have to call that a wash. To sum it up, when their offense is not performing very well, Seattle can count on its defense to carry them to victory. Can the same be said of Denver’s defense? Unlikely. Therefore, Seattle gets a resounding edge on defense.
Pete Carroll, who has fizzled out of his first professional coaching opportunity with the New England Patriots in the late 90s, has had a successful tenure at USC before returning to the NFL and turning a previously inept Seattle franchise into a powerhouse. John Fox, meanwhile, spent nearly a decade as the coach of the Carolina Panthers, with a trip to the Super Bowl in 2003, and after a disastrous season in 2010, redeemed himself by joining the Broncos and leading them to success. In terms of coaching, both are effective coaches and play callers. However, John Fox inherited Peyton Manning and most of the other influential players that made Denver the team it is today, as opposed to Pete Carroll, who practically built his team from scratch. For this reason, the coaching edge goes to Carroll and the Seahawks.
By far, the biggest matchup in this Super Bowl is between wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and Richard Sherman. Whoever wins this matchup wins their team the game, no question about it. Sherman is currently the best cornerback in the NFL, but Thomas is no “sorry ass receiver”. Thomas has six games with 100 plus yards and four multi-touchdown games this season. Although Denver has plenty of other talented receivers at its disposal, it is Thomas and his ability to stretch the field and haul in the deep throw that makes him so critical to Denver’s game plan. He has the rare ability to change the entire trajectory of the game with one catch, and that is what makes him so special and sets him apart from the rest of Denver’s receivers. If he is able to catch a long bomb from Peyton for a touchdown over Sherman, then Seattle has to play catchup, something it rarely had to do this year. Seattle will shift away from its strong running game and be forced to pass more, putting more pressure on the young Russell Wilson. Sherman needs to muster everything he has to make sure this doesn’t happen, and if he does, then he will allow Seattle to play from a position of strength and lead his team to its very first Super Bowl.
Each of these teams have a advantages of varied strength over their opponent. The Broncos have a strength and a great strength, quarterback and wide receiver respectively. As for the Seahawks, their running game is their strength and defense is their great strength. The only way to truly distinguish a winner would have to depend on the type of game that is being played. The critical number for this game is 48, which also happens to be the over/under for this game. If Seattle can keep the total score below 48, they are far more likely to win, and if Denver can keep the score above that fateful number then they will likely take home the Lombardi trophy. Denver scores an average 37.9 points a game, and Seattle allows 14.4 points a game. Something has to give. Seattle’s defense is great, but is it enough to stop the greatest offense of all time? The answer lies with the weather. The temperature is projected to be anywhere from the 20s to the 30s, and this gives the Seahawks an advantage, as the Broncos will not be able to throw the ball as well as they usually do. It will take a herculean effort from the defense and a great game from Marshawn Lynch, but I see the Seattle Seahawks winning their first Super Bowl in a tightly fought game with a defining drive to end the game.
Seattle 24 – 20 Denver Super Bowl MVP: Marshawn Lynch