After two weeks of debate on whether the Super Bowl is actually in New York or New Jersey, if it will snow on February 2, and an array of columns on why Richard Sherman's brash style is good or bad for the NFL, we can finally put the filler pieces aside and get down to football.
The weather isn't likely to play a big role, as the latest forecast is calling for temperatures in the upper-30s and a slight chance for precipitation. Likewise, two weeks after Richard Sherman's emotional interview on national television after the NFC Championship, he has become a media darling and is very much capitalizing on this opportunity from a marketing standpoint. Fortunately, while Joe Buck and Troy Aikman may bring up these “stories” at some point during Sunday's game, these manufactured talking points shouldn't steal the spotlight from these two teams.
Key Matchup: Denver's O vs. Seattle's D
Despite the two weeks of narratives about Peyton's legacy, writers bemoaning the chilly conditions in the northeast, and a character analysis of Richard Sherman, not enough of the conversation has been about the dynamic matchups that will take place at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
Let's start with Peyton Manning who isn't the same quarterback physically as he was three years ago. Four neck surgeries would take their toll on anyone, but he is, without a doubt, the best prepared and most intelligent signal caller that the league has ever seen. Peyton's machine-like precision on offense was most evident in 2013 as he smashed single-season records in passing yards and touchdowns. Those marks were previously held by contemporaries Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Armed with the NFL's best receiving corps, an underrated running back, and a makeshift offensive line, Manning is the slam dunk, unanimous choice for league MVP, orchestrating the #1 offense in Denver.
However, across the line of scrimmage from Peyton on Sunday is the #1 defense in the NFL. Specifically, the Seahawks possess one of the best pass defenses of all-time. With ball-hawking corners, aggressive safeties, and consistently physical play, Seattle is undoubtedly the toughest test Manning has faced all season. The Seahawks aren't likely to change up their defense on Peyton's account either. They've frustrated Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Matt Ryan, and others over their first 18 games this season, so Peyton is unlikely to intimidate the group nicknamed the “Legion of Boom.”
While many are looking forward to seeing Peyton challenge the Seattle secondary down the field, that's not the type of quarterback Manning is these days. While his pre-snap intelligence may be getting better with age, it's obvious that the zip on his intermediate and deep passes has waned. He'll look for his opportunities, but especially against the opportunistic Seahawks secondary, the game will be won at the line of scrimmage, before the snap. Manning's manipulation of the linebackers and safeties is vital for Knowshon Moreno and the Denver run game. While the Seattle defensive line is a versatile and deep group, they've been prone to letdowns against the run, including four 100-yard rushers during the regular season. If there are lanes for Moreno, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, and Julius Thomas stand more of a chance for success against Richard Sherman and company.
Despite Russell Wilson's recent struggles, WR Percy Harvin's return to the lineup should lift the Seattle offense. Regardless, the Seahawks' game plan normally centers on their workhorse running back, Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks would love to put up anywhere from 17-27 points and let their defense handle the rest. That means the key is certainly going to be how Denver's O performs against Seattle's D. First half turnovers for the Broncos, struggles to run the ball, and early-game pressure on Peyton would be all ominous signs for Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII.
SnapCall with the Audience During the Big Game
Think you can predict where Peyton passes the ball, when Marshawn Lynch unleashes a big run, when the Broncos bring the blitz against Russell Wilson, and other interactive predictions? Tune in 10 minutes before the kickoff on Sunday for SnapCall's coverage of the Big Game. Then compete with friends or in a free-for-all with other SnapCall users and see how your play calling ranks worldwide. Head to the iTunes Store or Google Play to download the free app!
Enjoy your Super Bowl party, the commercials, the halftime show, and get in the game!