Posted January 20, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII preview: An early look ahead to Seahawks vs. Broncos

AFC West, Denver Broncos, NFC West, NFL Playoffs, Seattle Seahawks, Super Bowl XLVIII
Richard Sherman (left) and the 'Legion of Boom' will face off against the Broncos' top-ranked passing attack.

Richard Sherman (left) and the ‘Legion of Boom’ will face off against the Broncos’ top-ranked passing attack. (John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty Images)

Considering how much effort teams expend during the regular season chasing the No. 1 playoff seed, the results do not often reward that pursuit. The last time both top seeds made the Super Bowl? During the 2009 season, when the Colts and Saints met. Before that? 1993, Buffalo and Dallas.

That’s just twice in the past two-plus decades.

Denver and Seattle are the latest tandem into that group — the best teams during the regular season and the best teams through the conference playoffs. It sets up what could be a captivating Super Bowl XLVIII, albeit one that will have a tough time matching Super Bowl XLVII or even this year’s NFC title game between the Seahawks and 49ers.

What storylines will be picked apart over the coming weeks in the build up to that game? Audibles presents an early primer:

AFC champion: Denver Broncos

The Broncos may wish they were closing games with a little greater sense of urgency, but it’s hard to nitpick their playoff efforts over the first three quarters. In two postseason games thus far, Denver has outscored its foes (San Diego and New England) by a combined 37-3 over the opening 45 minutes.

The offense, as we’ve all come to expect, has been potent: Peyton Manning threw for 400 yards and two TDs with a QB rating of 118.4 in Sunday’s 26-16 win over New England. It is the defense, though, that may push the Broncos over the top for their first Super Bowl victory since Super Bowl XXXIII. Even down Von Miller and Chris Harris, among others, the Broncos flummoxed Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game.

MORE AFC COVERAGE: Peyton flips script on Brady | Highs, lows | SI’s best photos

Terrance Knighton has led the way up front, playing a huge role in Denver’s suddenly potent rush D — the Chargers and Patriots averaged just 64.5 yards on the ground. In the secondary, the resurgent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is the linchpin, even more so with Harris out of the lineup. Veterans like Shaun Phillips plus rising stars such as Danny Trevathan and Duke Ihenacho have helped transform what was the league’s 22nd-ranked defense during the regular season into a reliable force.

All those names still take a distant backseat to Manning, who is now one win away from his second Super Bowl crown … and his first with the Broncos. His lasting legacy — specifically, how badly he needs Vince Lombardi Trophy No. 2 on his resume — will be a talking point that’s beaten to a pulp over the coming days.

To nail down that accomplishment, he will need his talented group of receivers to solve Seattle’s aggressive “Legion of Boom” secondary. Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas give Manning arguably the best set of pass-catchers in the league, and they’ll need to play like it on Super Bowl Sunday. Continuing to enjoy some balance from running backs Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball unquestionably would take a little pressure off of Manning in the pocket.

NFC champion: Seattle Seahawks

What the Broncos bring to the table offensively, the Seahawks add on the defensive side of the football, which is why this matchup sets up so beautifully. Denver broke all sorts of scoring and yardage records this season, both as a team and Manning himself; the Seahawks led the league in several categories on defense, including points and yards allowed.

The defense saved Seattle’s bacon on Sunday, too. The secondary produced two critical interceptions off Colin Kaepernick in the fourth quarter — one by Kam Chancellor after a Marshawn Lynch fumble opened the door for the 49ers, and another in the final 30 seconds on a jaw-dropping play from Richard Sherman. Seattle’s secondary has struggled with injuries and suspensions all season, but there may not be a better collection of talent across the league.

Earl Thomas often plays second fiddle to Sherman, but his sideline-to-sideline range at safety allows the Seahawks to play as charged as they do near the line of scrimmage. Thomas will be a key element against the Broncos’ varied attack, as he draws responsibilities deep as well as helping to close down the run.

Quarterback Russell Wilson’s ability to keep pace with Manning, should it come to that, will be a mystery until gameday arrives. Despite throwing what stood as the game-winning TD pass Sunday versus San Francisco, Wilson has been up and down for the past six Seattle games. Luckily for him, he has the option to hand off to Marshawn Lynch. The 27-year-old Lynch remains one of the NFL’s most feared running backs; his 40-yard TD run helped swing the NFC championship in Seattle’s favor.

Denver could be susceptible defensively to a few plays downfield. The Seahawks may not have a Thomas/Welker/Decker trio to run out there, but Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse are dangerous in their own right.

The Matchup

Hard to ask for much more than Manning’s record-setting offense against the brash Seattle defense. This should be a game of strength versus strength, though how both teams perform when the roles are flipped — the Seahawks’ inconsistent offense against the Broncos’ average defense — may determine the outcome.

And, of course, a lingering X-factor: the weather. Early forecasts project decent conditions on Feb. 2, but those expectations could switch in a flash. The worse the weather gets on Super Bowl Sunday, the more it should favor Seattle, given how reliant Denver is on its passing attack.

Whether cold and snowy or mild and clear, the Broncos must find some way to protect Manning against a Seattle front that finds ways to the quarterback. Kaepernick was able to avoid major issues (prior to a fourth-quarter sack and fumble) because of his mobility. Manning will not have that same option, so countering the rush with quick passes should be the name of the game.

Expect Seattle’s offense to continue to roll with its usual strategy. That means hammering Lynch between the tackles early and often, then giving Wilson some shots to get out of the pocket to stretch the field.

The previous Super Bowl, between San Francisco and Baltimore, went right down to the closing bell. Will this year’s game follow suit?

25 comments
RoyWilliams
RoyWilliams

Defense win championship enough said!

DwayneMPrentice
DwayneMPrentice

I posted this as a response to some earlier, however I wanted to post it for all to read.


Its not so much that we think we have re-invented the game out here as it is, we just have a unique style that fits all of the players very well. I being a die hard Seahawks fan since 83 also admit our passing game needs to be worked on. However Russell Wilson has a unique ability to scramble very well combined with the going up top throws that makes him dangerous as well as his lack of fear to run if needed. He prefers to be a pocket passer like the rest of the greats however that has not been a good option for him this year. Though he is a Sophomore right now he is building himself a legendary stature as long as he continues his path and matures it properly. Manning is a hell of a qb and has been for a long time. He has an inate ability to read the field extremely well and make a quick change to his advantage which makes him dangerous. He also has cold feet per say when it comes to cold weather and has even himself admitted he does not play well in cold weather. Seattle trains in and out doors year round. Their indoor arena is set a chilly 25 degrees year round so that they can prepare for moments like this. I dont care who you are, doing anything in 25 degree weather just sucks, let alone having to make essentially career calls on the Gridiron.  Our secondary (Legion of Boom) is in fact the best defense in the NFL right now. They have in a sense invented a new style that works out quite well. They are fast, they are strong, and they hit hard. They have also mastered how to pick the ball, which against a player who does nothing but pass is going to be hard for the Broncos to overcome. I do not discredit the Broncos one bit, this will be the best Super Bowl battle this and even last century will have seen in a long time. I called it in pre season when I said it is going to be Denver and Seattle in the Super Bowl this year. They are both dominant teams in the opposite side of the ball. It will be close my prediction is Seattle 27- Denver 24.

joshchristensen30
joshchristensen30

Seahawks have confirmed that Percy Harvin will be back for the Super Bowl.


Interesting and dynamic new element for the Seahawks offense that could cause all sorts headaches for the Denver defense...if he stays healthy

OK
OK

Great defense always beats great offense.

See Giants smacking around Tom Brady.

See Giants keeping Jim Kelly's crew on the sidelines.

Seattle will contain the Broncos and let Peyton throw his usual couple of choke picks (See Colts v. Saints in Super Bowl).

Seahawks offense will mix play-action passing with lots of Marshawn Lynch on the ground. A little Russell Wilson roll-out action and a lot of watching Percy Harvin smile out of uniform on the sidelines as he cashes yet another check.

Seattle 20, Denver 17

ChasHorn
ChasHorn

Unfortunately, the Super Bowl will be played in an old - fashioned college stadium with no roof, in a city with some of the world's worst weather, winter and summer. For a solely commercial sport such as the NFL to allow their premier game to be played in a setting where the weather could be a factor, is absurd. Before it's too late, move this game to a covered stadium in another city this week. Since both teams will be on a neutral field, only keeping the weather out of it's outcome is important. I think the NFL should require every franchise to have or build a weather-proof stadium This is not rah rah college-level football, but a big money sport with the emphasis on money. Never ever allow weather to be a factor.

ElvisHitler
ElvisHitler

Nice job Sherman. The entire world will be rooting for the Broncos in this one.

ChrisSanchez
ChrisSanchez

People want to think Denver suddenly has a stout run D, ummm hello, they finished tied with Seattle at 7th best in the league this season.  Then when people here that they want to make excuses like teams stop running the ball when they get down 14 points.  Clearly those people don't watch football.  Teams always start the game running against Denver because they know they can not afford to get into shootout with Denver.  Just look at yards per attempt, still top 10 run defense.  Yes teams abandon the run after awhile against Denver but its not like they were having great success with it before they were forced to abandon it,  You could make the same argument against Seattle's run defense.  Since the passing defense is so strong, teams try to run the ball more on them so they get more yards against them but it doesn't mean they have struggled to stop the run.  If Denver tackles well, I think they can limit Lynch. IMO the bigger problem is with WIlson scrambling, Denver has no answer for that.  

ericwkillian
ericwkillian

There is also Percy Harvin as a wildcard. Hawks gave 2 weeks to design plays for him and there is really nothing for the Broncos to scout since he's played so little

mthibaultfortcollins
mthibaultfortcollins

Peyton doesn't run so Seattle's secondary can concentrate on hitting the Denver wide outs at the line of scrimmage.  Frank Gore had 14 yards tonight.  Denver shouldn't have a running game versus Seattle.  I say Manning throws a few picks and Seattle lifts the trophy baby!!  

Rocksteady1986
Rocksteady1986

@OK See Green Bay Packers putting up 31 on the Pittsburgh Steelers

See Peyton's Colts passing all over Tillman and the Bears

See St. Louis outlasting Tennessee

Anyone can throw out random examples to prove their point.

newshamg
newshamg

@ChasHorn World's worst weather???? LOL - New York has a reasonably mild climate - no real temperature extremes in any shape or form. Sure it could be snowy and cool - but it could equally likely be in the high forties with some showers and a bit of a breeze.

Strive
Strive

@ChrisSanchez I hadn't seen a lot of Seattle this year but in watching the game yesterday I found myself concerned by the same points you are bringing up. Watching Wilson scramble and go deep left me thinking that Denver hasn't seen much of that this year. Could be a huge issue... or not. Although limited this year, RGIII spent much of the Denver game on his back. 

Rocksteady1986
Rocksteady1986

@mthibaultfortcollins  Being a pocket passer is not and never will be a disadvantage.  Seattle fans need to stop acting like the NFC West has somehow reinvented the game and that anyone with a style that is remotely different is somehow inferior.

By my count, the last 20+ Super Bowl winners have had a pocket passer, with Aaron Rodgers and Steve Young being the only ones who could really be considered mobile at that point in their careers (but the most important parts of their games were really the pass).

Flacco, Eli, Rodgers, Brees, Roethlisberger, Eli, Peyton, Roethlisberger, Brady, Brady, Johnson, Brady, Dilfer, Warner, Elway, Elway, Favre, Aikman, Young, Aikman, Aikman.


Buch o' speedsters right there.

RileyMerino
RileyMerino

@mthibaultfortcollins You'll have the same problem though. You realize that Denver and Seattle finished the season tied for seventh in run defense?

OK
OK

@Rocksteady1986

True, Rock.

Of course, I neglected to mention Peyton's career history of postseason Automatic Choke Jobs against even average defenses.

Fair is fair.

RileyMerino
RileyMerino

 @ChrisSanchez Yeah, it's like the seahawks last week, they contained Frank Gore absolutely fine, the problem was when Colin Kaepernick started to scramble. Broncos will be okay though, they are 6-1 this season vs. mobile quarterbacks.

JAnders
JAnders

@OK@Rocksteady1986At the same time how many Super Bowls do the Seahawks have? Fair is fair! Should be good either way. One important player the Seahawks will be missing is their 12th man. They're not near as intimidating when they're not playing at CenturyLink Field.

Donald C1
Donald C1

@RileyMerino@ChrisSanchezCould be right, Riley -- but Russell Wilson is one of those "mobile QBs" who can throw on the run -- in other words -- not your average "mobile QB."