Breaking Down Superbowl XLVIII, and Why The Seahawks Will Win Convincingly

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Skill players from this year’s lineup – notable by the fact that the only player from the combined linups who already has a Sperbowl ring, is Peyton Manning. Source: http://fc05.deviantart.net/fs70/f/2014/019/9/7/superbowl_2014_wallpaper_by_angelmaker666-d72wwge.jpg

This NFL is a rollercoaster ride through the Draft to the Regular Season, Playoff Chase, and attritional knocking out of teams until the Superbowl, where the cycle starts again. Strangely enough, with one of the very biggest, most important, and most watched spectacles in sports around the corner, it is at this time of year where things take on a calm; an eye of the storm perhaps – 30 of the 32 teams are now out of action, and there are two weeks to wait until the Superbowl is finally settled. This coming Sunday saw the earmarking of the main players in this year’s big game as the Number 1 seeds from both conferences won through t face off for the famous Lombardi trophy, the first time this has happened in four years. The statistically best teams from each conference facing each other should promise a close, tense game, but this article – just one of surely thousands to be written before February 2nd – will argue not just that the Seattle Seahawks are destined to win, but that they are destined to win by quite some margin.

I preface all this with an assertion that almost anything can happen, and that to count Peyton Manning and the Broncos out so easily may well prove to be a pratfall, but having looked at the teams, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they fared against the teams they played to win their respective conferences, the match-up seems incredibly one-sided. It is this ‘x’s & o’s’ approach that I will take in my explanation, by breaking down and comparing the teams as clearly as possible.

Quarterbacks
Personally, I have had a very changeable reaction to Peyton Manning; as a Colt I despised him for reasons I can barely remember, and then when he returned from his career-threatening neck injury I gained a grudging respect for him, though still not really wishing his Broncos well. Over the last year though, catalyzed by the team’s heartbreak against the Ravens in last year’s playoffs, and following what is unquestionably the greatest regular season performance ever by a Quarterback, breaking all-time records in passing yards and touchdown receptions, my respect for him is no longer grudging. He has proved himself to be the smartest and most tactically savvy player in that or any position of the current day, and quite possibly the greatest Quarterback ever. Make no mistake – as talented as much of the Broncos roster is, the team lives or dies by Peyton, and if they win in New York, it will down to him.

In most match-ups, Peyton would be an area of strength over the opposing teams. There are, however, a few Quarterbacks that can claim to be as devastatingly brilliant, though perhaps in different ways, and Russell Wilson is one of them. Analysts lump Wilson together with the many other Quarterbacks that broke out in 2012-13, but Wilson has proved himself to be the cream of that excellent crop. In his second year in the league, Wilson can’t match Manning’s game aptitude, but where Manning has the football brain to pick apart most defenses, Wilson has maturity beyond his years, and crucially, some skills Manning doesn’t have: most notably the ability to keep plays alive with his feet and make incredible things happen as a result. While Manning can shift around in the pocket, he has neither the legs, nor the arm that Wilson possesses to extend a play and break it open for something huge. Look no further than Wilson’s 51 yard completion to Baldwin, which followed him being flushed from the pocket – a play which eventually set up a field goal – the Seahawk’s crucial first points in the game for proof of what Wilson has when the pocket breaks down.

What we learned from their conference championship games
Manning is the best there is, but he is not infallible. Against the Patriots, as against the Chargers, Manning was lucky to escape without big interceptions. The Seahawks ballhawking Number 1 Defense will be less forgiving to any throws that go astray. Wilson, for his part, was not perfect either, but the animalistic 49er defense had him constantly on the run, causing rushed throws and the occasional questionable decision. The Broncos Defense did surprisingly well against the Patriots, but they don’t pose anything like the threat of their San Franciscan counterparts, which will mean more thinking and playing time for Wilson.

In terms of who has the edge, while I think the match-up suits Wilson best, it would be foolish to say Wilson is any more than even with Manning, and so that is exactly what I will say – neither team has an advantage in this specific position.

Running Game
The combination of Moreno and Bell has been potent for the Broncos this year, and will be a pairing the Seahawks will have to prepare carefully for. That combination, however, can’t match up to the mostly-singular threat of Seattle’s ‘Beast’, Marshawn Lynch, who has been ploughing through defenses and breaking out big runs all season, as advertised by fantasy fanatics at the start of the year.

What we learned from their conference championship games
The Patriots performed pretty well on defense against the Broncos, but they are certainly not famed for stopping the run, and despite that, the Broncos barely racked up 100 yards between their two running backs. The Broncos didn’t run as much as Seattle, but it is also telling of the ceiling the Broncos running game has – it is more of a compliment to their aerial game rather than a focus. That is especially true when comparing the match ups. The Broncos are moving from the Patriots to the Number 1 defense in the league, a defense which held the duo of Gore and Hunter to around 15 yards. Yes, Kaepernick ran on them effectively, but Manning will hardly be breaking for the open field during the game; the Seahawks linebackers wont have to spy him, and can focus on plugging up Moreno and Bell. Meanwhile, Seattle take the more old-fashioned approach of balancing the run and pass properly, not getting away from that, and at times, revolving around the run game. Lynch ran for over 100 yards alone against the monsters on the 49er defense – a defense loaded with big, bad brutes and legitimately four linebackers which would probably all be in the league’s top ten. While the Patriots struggled to run on Denver, this is a much more favorable match-up, and if Lynch can run well on San Francisco, he can run even better on Denver.

That said, Seattle have the definite edge in the run game and the match up, and will be able to wear down the Broncos and control the game very effectively, and possibly start breaking out big-yardage runs.

Receiving Corps
Personnel-wise, it is clear who has the advantage here; while the ‘Hawks have been decimated, losing Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, their Numbers one and two and leaving them with Golden Tate as a talented but not top-caliber receiver as their number one, while the Broncos have the outstanding – and healthy – combination of Welker, Decker, and Thomas for Manning to find. It should be added though that Harvin has since been cleared to play in the Superbowl and represents an intriguing unknown. He was a big splash free agent pick up in the preseason for Seattle, but has spent the vast majority of the season injured. When on the pitch, he has been magnificent, but has struggled to stay on the pitch, as we saw against San Francisco where he looked dangerous before being taken off with a concussion. Key questions are how big a role Harvin will have, and if he can stay on the pitch, how will that affect the game. While the defensive back attention Denver will have to give him through double coverage will make Baldwin and Tate, who looked great against San Francisco, even bigger and attainable targets. Nonetheless, Tate, Baldwin and a questionable Harvin still wouldn’t usually be preferred over Welker, Decker and Thomas.

What we learned from their conference championship games
Similar to the running game though, the match-ups with the defense weigh the game in Seattle’s favor. Manning throwing to his talented receivers will doubtlessly be hard to stop, but if there is one team who can stop them, its Seattle, whose defensive backs excel in coverage, sticking to receivers for longer than any other team and basically throwing a blanket over most receiving groups. Manning will definitely rack up yards, but he’ll certainly be held to more manageable numbers by Seattle.

Meanwhile, as mentioned, Seattle balance run and pass much more, and actually seem to favor the run. This has partly been a result of their lack of skill at that position following the injuries to Tate and Harvin, but Wilson and the Seahawks have nonetheless been able to enjoy some success throwing to Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, who shone particularly against the 49ers. Again, the fact that Wilson threw for over 200 yards against the incredible San Francisco defense bodes well when you consider that the Broncos secondary is certainly inferior to San Francisco’s.

In control conditions, Denver would have the advantage when it comes to the receiving game, but the disparity of the defenses, and especially the secondary in favor of Seattle – I believe – evens that out so that the passing and receiving potential of the two teams will be hard to separate significantly in this area.

Defense
Defense has been a thread through all of the areas of analysis so far in this article, and the truth is, that is because it is the true key to this game. The Seahawks are strong across the board, but their biggest strength is their defense. Ignoring the controversy surrounding it, the post-game interview with Richard Sherman was notable because he represents the ace of this defense: furious, hungry, hard, and confident. They take the ball away from everyone, and will almost certainly take it from the Broncos at the Superbowl; the question is – just how many times?

While I’ve given the edge to Seattle in the run game, the differences between the two offensive squads is much smaller than the difference in quality between the two team’s defenses. While Seattle won’t be able to score on demand against Denver by any means, a much softer Broncos defense will be a breath of fresh air after taking on the bruising 49er unit.

What we learned from their conference championship games
I just hinted at it, but the key here is that while the Broncos will be facing a tougher defense than last week that will challenge them more, especially in the secondary; the Seahawks have already faced their toughest defensive task possible in the 49ers – a team almost built to take them on, and while the Broncos defense played well against the Patriots, they have a whole new challenge against the Seahawks. I won’t speak on the Seahawk’s pass-rush as they seemed to struggle with that against San Francisco, but what I do know is that the Seahawk’s offense will have a reprieve from the bullish 49er defensive line, and that extra time will equate to more successful offensive plays. Meanwhile, the Broncos will struggle like never before this season to get separation and make catches and will be vulnerable to turnovers both from interceptions and fumbles as this brutish defense smashes in to them at every opportunity.

This, as I say, is the crucial difference, and it is undoubtedly in Seattle’s favor. There are, of course, x-factors – aspects in the match that aren’t as easily measured and perhaps it is these factors that could over-ride the analysis. A big one is that Seattle will have no ‘12th Man’ that has helped un=nerve opponents and give the Seahawks an instant advantage. I do feel I can largely disregard this though, not because it’s insignificant, but because the Seahawks roster don’t need it to win, especially seen as the match is in neutral New York and not Denver, and as Peyton Manning would be less affected by it than any other player at that position, cerebral and professional as he is. Other X-factors that simply can’t be prepared for, such as fumbles, moments of genius, magic, or divine intervention are the sort of things that mean this game, like any game, won’t necessarily go by the stats. At the same time though, those things can go either way, and I can’t predict a game based on it. It is a slightly outdated football cliché, but here it holds true that the game will be won based especially on strong running and defence. Seattle have that, and a great Quarterback, so while I welcome a close game won in the last two minutes, I see Russell Wilson making a legacy for himself, and the Seahawks earning their first Lombard trophy in style by 14+ points.

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