Now that the dust has settled and the Conference Championships have been decided, I see two very different teams taking the field for NFL Super Bowl XLVIII, set to take place at MetLife Stadium on February 2nd.
New England 16 - Denver 26
The Broncos and Patriots game was expected to be a Clash of the Titans, with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning at the forefront. This game was anything but the battle we were hoping for. The magic of Brady saving the day didn't happen Sunday. With a running game that barely got anything going on the ground, Brady and the passing game sputtered mightily. Julian Edelman showed, once again, that he deserves to be named team MVP after catching 10 balls for 89 yards and a score. The only passing score of the afternoon for the Pats. AFC divisional-round savior LeGarrette Blount showed that one big game does not a good running back make after touching the ball 5 times for 6 total yards. This game should be his ticket out of New England.
For the Broncos, it was business as usual. Manning torched a secondary that was missing Aquib Talib, who had left in the second quarter due to multiple injuries. His loss was dramatic as Demaryius Thomas had no problems gaining yards, finishing up with a game-high 134 receiving yards, off 7 catches, and a score. The Broncos had shown a strong running game during the season. But once Knowshon Moreno exited with a chest injury, the backfield wasn't needed. Manning's ability to pick apart the Pats' defense to the tune of 400 yards and 2 touchdowns was enough.
While the Broncos rely heavily on their offensive powerhouse, the NFC representatives provide an entirely different strategy coming into the big game.
San Francisco 17 - Seattle 23
The Seahawks might not have the offense Denver puts on the field, but they rely on three key areas experts believe makes a Super Bowl winner:
- A quarterback who doesn't make too many mistakes.
- A running game that has the ability to eat up the clock.
- A defense that makes plays at the perfect time.
Out of all 12 quarterbacks in this year's playoffs, Russell Wilson ranked last in passing yards with 318 (159.0 in 2 games). When you look at that number, you wonder how the hell did the Seahawks make it so far. Quite simply, Wilson makes just enough throws and good decision making that he sets the team up for points in every game. His stat box might not look intriguing, but you can't argue that Wilson has hurt the team. While he has had more disappointing games than great ones in 2013, he's done just enough not to lose. Unfortunately, he's going to have to have the best game of his career if the Seahawks are forced to keep pace with the Broncos.
The second reason the Seahawks work is their true bread and butter: their running game. To say Marshawn Lynch is an important part of the offense is an understatement. HE IS THE OFFENSE. In two games thus far in the playoffs, Lynch has rushed 50 times, racked up 259 rushing yards and scored 3 times. Keeping the ball out of Manning's hands by churning out yards by Lynch will be a key factor if the Seahawks want to keep pace throughout the Super Bowl. The Broncos have only given up a little less than 65 yards on the ground in the past two games, but they have yet to face a talent like Lynch. Ryan Mathews and Shane Vereen don't even come close.
Lastly, the Seahawks Defense is what will give the team any chance of keeping the score close with the likes of Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker on the other side. Say what you want about Richard Sherman. He might be outspoken and talk a lot of trash, but he backs it up on the field. Holding Michael Crabtree to just 4 catches Sunday was a feat, but Sherman will have his biggest test against Demaryius Thomas. That's one matchup I'm looking forward to the most. Like Wilson, the Seahawks do just enough by way of turnovers to make each game close. This is another part of the Seahawks who will need to bring their A game.
The Broncos might be a slam dunk to win it all by most analysts over the next two weeks. I'm sure Las Vegas thinks so, but it wouldn't shock me to see the Seahawks make it a closer game than some might wind up predicting. If the combination of Wilson, Lynch and the defense can find perfect harmony on the field, not to mention a start by Percy Harvin, I think the Seahawks will push the Broncos as far as they can go.
Unlike the original story, Goliath will be too much for David to handle, with Peyton Manning winning his second Super Bowl and, possibly, calling it a career: Broncos 27 - Seahawks 21.
Is my prediction off base? Do you think the Seahawks D can keep a handle on Peyton Manning and keep him from putting up another 300+ yard game we're used to seeing? Can Russel Wilson pull some last-minute magic out of his hat and put up the game of a lifetime?