Super Bowl XLVIII is a classic matchup, with the Denver Broncos’ league-leading, record-setting, high-scoring offense running head-on into the Seattle Seahawks’ league-leading, yard- and point-stingy defense.
On paper it is an even match: Both teams come to the game with 13–3 records, both are about on par in their weaker side of the ball, with Denver’s defense ranked 19th and Seattle’s offense at `17th.
Both come with most of their players ready to go—Seattle’s running back Marshawn Lynch and wide receiver Percy Harvin were ready to, and Denver’s RB Knowshon Moreno was taking full practice earlier in the week.
Weather is also not an issue with lows expected in the 40s and wind barely registering. New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium was offering up the perfect arena for two league leaders to do battle.
Normally a great defense can stifle a great offense, but Denver QB Peyton Manning is a powerful factor. Manning’s uncanny ability to analyze defenses at the line of scrimmage and audible the perfect response gives the Broncos line the ability to stifle a pass rush and Manning time to find the open receiver.
Denver averaged 30 points per game in the playoffs—less than the 37.9 it averaged in the regular season, but weather played a factor.
On the other hand the Broncs’ weren’t facing top-ranked defenses: San Diego ranked 23 and New England, 26. How would the Broncos line fare against Seattle, and would the Seattle secondary, highly skilled and very fleet, be able to lock down Manning’s receivers long enough to give the pass rush a chance?
The Seahawks only surrendered 16 per game in the playoffs, but that is a shade higher than the 14.4 they gave up per game in the regular season.
So—Seattle, good as they are on D, still has vulnerabilties when facing first-rate offenses, and Denver managed to score against weaker defenses, but not with the awesome force it showed in the regular season.
Seattle, led by QB Russell Wilson, averaged 23 points per game in the playoffs, not far fewer than the Broncos gave up on average in the regular season—but in the playoffs the Broncos only gave up 19 on average.
Wilson can scramble and he is a long-range threat, but he has not shown in the playoffs. Also he has far less experience that Manning, and while no one would expect him to fold under pressure, he will probably need to score more points against Denver than he had to, to reach the Super Bowl.
While many experts lean toward the Broncos based on Manning’s expertise, the game might be much closer than some think.