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NFL Super Bowl XLVIII rundown
Of New York, Walt Whitman once wrote, “There is no place like it, no place with an atom of its glory, pride, and exultancy. It lays its hand upon a man’s (guts); he grows drunk with ecstasy; he grows young and full of glory, he feels that he can never die.” Similar sentiments could be made on the Super Bowl, as the Broncos and Seahawks hope to capture this Empire State of mind.
Denver, boasting the NFL's best offense and the league’s biggest star, faces a menacing Seattle defense that's rained on opposing attacks all season long. A big game truly suited for the Big Apple.
The Case for Denver: Viewed as the weak link in the chain by most of the Mile High faithful, the Broncos’ defense has been an impenetrable force as of late, restraining adversaries to 17 points or less in four straight contests. This is exceptionally remarkable considering the array of injuries writhed by the Denver unit, losing Von Miller, Derek Wolfe and Chris Harris as starters (along with a lingering foot ailment hampering the facility of All-Pro Champ Bailey). Seattle's sturdy ranks will likely impede Denver’s usual damage on the scoreboard, making it vital for the Broncos to maintain their defensive efforts.
Hoping to break through the Seahawks’ brick wall is the combo of Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball. Widely believed to be a first-round flameout, Moreno enjoyed a career rejuvenation this fall, finishing the year with over 1,580 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns. Ball, a rookie out of Wisconsin, overcame early-season security issues to play a part in Denver’s winter run, averaging over 55 rushing yards per game in the last three contests to complement Moreno. Together, the duo makes for a formidable ground attack.
Oh, and there’s the matter of that Peyton Manning guy. I’m told he’s pretty good.
Coming off a near-flawless performance against his historical tormentors in the AFC Conference Championship, Manning is 60 minutes away from his second Super Bowl ring, forever silencing the barbs of his playoff record and "Rex Grossman!" Alas, to claim this crown, Manning will need to hurdle an obstacle he's been unable to clear: the cold. Though the quarterback has stated his disregard for this theory, the numbers don't lie: Manning is just 4-7 in contests when the weather is 32 degrees or lower. With the early forecast looking arctic, the 37-year-old will need to tame these ice-covered demons to bring a title back to the Rockies.
(Also, I’d like to pat myself on the back for making it to the fifth paragraph before mentioning Manning. I dare you to find another Super Bowl column that makes it past the third sentence without remarking on the venerable arm. Now that I think about it, there’s probably a reason for that. Yep, I definitely dropped the ball on this one. Anyway…)
The Case for Seattle: Even before a certain cornerback jumped through our televisions, the Seahawks resistance was the heart and soul of this squad. The Seattle defense has been putting the hammer down to the tune of 14.4 points per game (best in the league). The face of this troop is Richard Sherman, who, like many ensemble frontmen, is an enigmatic study. While the spectrum is varied on Sherman's disposition (more on this in a moment), there's no doubting his sway on the field, as the Stanford product has consistently encumbered his challengers’ receiving labors. Sherman's endeavors, combined with the production from fellow secondary cohorts Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, are the core of an outfit that is allowing a league-low 172 passing yards per game. Tasked with stopping the aerial onslaught of Denver, this clash will be must-see theater.
When Seattle has the rock, look for Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson to lead the parade. "Beast Mode" is an appropriate description of Lynch's recent chaos, rushing for 346 yards and four touchdowns in the past three contests. Moreover, his terrain proficiency has eased the offensive burden from Wilson's shoulders, imperative as the Seattle quarterback has somewhat struggled in the past six weeks. Wilson remains a viable threat under center, with his mobility presenting matchup issues for opponents. Nevertheless, Wilson works best in an administrative mode, putting the responsibility in Lynch’s hands to do damage against a Broncos front that's been stout against the run (101.6 yards per game, eighth-best in the NFL).
Richard Sherman Take Because RICHARD SHERMAN: What’s a Super Bowl column without a comment on the defensive lighting rod? Three quick points:
- Concluding personal condemnations on the man from one moment is absurd. That outburst does not serve as an extension of Sherman as an individual. Furthermore, let’s put to rest the “This behavior is what’s wrong with sports!” tale. Athletics has roughly 253 other issues demanding resolve rather than a player yelling into a camera.
- In that same breath, just because Sherman is an astute, engaging mind doesn’t automatically atone for trolling Michael Crabtree after the game. Whatever happened to letting the scoreboard state your case? I understand why a legion of writers came to his aid to show us the other side of Sherman, yet so many of these narratives were penned to somehow justify his actions. Guy screwed up, let it be.
- Anyone else notice the Clubber Lang parallels? I kept waiting for Sherman to scream, “No, I don’t hate Manning. I pity the fool, and I will destroy any man who tries to take what I got!”
Line: Denver -2.5, 48.5 points
Proof That You Can’t Win: Manning has been raked over the coals throughout his career for bustin’ up box scores during the regular season but falling short in the “big moment.” In spite of record-breaking passing marks, the only figure that matters to critics is his playoff record, which would be a losing one if the Broncos come up empty against the Seahawks.
Judging by this barometer, Wilson should be golden, racking up a 24 wins (most by a quarterback in his first two years in the league) along with a 3-1 record in the playoffs. Right?
Apparently not, as skeptics are claiming the Seahawks have reached his point in spite of Wilson, with his recent underwhelming output (57.9 completion percentage, 167 passing yards per game, five touchdowns, four turnovers in his last six outings) as evidence.
While each assertion has varying degrees of sincerity, ultimately they are unsubstantiated. Wilson’s merits have helped, not held back, the Seahawks this season. Though the term “game manager” has negative connotation, the label means anything but for the Seattle signal caller, as his moxie and leadership are traits that fail to translate to his stat line. Conversely, it’s not Manning’s fault that his prime coincided with one of the greatest dynasties the league has ever seen in the Patriots, or that his Indianapolis defenses were occasionally not up to the championship task (or Rahim Moore, for that matter).
One quarterback’s legacy will grow with a Super Bowl win, but a loss will not necessarily translate as a taint to the other.
TV: FOX – 6:30 p.m. EST
Prop Bet Advice: This may sound facetious, but I promise it’s from my lips to God’s ears. If you’re throwing down dough on these wagers, pull a George Costanza and do the opposite of your intuition. This strategy may have delivered five bills to papa in the past two Super Bowls. The key phrase there is “may have,” Mr. IRS agent. (However, Archie Manning over/under at 1.5 with -160 on over? Take it to the bank.)
My Favorite Marshawn Lynch Story: Cat has been doused in Haterade by old media hacks who have taken his media-day sabbaticals as personal affronts. I don’t blame the man, as 99.4 percent of the inquiries these guys face are absolute nonsense. To try to give the man some love, may I present a different side of Beast Mode...
While the world was introduced to Lynch’s Skittles infatuation in 2011, thanks to my boy Jason Malone, who once worked for the Buffalo Bills, this phenomenon has delighted me since the bruising back entered the league. Here’s Jay to preach from the pulpit:
“As part of our Community Relations program we would do a service project once a month with the rookies. Marshawn was our first-round pick that year, so of course he was the top priority. It was around the holidays and we were doing an event with local youth, something Marshawn would really enjoy. About a week before the event we still hadn't heard back from him, so a co-worker and I went down to the locker room to make sure he was coming. As we told him about the event, he paused, smiled and said, “Is there going to be Skittles there?" At first we both kind of laughed, but after realizing he was serious, we promised him that rainbow magic would be present. The event was a huge success and Marshawn, with his industrial-sized Skittles, had a great time.
“About two months later I was watching 'Welcome to the NFL, Rookie' on TV and a scene came on with Marshawn doing a film study with coaches around the time of the aforementioned event. In his hand was the huge bag of Skittles we gave him. Made my day.”
The Seahawks Win If: Lynch and Wilson keep Manning on the sidelines, the cold weather proves problematic for the Denver offense.
The Broncos Win If: Denver gets on the board early to force Wilson into the air, the Broncos’ up-tempo attack wears out a Seattle secondary lacking depth.
Prediction: Confession – though I finished second in NFL Experts Picks this season, I was way off base in the second half of the year on the Seahawks. Each time they played the Saints, I went New Orleans, and I thought the Niners’ experience would punch San Fran’s ticket into the Super Bowl. Because of this, the Emerald City holds me in the same regard as Clay Bennett. However, though I hate betting against Manning, that Seattle defense is something fierce. It won’t be the most aesthetically-pleasing of performances, but…
Score: Seahawks 24, Broncos 20