Ready for some football?
The NFL's biggest game is back, and we've got three questions and a prediction for Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. (Sunday, 4:25 p.m.):
1. Can the Broncos limit Lynch? San Francisco hadn’t yielded 100 rushing yards to any running back in the regular season or playoffs. Then, Seahawks’ RB Marshawn Lynch ran for 109 against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game.
The Broncos are nearly as stingy against the run as San Francisco is; they have allowed just one 100-yard rusher all season (the Chargers’ Ryan Mathews in Week 15).
The Seahawks are a run-first team and depend on Lynch to open up their passing game; if the Broncos can contain Lynch the same way the Cardinals did when they ended Seattle’s two-year home unbeaten streak in Week 16 (71 yards on 18 carries), they’ll probably come out on top.
2. Who wins the secondary battle? Cue the irresistible force vs. immovable object cliché: In the regular season, the Broncos’ 340 passing yards per game was the NFL’s best and 33 better than the next-best team, while the Seahawks’ league-best 172 passing yardsallowed per game was 22 fewer than the next-best team.
The Seahawks’ 28 team interceptions in 2013 were tops in the NFL, and cornerback Richard Sherman’s eight picks led all players. But Manning sported a 40-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio inside the opponents’ 20-yard line in the regular season, and his trio of wide receivers – Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker – along with tight end Julius Thomas combined for 4,284 yards and 47 touchdowns. Seattle’s secondary is terrific, but does it have the horses to lock down all of Manning’s targets for four quarters?
3. Weather – or not? Much has been made about Manning’s ability, or lack thereof, to handle the cold weather that is expected at MetLife Stadium on Sunday evening. Manning has played in the outdoor Sports Authority Field in Denver for the past two years, but he spent his first 13 NFL seasons playing his home games inside a dome – and many believe he just isn’t himself in cold weather.
There is some truth to that assertion, as Manning has a record of just 8-11 in outdoor games – including 1-2 this season – in which the temperature was below 40 degrees at kickoff. The temperature is expected to be in the 30-35-degree range at the beginning of Super Bowl XLVIII. Will Jack Frost once again nip Manning on Sunday, or will he be able to use the endless speculation about his ineffectiveness in cold weather as motivation to silence his critics for good?
Prediction: If the old adage that defense wins championships holds true on Sunday, the Seahawks will return to the Emerald City with their first ever Lombardi Trophy in tow. But Seattle is a relatively young, inexperienced team – no player on its roster has ever played in a Super Bowl, and the age gap between Manning (37) and the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson (25) is the largest ever between opposing Super Bowl quarterbacks.
The difference in this game will be the Broncos’ defense, which was ineffective for much of the season but has allowed 17 or fewer points in each of its last four games, including its playoff wins over San Diego and New England. Led by linebacker Danny Trevathan, whose 128 regular-season tackles were fifth in the AFC, Denver’s D isn’t as talented as Seattle’s is, but it has gotten hot at the right time – and timing is everything in the NFL playoffs.
Denver 24, Seattle 20.