Alright. So, the dust has settled, the weak have been eliminated, the Crabtrees have been insulted, the Bradys have been bested, and here we are: right where we thought we would be back in August. Broncos vs. Seahawks. The two #1 seeds. The two teams that many have thought were the class of their respective conferences since before this season began. We couldn’t possibly ask for a better matchup: the league’s #1 offense against the league’s #1 defense. The veteran, record-setting QB against the fresh, young swagger of the Seattle D. Beautiful, efficient offense, vs. ugly, smack-you-in-the-mouth defense and a power running game. It should be a Super Bowl for the ages, folks. You’ll get my gambling take on Friday, but for now, here is Super Bowl XLVIII broken down, matchup-by-matchup.
Broncos’ Offense vs. Seahawks’ Defense
-Denver Protection vs. Seattle Pass Rush:
The Seahawks have a solid pass rush, coming in 8th in the league during the regular season with 44 sacks. However, Denver, even minus All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady, starting guard Chris Kuper, and starting center J.D. Walton for essentially the entire season, allowed a league-low in sacks, allowing Peyton Manning to be taken down only 20 times all year – 3 fewer times than second place in the league. While the Seahawks have an impressive defense all-around, pass-rushing is not their specialty, per se. They rely on getting enough pressure to force bad throws, and in doing so, they allow their outstanding secondary to make plays, which they do with regularity. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett are no slackers, and the Broncos’ tackle duo of Chris Clark and Orlando Franklin will have their hands full…but I expect them to keep #18’s jersey clean in Super Bowl XLVIII, just like they’ve done all year.
-Denver Ground Game vs. Seattle Run-D:
While Denver lacks a running QB to say the least, they’ve been a decent rushing team all season long with the combination of Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball. Going into the season, Denver’s backfield was a muddled mess, but Moreno, who was formerly considered a bust, and nearly cut last year, finally looked like the first round pick he was supposed to be this year. Ball started off a little slowly, but ended up being a nice short-yardage complement to Moreno down the stretch. The Broncos are certainly a team predicated on the pass, but they’ve been able to exploit matchups with their ground game when the situation calls for it (see: Week 12 @ New England). Seattle, meanwhile, ranked 1st against the pass and “only” 7th against the run. But that is not to say the Seahawks are the least bit generous against opposing rushers…at least those not named Colin Kaepernick, who always seems to run all over them. Seattle has a dominant front seven that has feasted on opposing ball-carriers for most of Pete Carroll’s tenure. While pass-first teams like the Saints, Falcons, Colts, and Giants all struggled mightily to run the ball against the Seahawks, other teams have had measures of success this year. Rams’ RB Zac Stacy blistered Seattle in his first meeting with them this year, the Vikings’ Peterson-Gerhart combo combined for a nice day, and Kaepernick and Gore both drove the Seahawks nuts at different times this year. I could really see this going either way, and I think a key for Denver will be establishing a run game to complement Peyton’s passing. I’m giving a slight edge to Seattle, just because the Broncos’ running game can be pretty inconsistent and situation-dependent.
-Denver Passing Game vs. Seattle Pass-D:
Here it is, the matchup of all matchups. Peyton Manning and his four-headed monster against the Legion of Boom. Something’s gotta give. The Broncos’ HOUSED pretty much every team they played, a windy week in New England excepted, with Peyton dealing the rock to Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker out wide, Wes Welker in the slot, and breakout tight-end Julius Thomas in tight. All season long, Peyton has exploited matchups and found ways to get the ball to whichever of his stud ball-catchers could make the most of his mismatch. However, if there is any team in the NFL that stands a chance shutting down the record-setting Denver offense, it’s the Seahawks and their star-studded trio of Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas (usually it’s a foursome, but Brandon Browner is suspended). The Legion of Boom has dominated opposing passing games all year long, making damn-near every QB they’ve faced look silly. Seattle has allowed opponents to throw for a ridiculously-inept 172 yards per game, 22 fewer than the second-best New Orleans Saints. Seattle also led the league with an absurd 28 interceptions – five more than second place, and also came in first in YPA, allowing opposing QBs to rack up only 5.8 yards per pass thrown. This is simply strength on strength, and it’s as close to a toss-up as there is…But the Broncos, by almost any metric, have the best passing offense OF ALL TIME, and the Seahawks just have the best defensive secondary this year. I have to go with the Broncos.
Seahawks’ Offense vs. Broncos’ Defense
-Seattle Protection vs. Denver Pass Rush:
The Seahawks, somewhat surprisingly, ranked only 20th in the NFL in preventing opponents from sacking Russell Wilson, allowing him to be taken down 44 times, more than double how many times Peyton Manning was sacked. Meanwhile, the Broncos ranked 13th in sacking opposing QBs, totalling 41 sacks on the season, despite being without the services of elite pass-rusher Von Miller for the vast majority of the year. Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers have done their best to fill Miller’s shoes, but there is no doubt that Denver is a mediocre pass-rushing team without their stud. Seattle has been exceedingly mediocre in pass-pro too, though. At the end of the day, I think if the Broncos were able to get past a superior Patriots’ O-Line to bother Brady, they’ll be able to do the same on Sunday.
-Seattle Ground Game vs. Denver Run-D:
Seattle has a punishing inside ground game with Beast Mode Marshawn Lynch, and a nice outside complement with Russell Wilson always posing a threat to break off a 30-yard run. Seattle ranked fourth in the league in rushing, as they piled up 136 yards per game. Denver, on the other hand, has been a bend-but-not-break run defense all year. They ranked 15th in the league in rush defense during the regular season, but lost key parts on their interior defensive line with injuries to Kevin Vickerson and Derek Wolfe. Nonetheless, the Broncos were extremely effective in COMPLETELY shutting down what was supposed to be a potent Patriots’ rushing attack in the Conference Championship.While Denver has been surprisingly stingy against the run this year, allowing only Ryan Mathews to individually top 100 yards against them, much of that has been situational, as the Broncos simply blew many teams out. That will not be the case here, as the Seahawks will run it early and often. I don’t think Marshawn is having a career game, but Seattle is simply superior here.
-Seattle Passing Game vs. Denver Pass-D:
If the Broncos’ passing attack vs. Seattle’s secondary is the biggest strength-on-strength matchup of Super Bowl XLVIII, this matchup is the closest thing we have to weakness-on-weakness. This is not a knock on Russell Wilson, as he has made the most of what he’s had to work with all season. But what he’s had to work with in Percy Harvin’s perpetual absentia is a receiving corps headlined by Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Jermaine Kearse. Yikes. While Harvin WILL play on Sunday, it remains to be seen if he’ll be effective, since he’s hardly seen the field this year, and even if he IS effective, is anyone really counting on him staying healthy for four quarters? Me neither. Meanwhile, the Broncos passing D has been a veritable sieve for most of the season – a situation that hasn’t been improved by Chris Harris’s torn ACL in the playoffs. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has looked like a legit #1 corner for most of the season, but other than him, it gets dicey. Champ Bailey looked good last week, but the dude is old, and has been injured much of the year to boot. Tony Carter and Kayvon Webster simply lack the experience to be starting corners. And DO NOT get me started on The Ghost of Quentin Jammer. Denver’s safety situation is exceedingly “meh” too, with journeyman Mike Adams, second-year UFA Duke Ihenacho, and Raiders castoff Michael Huff getting most of the reps. Yikes there, too. This matchup literally rests on Percy Harvin’s feeble shoulders, but assuming he is a factor in any appreciable way, I think the Seahawks have a slight edge over an injury-decimated Broncos’ secondary.
The Broncos have one of the best punters in the league, even if he’s scarcely used, in Britton Colquitt. They have arguably the best kicker in the league this year with new record-holder Matt Prater, who only missed one kick on the season. They have an electric, terrifying (for opponents and the Broncos…dude fumbles a lot) return-man in Trindon Holliday. However, the Broncos have been atrocious on kick and punt coverage all season long, resulting in one of the worst starting field position differentials in the league.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, have a kicker who only missed two FG’s on ten more attempts than Prater in Stephen Hauschka. They have a competent punter in Jon Ryan, even if he’s unspectacular. They have a mediocre return game, which again, has something to do with Percy Harvin’s severe lack of playing time this season…not that the ‘Hawks will be dumb enough to put Harvin’s glass bones on kick-return duty this week, though.
The Broncos’ coverage issues and occasional muffed punts notwithstanding, I think they’re the stronger unit here.
Pretty easy here. The Broncos finished the season with a turnover differential of zero…they turned it over 26 times and took it away 26 times. The Seahawks finished the season with an NFL-best +20 differential, taking it away 39 times, and giving it away only 19. Turnovers could be a major factor in a game this evenly-matched, and the Seahawks have a big edge here.
Pete Carroll is new-school, trendy, and his players LOVE playing for him. John Fox is old-school, traditional, and a man’s man. Both coaches have had their share of successes and failures, but let’s not forget that Fox is the one that only lasted a few months on the unemployment line after being fired, while Carroll received no NFL offers for awhile following his failures coaching in the NFL the first time around. But even more importantly, it’s simple: John Fox has coached on this stage before, Pete Carroll has not.
The Broncos have 4 players who have been to the Super Bowl before, the Seahawks are the first team with 0 players with Super Bowl experience to make it to the Big Game in nearly twenty years…The Seahawks are the second-youngest team in the Super Bowl era…The last time the #1 offense played the #1 defense was 2002, when the Tampa Bay Bucs (#1 defense) crushed the Oakland Raiders (#1 offense)…In the four times that the top scoring offense has played the top scoring defense in the Super Bowl, the top-ranked defense has prevailed…Under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks are only 15-20 away from Seattle…Since 2006, Peyton Manning is 4-1 against teams with the #1 ranked defense.
The Advantage: BRONCOS 6 – 4 SEAHAWKS
The Prediction: BRONCOS 27, SEAHAWKS 24
Tags : Broncos, Demaryius Thomas, Denver, Denver Broncos, featured, football, Knowshon Moreno, Matchup, NFL, NFL Football, Peyton Manning, picks, Predictions, Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, Seahawks, Seattle, Seattle Seahawks, sports, Sports Takes, Super Bowl, Super Bowl 48, Super Bowl Sunday, Super Bowl XLVIII