Super Bowl XLVIII Preview: Sports Out West Roundtable

The biggest stage in American sports returns this weekend as Super Bowl XLVIII features a matchup between the two best teams in the league for the first time since 2009. The high-powered offense of the Denver Broncos, led by Peyton Manning and his talented receiving core of Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker, get set to go up against a physical Seattle Seahawks defense that spotlights the best secondary in the game with Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Byron Maxwell.

With AccuScore projecting a last-minute drive to clinch this game, the writers of Sports Out West assembled for a Super Bowl preview roundtable. From key matchups to off-the-field distractions to offense-defense breakdowns, the conversation did not skip a beat. Check it out below:  

What are the key matchups for this game?

Al Sacco: The key matchup for the Super Bowl will be the secondary of the Seattle Seahawks versus the wide receivers (and tight ends) of the Denver Broncos. Seattle was dominant all year on defense but especially dangerous on the back end. They gave up a league low 2752 total passing yards in 2013 which averages out to 172 a game.
The Seahawks also intercepted an NFL high 28 passes. While the Seattle secondary locked down most opponents throughout 2013, they haven’t faced receiving options like Broncos will throw at them. Thomas, Decker, Welker and Thomas combined for 317 catches, 4284 yards and 47 touchdowns. Those numbers are video game like for any team, let alone four players. 
Rohit Ghosh: With so much attention being placed on Manning and the Seattle secondary, look for running back Marshawn Lynch to have the last say in what should be a closely contested matchup between these two teams. The Broncos, under coach John Fox, have been spectacular at preventing success on the ground – giving up less than 65 yards rushing to both the Chargers and Patriots in the playoffs so far. Denver only allowed just one 100-yard rushing game all season (Ryan Mathews, Week 15). Lynch, however, is a different type of monster to bring down, and how effective he can be early on will dictate the pace of the game. For his career, he averages 93+ yards per game in the postseason, not to mention nearly 3 yards per rush after contact since 2010.
Unlike Sherman or Manning, Lynch hasn’t done much talking during Super Bowl media week. Lynch is just about that action, boss. 

Who is the X-factor for the Broncos? For the Seahawks?

Michael Jones: Isn’t it obvious? Super Bowl XLVIII is  all about Peyton. Fans either want to see him go down in flames or watch him solidify his Hall of Fame career. He’s one of those transcendent, polarizing players who moves the needle whenever he takes the field. He’s not just an X-factor — he’s the only factor. 
Photo Credit: Steven Bisig | USA TODAY Sports

Could Percy Harvin be the ‘Hawks X-Factor?
Photo Credit: Steven Bisig | USA TODAY Sports

With respect to the Seahawks, it’s got to be Percy Harvin. He recently told reporters he’ll definitely play, and that means that he’s ready to contribute. He’ll have to in a big way in order for the ‘Hawks to keep up with the No. 1 offense in the NFL. Seattle is an underdog for good reason, but if they get a big game out of Harvin, then his impact can put pressure on the Broncos and Manning to put up a bigger number on the scoreboard and have the potential to equalize things. 
Bob Garcia: The X-factor for the Broncos is wide receiver Decker, who had an impressive regular season as Peyton Manning’s No.2 passing target with 87 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Decker will likely be matched up individually with third-year cornerback Byron Maxwell. With Demaryius Thomas being covered by Sherman, Manning will look to throw more balls in Decker’s direction. 
For the Seahawks, their X-factor will be Russell Wilson, who hasn’t thrown a multi-touchdown game or over 215 yards since Week 13 of the regular season. Wilson has a favorable matchup against the Broncos’ 27th ranked pass defense that is battered up with losses of defensive end Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris.

What impact, if any, did Richard Sherman‘s Michael Crabtree ‘mediocre’ post-game rant have on the individual matchups in the Super Bowl?

Eldrick Bone: As entertaining and invigorating as Richard Sherman’s post-NFC Championship game rant was, it won’t have a real effect on how anyone on the field plays during the Super Bowl. The key matchup involving the Seattle cornerback would be against wideout Demaryius Thomas, who had a spectacular game with seven receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown against the New England Patriots.
But all eyes turn to Peyton Manning. The Broncos quarterback will control the pace of the offense and it’s doubtful that anything Sherman says or does will get under his skin. If Manning does try to challenge Sherman’s man-to-man defense, it will be under the former Colts’ terms — and that’s a big “if” since he’s throwing fewer deep balls these days. 
AS: None.
The rant did make Sherman a national media topic and has drawn a lot of attention to him, but it won’t impact anything that happens between the lines during the Super Bowl. At most, it will add fuel to the already tense rivalry between Seattle and the San Francisco 49ers in 2014, but should be an afterthought come kickoff on Sunday. 
Photo by Jeffrey Beall / Wikimedia Commons

Will this mouth stay closed on Super Bowl Sunday?
Photo by Jeffrey Beall / Wikimedia Commons

BG: It’ll be complete non-factor. Sherman’s post–game rant made good TV and conversation for the few days following the game, but it will not be a factor in his individual matchup against Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
What Sherman’s comments do make for is a more intense rivalry between the Seahawks and 49ers, who have an obvious dislike for each other. For Sherman, the bigger spotlight on him will only make him more focused and honed in on his defensive assignment on Super Bowl Sunday.

Which team has the edge on offense?  

John Zielonka: The Broncos finished the regular season as the NFL’s top offense team. They featured Manning who threw for a record 55 touchdowns. Running back Knowshon Moreno rushed for 1,038 yards for a 4.3 average per carry. Moreno also caught 60 passes for 548 yards. Seattle’s signal caller Russell Wilson is not in the Manning league in terms of passing stats. He finished the year rated as the league’s 16th best passer and accounted for 16 touchdowns. Lynch bullied his way to 1,275 yards on the ground, or 4.2 yards per carry. Edge: Broncos
EB: Both the Seahawks and Broncos offenses have dominated their respective conferences. The ‘Hawks’ point differential of 11.7 is only second to Denver’s 13.0, according to Sporting Charts, proving that the two most well-rounded teams are playing for the ‘ship.
The Broncos have a future Hall of Famer in Manning gunning an offense that has averaged nearly 38 points per game. The addition of Welker to an arsenal of receivers like Decker and Demaryius and Julius Thomas has paid its dividends this season. Moreno and Montee Ball have also provided some relief for the passing  game by providing balance in the running game. 
As for Seattle, Lynch has proved to be a near-unstoppable force in the playoffs, running for over 100 yards and a touchdown against a respectable 49ers rushing defense in the NFC Championship game. Wilson has also improved this season when taking risks inside the pocket, but he has less talent on the outside than his counterpart.
The biggest difference on offense is going to lie in playoff and Super Bowl experience. Though both teams ahave relatively young rosters, Denver gained Superbowl veterans who are leaders in Manning and Welker over the last two seasons.
Options, experience and a season filled with broken records give the advantage to the Broncos. 

Which team has the edge on defense? 

JZ: Seattle finished first defensively and gave up an average of 14.4 points per game. Denver finished 19th overall with just under 25 points allowed per game. The Seahawks’ secondary is their best defensive weapon that intercepted a league-high 28 opposition passes. Backs Sherman (8) and Thomas (5) accounted for just under half of that total. Edge: Seahawks
MJ: The Seahawks are the clear-cut winner in this regard, and they’ll have to own it in order to pull off a win. The Broncos are prolific on offense and everyone knows it. What’s more is that the NFL is designed to allow passing offenses to flourish. Despite that, Seattle’s defense is so good in all areas that it will be Peyton’s toughest test yet. 


AS: It feels like 2013 was Peyton Manning’s year and I think the Super Bowl will be the icing on the cake. Seattle may be able to slow Manning and company down some, but the Seahawks have struggled to maintain any kind of consistency on offense the past seven weeks on their end. The game should be close, but Denver prevails 27-17.

MJ: “Defense wins championships,” is a convenient mantra, but the NFL is a passing league. Much like the NBA, we’ve seen time and time again that in the NFL, great offense beats great defense. 

With that said, let’s not discount the fact that Seattle will get Harvin back. He’s a game changer and against the suspect corners in Denver’s backfield, one or two big plays from him can change the dynamic of the game. In addition, Seattle is not afraid of any cold weather. 

The Seahawks pull off the upset, 30-28 in one for the ages. 

BG In a matchup between the league’s best offense in the Broncos and best defense in the Seahawks, the game will meet the billing of a competitive and intense Super Bowl.

But with an improved Denver rush defense that has not allowed a team to rush for more than 90 yards or a rushing touchdown since Week 15 of the regular season to go along with Peyton Manning eyeing his second championship, it’s hard not to believe that the Broncos won’t get the job done. Broncos, 24-20.

EB: The classic matchup of the best offense against the best defense. Both teams defensive strengths complement one another. The Denver Broncos have had a shutdown rushing defense that has stopped the likes of LeGarrette Blount, Danny Woodhead and Mathews in the postseason, while the Seahawks have the best running back in the playoffs.

“The Legion of Boom” is one of the most talented secondary-squads since the 2009 New Orleans Saints, but Denver has an elite pass protection game plan along with a quarterback with keen eye for reading defenses. Manning hasn’t been sacked in the postseason and only 18 times in the regular season while Russell Wilson is one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the league this season.

It will ultimately come down to what team is more likely to stop the other’s offense. The Broncos have the advantage on most aspects of the game. I think their trend during the playofffs of dominating the first three quarters and having the fourth be more competitive will continue.. Broncos win, 27-20.

JZ: Picking between Denver’s high-octane offense and Seattle’s defensive dominance makes this an intriguing game. It may come down to a final drive, and if a great defense can stop a terrific offense in the waning moments of the Super Bowl. Let’s go with the defense and Seattle to be victorious by three points over the Broncos. Final score: Seattle 24, Denver 21.

RG: Regardless of all the hype surround Denver’s offense and Seattle’s defense, this game will be won on the ground. Matchups like this come down to whether or not one side can take away the other’s strength. Manning and his receiving core versus the Seattle secondary can go either way – both units are the best in the league, respectively. Denver will struggle in their matchup with Lynch; Seattle, however, won’t have as much trouble with Moreno. In a game that’s expected to have weather conditions that limit the aerial attack, I’ll take Seattle. Final score: 27-21.  

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Rohit Ghosh

LA Clippers beat writer
Rohit is an L.A.-based sports journalist who contributes to SB Nation's Silver Screen and Roll, AccuScore, and the Taxi Squad Show based out of Utah. He also runs his own sports blog, Metta Chronicles. Follow him on Twitter @RohitGhosh where he discusses AccuScore projection data, a variety of sports-related topics, and even some Jazz music.


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