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The excitement for Super Bowl XLVIII is palpable. New York (and New Jersey) is abuzz, as media from all over the world has descended on the Big Apple, in anticipation of one of the most intriguing Super Bowls in recent memory. Not only is it the pinnacle of the NFL season, it is also the coming together of two uniquely matched teams. It’s the venerable pocket passer, Peyton Manning, up against the gifted mobile quarterback, Russell Wilson. It’s the high-powered passing offense of the Denver Broncos, versus the suffocating secondary of the Seattle Seahawks. It’s the physicality of Demaryius Thomas, going head-to-head with the self-proclaimed ‘best cornerback in the NFL’, in Richard Sherman. These comparisons go on and on, and for the neutral; this is surely the most appetizing Super Bowl in some time.
Before getting too deep into this preview, the elephant in the room, the weather, should be dealt with. Weathermen and women have been treated akin to prophets of doom in the last week, but as we edge closer to the main event, the forecast is looking more encouraging. Currently, temperatures of 36 degrees and winds of 7mph are being forecast, with a chance of precipitation early in the day, but not during the game. With that dealt with, onto the football.
The Broncos, the top ranked offense in the NFL, are hunting for their third Super Bowl title, and their first since current general manager John Elway, was under center. The Seahawks meanwhile, who boast the top ranked defense in the league, are searching for their first Super Bowl trophy, and with their talented young roster, should become a fairly regular fixture in the postseason over the coming years. Conversely, it’s difficult to imagine Manning having another shot at this, and though he already has a Super Bowl ring (with the Indianapolis Colts), he is desperate to add another, not least so because that will bring him level with his brother, Eli.
It’s now taken for granted that the quarterback position is the most pivotal on the field, but if we put aside Manning and Wilson for the moment, who have both been supremely impressive this season, let’s look at the key men for both sides this Sunday.
Key Men – Seattle Seahawks – Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin
The NFL may have become a passing league, but the value of a physical running back, who can make the tough yards, cannot be underestimated. Lynch does fulfill that role, but he also offers much more. He has a surprising turn of pace, underrated footwork, and an ability to make plays out of nothing. Lynch, or ‘Beast Mode’, is already a cult hero in Seattle for his 67-yard touchdown run against the New Orleans Saints in 2010, but if he can do something similar against Denver, he’ll become a part of folk lore in Seattle. If he can play a prominent part in the game, especially early on, it will open up the play action pass to Wilson, and the young quarterback has shown at times this season just how skilled at exploiting that he can be.
A big performance from Lynch not only opens up the play action pass, but will also lead to Denver loading the box, and that will give Percy Harvin the space he craves. Thanks to injuries, the wide receiver has failed to make the early impact he would have liked in Seattle, but he has all the attributes needed to exploit the Denver secondary. The Broncos have talent in their secondary, but outside of Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, they lack the speed to stay with Harvin, and it could prove their downfall. The Seahawks need Harvin to turn in his best performance of the season on Sunday, and if the elusive receiver can get separation, he could well do just that.
Key Men – Denver Broncos – Chris Clark and Wes Welker
Clark has done an exemplary job of filling in for the injured Ryan Clady this season, but keeping Manning upright against pressure from Seattle’s deep defensive line is an unenviable task. The Seahawks’ secondary is perhaps the best in the NFL, and the Broncos’ receivers will need time to find separation. Clark will need to put in the performance of his career as he protects Manning’s blindside, and attempts to give his quarterback the time he needs to dissect Seattle’s defense.
Wes Welker has been key to Manning’s success this season, and needs to play an equally vital role in the Super Bowl. Demaryius Thomas will make plays against Sherman, but equally, Sherman will also make plays against Thomas, and Manning needs Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, and most importantly Welker, to make big plays when needed. Welker has terrorized defenses this year, running shorter routes out of the slot, and often finding mismatches against linebackers. The diminutive receiver will almost certainly need to lead the game in receptions, if not yards, if the Broncos are to prevail.
The game is so finely balanced it’s almost impossible to pick a winner. Even with injuries to Von Miller and Chris Harris, there is still an expectation that the Denver defense will be able to get off of the field against the, at times, inconsistent offense of the Seahawks, and if they can give Manning good field position to work with, it could be advantage Broncos. Denver have so many offensive weapons, that even the vaunted Seattle defense could struggle to live with them, especially with no Brandon Browner accompanying Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor, in the Seahawks’ secondary. It may be a bit antiquated now, but as the saying goes, offense wins games, defense wins championships. Well, there’s one game left to go, albeit a game for a championship. Translation? Erring towards Manning and the Broncos.
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