|Denver QB Peyton Manning will face Seattle’s top rated pass defense in Superbowl XLVIII|
Seattle Seahawks (13-3) v Denver Broncos (13-3)
Met Life Stadium, New Jersey
6.30 PM (ET) Kick Off
After a season packed with drama, exceptional performances, injuries and upsets the Superbowl is finally upon us. For the first time in a long time the two number one seeds from each conference will square off in America’s biggest sporting event, held outside in a cold weather city for the first time ever this coming Sunday. Met Life Stadium in New Jersey is the venue and although concerns still exist over the anticipated cold weather recent reports suggest the temperature on Sunday night will be mild and the weather won’t have too much of a bearing on the outcome. Both John Fox and Pete Carroll, head coaches of the Broncos and Seahawks respectively, are searching for their first NFL title although Carroll won three national championships in college with the University of Southern California and Fox was the coach of the Carolina Panthers when they lost to the New England Patriots in Superbowl XXXVIII by a mere three points.
Seattle are one of the more outspoken teams in the NFL and while Richard Sherman’s post-NFC Championship game outburst made headlines the lack of verbals from Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch was one of the main talking points from the annual pre-Superbowl media day featuring players from both teams. Seattle’s number one defense takes on the number one ranked Denver offense in a mouth watering clash, with the bad boy ‘hawks more than ready to go nose to nose with one of the most respected players in the NFL, Peyton Manning. Manning is searching for a second Superbowl ring after his 2006 triumph with Indianapolis, a total which would match his brother Eli after his dual successess with the New York Giants in 2007 and 2011. Playing at Eli’s home stadium a legacy cementing victory would be all that much sweeter for Manning, arguably the NFL’s greatest ever signal caller coming off an exceptional season in which he broke the NFL’s single season touchdown mark with an astronomical 55 scoring passes.
When Seattle has the ball..
With ball control an important part of any teams game plan against a Peyton Manning led offense don’t be surprised to see Marshawn Lynch add to his 50 carries so far this post-season. Those carries have come at an average of exactly five yards per play, a healthy number that has enabled the Seahawks offense to not rely on the arm of sophomore QB Russell Wilson a great deal. Nonetheless Wilson played well throughout January and while he has only thrown one touchdown pass he hasn’t thrown an interception, keeping the Seattle defense off the field for long stretches at a time. Wilson has however been sacked seven times in just two play-off games, something Denver will look to exploit even without star pass rusher Von Miller who’s injured.
Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan has had a stellar post-season and as a force in the middle of the field he’ll be tasked with stopping Lynch and the Seattle ground game. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton has also played well and if he can clog up running lanes in the middle and keep Trevathan free it’ll help the Denver defense greatly in their efforts to make Wilson shoulder more of the offensive burden for the Seahawks. Should that be the case then Percy Harvin’s return from a concussion could be pivotal for Pete Carroll’s men. Harvin missed 15 of 16 regular season contests with a hip injury, something he should be over now though a fair amount of rust could remain. Fellow receiver Doug Baldwin should compliment Harvin in the passing game, with speedy Broncos corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie likely to draw Baldwin in coverage with veteran Champ Bailey taking Harvin or Golden Tate. In an effort to restrict the time Wilson has in the pocket Denver will look towards outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, who’s two sacks so far during the play-offs lead the team.
When Denver has the ball..
After yet another record breaking season Peyton Manning is the man Seattle will have to stop if they are to earn the first Superbowl title in franchise history, with the best passing offense in the NFL going up against the best pass defense in the league. After recording 28 interceptions during the regular season Manning will be aware of the Seahawks secondary’s ball hawking ability, led by cornerback Richard Sherman who will likely be isolated in one on one coverage for the majority of Sunday’s game. Demaryius Thomas is the biggest deep threat the Broncos possess so he could be the guy Sherman is assigned to cover, however Wes Welker and Eric Decker are also potent threats in the passing game so Sherman’s fellow corner Byron Maxwell will also have to be at the top of his game to prevent Manning moving the football through the air. Seattle safeties Cam Chancellor and Earl Thomas will also have to excel in coverage, either covering the slot receiver or tight end Julius Thomas, a physical specimen who has emerged as one of Manning’s favourite weapons.
Knowshon Moreno is a solid running back for Denver as is Monte Ball and while neither is expected to have a big game they’ll be counted on to provide a change of pace in addition to keeping Manning upright in pass protection. Expect Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner to blanket Moreno and Ball on the ground, with Wagner looking to add to his impressive total of 24 tackles in two play-off games thus far. Defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril will pose the Denver offensive line with a challenge greater than any they’ve faced so far this season, although it’s worth mentioning that Manning was the least sacked quarterback in football this past year. With the Broncos offense mainly focused on short to intermediate throws down the field it would figure that the Seahawks defense will play a physical game and attempt to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and beyond – whether the officials let them get away with any suspect contact remains to be seen and could be crucial to the outcome of the game.
Matt Prater had an excellent year for Denver and is used to kicking in cold weather, so that shouldn’t be an issue for the man who holds the record for the longest field goal in league history. Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka also had a good year and made 14 of 15 kicks from over 40 yards and hasn’t missed yet this post-season, however he doesn’t quite possess Prater’s leg strength.
The return of Percy Harvin should help aid a subdued Seahawks return game, while Eric Decker has emerged as a potentially game changing weapon for the Broncos fielding punts.
Aside from players already on injured reserve, such as Seattle’s Sidney Rice and Denver’s Von Miller, both teams are at pretty much full strength. Percy Harvin has been a full practice participant this week for the Seahawks after missing the NFC Championship game against San Francisco.
According to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com the conditions at kick off should be perfect for football, with cloudy skies and a temperature of around 45 degrees expected despite initial fears the game could be significantly affected by the elements.
Remember you can listen to the American Football Focus Superbowl special podcast here, plus don’t forget to vote for who you think will win Superbowl XLVIII