Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, January 31, 2014 at 11:34 AM
IT’S OUR SUPER BOWL XLVIII PREVIEW –WE EXAMINE/ANALYZE SUNDAY’S GAME BETWEEN THE SEAHAWKS VS. THE BRONCOS
PLUS THERE’S TEAM CHARTS, POINT-SPREAD NOTES AND LOTS MORE IN TODAY’S JIM SEZ COLUMN!
By Jim Hurley
Now here’s a question that we’ve asked ourselves for years come each and every Super Bowl (and this year – maybe more than ever – it’s a really tough one to answer):
What is the single-most dominant unit that’ll be on the field come Sunday night in New Jersey?
Okay, so you go back to the 1985 Chicago Bears or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and the question was easily answered back then … dee-fense, dee-fense!
Maybe you knew it was a no-brainer question, too when it came to the Super Bowls following the 1989 season with the San Francisco 49ers or think back just a couple of years ago with the 2010 Green Bay Packers – a dominant offense was the obvious answer in those particular cases and both times those teams prevailed in a Super Bowl game.
The reason we ask this annual Super Bowl question is because – way more times than not – the team with the head-and-shoulders most dominant unit usually goes on to win (and cover).
But here we are on the eve of Super Bowl XLVIII and for every “expert” we’ve asked the answer has been split:
What is a more dominant unit … The Denver Broncos’ top-ranked offense or the Seattle Seahawks’ top-rated defense?
As y’all know by now, this marks the first time since the 1990 NFL season that a No. 1 offense (Buffalo) squared off against a No. 1 defense (New York Giants) and while the 7-point underdog Giants hung on to win that game 20-19 thanks to the “wide right” field-goal attempt by Bills PK Scott Norwood, the reality of that tilt was the NYG offense – which possessed the ball for 40 minutes of game time – really was the diff-making unit in that one.
Meanwhile, the Broncos set all kinds of offensive records this year including points per game (37.9 ppg), passing yards (340.3 ypg) and total offense (457.3 ypg) and – without a scintilla of a doubt -- the lead-up to SB 48 has been all about Denver QB Peyton Manning, who won his first-and-only Super Bowl crown some seven years ago, and now is a slight favorite to win another here against the 2 ½-point underdog Seahawks.
Manning watched little brother Eli win his second Super Bowl title in Indianapolis in 2011 – that’s the last year Peyton was a member of the Colts (although he missed the entire season following four neck surgeries/procedures) – and now big brother will try to win in Eli’s backyard.
Will it be a crowning achievement for Peyton Manning … or yet another painful post-season loss?
SUPER BOWL XLVIII
MetLife Stadium – East Rutherford, NJ
SEATTLE (15-3) vs. DENVER (15-3) – 6:25 p.m. ET, Fox
Now that these once-upon-a-time AFC West rivals have jetted all the way to the other side of the country to face one another, it’s time to get down to business.
Let’s just say the business at hand for the Broncos is to get that high-octane offense into a real rhythm here and make Manning nice and cozy behind what’s been an “A+” offensive line that’s been the under-the-radar real star of this NFL post-season.
Not only has Manning not been sacked in playoff wins against San Diego and New England, but the 37-year-old slinger has barely been touched, and so the $64,000 question here is can/will the Seattle defense get heat on Manning with just a four-man pass rush, or might it take some blitzes/gimmicks to get in his grill?
Note that Seattle – which ranked third against the pass (172 ypg) and seventh versus the rush (101.6 ypg) – collected 44 quarterback sacks this year that ranked ‘em eighth league-wide … maybe not as good as you might have thought considering all the teams that were playing catch-up against the Seahawks.
Okay, so the Broncos have been less productive in this post-season than they were in regular-season play – Denver’s scored a grand total of 50 points in the playoffs so far – but Manning’s followed a familiar script with a spread-the-wealth attack.
In the regular season, Manning threw an NFL-record 55 TDs with 5,477 yards passing, and note 10 different pass-catchers caught 10-or-more balls thrown by the sure-fire MVP and here that will be key stuff as WR Demaryius Thomas – who likely will get shadowed by CB Richard Sherman here – must get help from fellow wide-outs Eric Decker and Wes Welker.
Note this threesome combined for 252 receptions this year, and the Broncos were most effective when all three were targeted often, but it’s TE Julius Thomas (12 TDs this year) who must make himself a mismatch star against this secondary that won’t be shy about delivering borderline dangerous hits – while everyone suggests this game might come down to the head-to-head matchup of Demaryius Thomas versus the ever-chatty Sherman, it could be that Seattle S Earl Thomas must keep Julius Thomas in line for the ‘Hawks to spring the mild upset here.
On the other hand, if the Broncos’ pass-catchers can hang onto the ball and get some serious YAC (yards after catch) real estate, it will be tough for Seattle to slow ‘em down.
Conversely, the Seahawks could well be looking to take a page out of the 1990 NY Giants’ Super Bowl playbook – have RB Marshawn Lynch (249 yards rushing and three TDs in post-season wins against New Orleans and San Francisco) chew up yards with 25-plus carries and whittle down both the game clock and the play clock here.
Tell us right now Manning and Company only get off 60-or-so plays from scrimmage (the Broncos had the ball for 71 plays and 35:44 in that 26-16 AFC Championship Game win against New England two weeks ago) and we’ll tell you that the Seahawks will be hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy come ‘round 9:45 p.m. ET on Sunday night.
THE KEYS –
The pass rush on Manning remains the single-biggest key here – as folks have been saying this week the Seattle pass-rushers must get Manning “off his mark” and that’s easier said than done – but don’t sleep on the fact that Denver’s pass rushers must keep Seattle QB Russell Wilson in the pocket here, or the second-year star will create major havoc with his scrambles and impromptu runs.
Wilson has not been picked off in this year’s playoff wins against New Orleans and San Francisco and here he gets back WR Percy Harvin – please don’t ask us if he’ll be 100 percent because that hasn’t been the case all year long – and suddenly this receiving corps isn’t so bad, but the likes of Harvin, WRs Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin and even TE Zach Miller must make their fair share of “chunk plays” in this offense because Seattle simply can’t put all its offensive eggs in the basket of RB Lynch, right?
One other key:
The underdog Seahawks thrive when their “Legion of Boom” defense is setting the tone – so Seattle must make this an ultra-physical game, make Denver pass-catchers ”feel” the footsteps coming up on ‘em and make this an old-fashioned alley fight. The Broncos may have to survive an initial wave of major emotion coming from the Seahawks’ side – let’s side if the Broncos can do it.
THE COACHES –
Denver head coach John Fox is loose – and why not considering his mid-season heart scare that forced him to miss four of his team’s games from Week 10 through 13. It’s been well documented that Fox is now one of six head coaches to lead different teams to the Super Bowl (his Carolina club lost a wild 32-29 affair to New England after the 2003 season) and gotta believe his past Super Bowl experience helps here.
Meanwhile, Seattle’s fourth-year head coach Pete Carroll is no stranger to really big games – see the BCS Championship back in the mid-2000s with his USC teams – but this is a bit different and Carroll showed late in that NFC title win against San Fran that he could be a tad indecisive in crunch-time moments. Maybe the biggest thing Carroll will have to do here is know when to send out PK Steven Hauschka and when not to... especially if the tricky winds inside MetLife Stadium begin to act up.
THE INTANGIBLES/X-FACTORS – All the talk about the New York/New Jersey weather has (thankfully) calmed down a bit with the latest forecast calling for low 40-degree temps (although it could get down to freezing marks late in the game), and so let’s toss the weather out here and instead concentrate on two “intangibles” or “X Factors”:
Number one, if Manning was to struggle at all with the wind/cold here, could Denver RBs Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball pick up the slack and carry it 25-to-30 times between ‘em? Here’s a vote that says “yes” as both are physical runners who make tough between-the-tackle yards and as we discussed earlier this week here in a previous Jim Sez column we do believe a big part of this game will be Denver’s short-yardage success or lack thereof. Hey, the Broncos won’t mind a script that has ‘em with the ball for 70 plays and close to a dead-even 50-50 split of run/pass.
Finally, nobody – and we mean nobody – has talked this week about the punting on either side – okay, so Denver P Britton Colquitt has punted the ball just one time total in the two playoff wins while Seattle P Jon Ryan has been solid this post-season with eight punts overall (two were inside the 20 and three were fair catches), but count us among the folks who believe that field position based on a punt or two here will be a major X-factor in SB XLVIII.
And That's Why I, Jim Hurley, The Master Of The Only True National Sports Information NETWORK
THE FORECAST –
Simply put, it Manning winds up getting sacked two times or less and turns the ball over once (or not at all), then Denver might win this one going away. Seattle, meanwhile, must shorten this game, make it about toughness and tough guys and not be afraid to let Wilson hurl a few deep balls with the hope of gobbling up real estate with the occasional home run balls. The two weeks off probably helped Manning in his film preparation, but it also helped Seattle mentally rebound from that epic game with the Niners.
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Here’s a game-by-game look at this year’s Seattle Seahawks and note all home teams are in CAPS below:
|2||SEATTLE||- 3||San Francisco||29-3|
|4||Seattle||- 1||HOUSTON||23-20 ot|
|9||SEATTLE||- 16.5||Tampa Bay||27-24 ot|
|13||SEATTLE||- 6.5||New Orleans||34-7|
|14||SAN FRAN.||- 2.5||Seattle||19-17|
|15||Seattle||- 9||NY GIANTS||23-0|
|17||SEATTLE||- 11.5||St. Louis||27-9|
|DIV||SEATTLE||- 9||New Orleans||23-15|
Pointspread Notes – The Seahawks are 12-6 ATS (against the spread) overall this season and that includes a pointspread “W” in the team’s lone game as an underdog side (see Week 14 in San Francisco). Overall, Seattle is 6-2 spreadwise away and a dead-even but vig-losing 2-2 when playing AFC competition. Finally, the Seahawks have split their two in-season games that came following a week off as Seattle covered New Orleans back in Week 13 after the bye week but then failed to cover the Saints in that NFC Divisional Playoff Game after getting a first-round playoff bye.
Here’s a game-by-game look at this year’s Denver Broncos and note all home teams are in CAPS below:
|2||Denver||- 3.5||NY GIANTS||41-23|
|10||Denver||- 7||SAN DIEGO||28-20|
|11||DENVER||- 7.5||Kansas City||27-17|
|12||NEW ENGLAND||PK||Denver||34-31 ot|
|13||Denver||- 5.5||KANSAS CITY||35-28|
|15||San Diego||+ 10||DENVER||27-20|
|DIV||DENVER||- 9||San Diego||24-17|
Pointspread Notes -- The Broncos are 11-7 ATS overall this season and that includes an 11-6 spread mark when in the betting favorite’s role as Denver’s lone game as a non-favorite came back in a Week 12 pick ‘em affair in New England. Denver is 5-3 spreadwise away and 3-1 ATS when playing NFC competition. Finally, the Broncos also split their two in-season games that came following a week off as Denver covered San Diego back in Week 10 after the bye week but then failed to cover the Chargers in that AFC Divisional Playoff Game after getting a first-round playoff bye.
Note: Get more Super Bowl goodies plus hoops in tomorrow’s Jim Sez.