This may not be the Super Bowl YOU wanted to see, but it’s definitely the one MOST people wanted to see…Peyton Manning and his record-breaking offense vs. the tough Seattle ‘D’, featuring arguably the best pass defense of the last 20 years. As a bonus, we get the top seeds from each conference squaring off, the first time that has happened since 1993! Let’s take a closer look.
This game opened as a toss-up but has moved to Denver being favored by 2.5 – which I think is due in large part to the improving weather forecast. I felt from the beginning that the weather was going to play a HUGE role in this game, especially with this particular matchup – Manning has well-documented issues with extreme cold, and Seattle is more adapted to playing in cold/wind/rain than the Broncos. However, with a forecast high of 44 degrees and only a 20% chance of precip with light winds, I do not expect the weather to be a huge factor. By game’s end the temps may be slightly below freezing, but nothing that both teams aren’t accustomed to in their own stadiums.
Much is being made of the battle between Manning and the Seattle secondary, but I believe the game will be won on the ground – particularly when Seattle has the ball. My key matchup is Seattle’s effective run game, particularly their o-line, vs. Denver’s overlooked-but-effective run defense. The Broncos have held five of their last six opponents under 100 yards rushing, and in their last three games have allowed 64, 65, and 64 rushing yards. Now, you can make excuses for the woeful Raiders, or point out that Chargers RB Ryan Mathews was hurt…but the Patriots were coming off consecutive 200-yard rushing performances, and had been held under 80 yards rushing only once all season.
Seattle has rushed for at least 100 yards in 14 of 18 contests, and they were held under 80 yards only twice – but that’s not terribly surprising, since Seattle is clearly a run-first team. The problem for Seattle is the increasing lack of balance on offense; they have not passed for 200 yards in a game since December 2 – that’s six straight sub-200 yard passing games, and before that they passed for 200+ in nine of their first 12 games. Seattle simply does not have the weapons to scare teams via the pass, so their run game is crucial to their success on offense…and while I think they will gain more than 65 yards this week, I question their ability to control the clock (and hence the game) on the ground.
I expect Denver’s run defense to stand up to the challenge much of the day, which puts the focus squarely on QB Russell Wilson. His improvisation and rushing skills are the x-factor in this game and the fact that Denver has never played against him is a mark in Seattle’s favor, especially early on. For Seattle to win, I think Wilson needs to rush for 50+ yards and make at least two or three ‘Big Ben’-type plays, improvising a big play out of a bad situation.
Now, to the big battle – Peyton vs. the defense. Seattle has the weapons to slow the Denver aerial attack more than any team they’ve faced thus far, and if Denver throws for 400 yards I’d be SHOCKED – but this Bronco offense is too diverse, and Peyton is too good at spotting mismatches, for Seattle to completely neutralize them. As they have all season, Denver will make plays through the air – Seattle has to keep the big plays to a minimum, force pressure with their front four (DE Michael Bennett has been their biggest surprise this season with 8.5 sacks), and most importantly force at least one turnover. As I mentioned before, Seattle THRIVES on creating turnovers – they forced a turnover in 17 of 18 games, and forced two or more a whopping 13 times! I do not believe they can win unless they force at least two crucial turnovers.
Seattle’s run defense has been suspect at times, and Denver’s run game is always overlooked with Manning at the helm. Look for Denver to establish the run early – maybe not the first series, but certainly in the first quarter – to force the front seven to play near the line of scrimmage and open up seams for Manning’s passes.
Weather, turnovers, and plain old luck will all play into the outcome of this Super Bowl – but in my mind, no one has truly stopped Denver all season and I don’t think Seattle will this week either. Denver will get their 20-25 points, the question is can Seattle score enough to win? With their anemic passing attack, I have serious doubts, especially if Denver gets out to an early lead. Seattle has a great pass defense, but only an ordinary run defense – and against arguably the greatest offense in history, I don’t think it will be quite enough. I like the BRONCOS by SEVEN.
Dave Glass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.