The biggest sporting event on the American calendar is here, as Super Bowl Sunday is upon us. This year’s matchup is, at least to me, one of the more intriguing ones in recent years, between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. But the Super Bowl, of course, is more than a game, it’s an entire cultural event, and is even celebrated more than most of our national holidays. Whether you’re a fan of one of the two teams, a casual football fan hoping for a good game, or someone who is more anxious for the commercials, Bruno Mars’ halftime show featuring the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Renée Fleming’s national anthem (the first opera singer to sing the Super Bowl national anthem), there’s something for everyone. And I haven’t even mentioned all the Super Bowl food at parties happening just about everywhere, from churches to bars and everywhere in between.
Before we get into looking at this year’s matchup, here’s a little history lesson regarding Super Bowls past:
Last Super Bowl in the New York metro area: there hasn’t been one. The NFL chose to bring the Super Bowl to the media capital of the world, even despite the potential for wintry weather. It appears the NFL has dodged that bullet, with a high temperature in the upper 40s and a very low chance of rain, before a low around 30 (although that overnight low will be well after the conclusion of the game). This is after the Farmer’s Almanac forecast for a big winter storm to hit the New York metro area this weekend, so I’d say the NFL really got away with one, as I’m sure they didn’t want the game being played in a blizzard.
Seahawks Super Bowls: Super Bowl XL
The Seahawks took on the Pittsburgh Steelers back in the 2005 season in their only previous Super Bowl appearance in Detroit. Although they jumped out to a 3-0 lead, and stayed within a 14-10 margin going into the 4th quarter, the reverse pass by Steelers WR Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward clinched the game for the Steelers, winning 21-10. Should the Seahawks win Sunday, it would be their first ever NFL title.
Broncos Super Bowls: Super Bowls XII, XXI, XXII, XXIV, XXXII, XXXIII
While the Broncos haven’t been as recently as the Seahawks, they have made 6 Super Bowl appearances. And although they are 2-4 all-time in the Super Bowl, they have a 2-game winning streak, which is tied for the longest active streak. Those 4 losses also tie them for the most. They lost Super Bowl XII to the Cowboys, 27-10, after being stifled by the Dallas defense. John Elway, the Hall of Fame QB who is now the team president, led the Broncos to their other 5 Super Bowls, starting with a 39-20 loss to the Giants after Phil Simms’ MVP performance in Super Bowl XXI in Pasadena. The next year, in San Diego, Denver led the Redskins 10-0 after a quarter, only to fall victim to a 35-point 2nd quarter for Doug Williams and the Redskins offense in one of the game’s great performances of all time. Two years later, in Super Bowl XXIV, they fell victim to Joe Montana (who didn’t), losing 55-10 in the Superdome. Back in San Diego, Elway and the Broncos beat Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII to finally win their first title, and the following year in Miami, they won Super Bowl XXXIII in Elway’s farewell game, ending an outstanding career with a 34-19 win over the Falcons.
Last Super Bowl Featuring A Team With No Super Bowl Experience: Super Bowl XXV
The Seahawks have no players on their roster with Super Bowl experience. The last time that happened was when the 1990 Buffalo Bills played the Giants in Super Bowl XXV. That game ended with a 20-19 Giants victory after Scott Norwood’s infamous missed field goal for the Bills, and they would go on to lose 4 consecutive Super Bowls, and haven’t been back since.
Now, on to Super Bowl XLVIII. Before I pick the game, let’s breakdown the individual matchups in this game.
Broncos Pass Offense vs. Seahawks Pass Defense:
It’s tough to pick who will be better in this particular matchup. The Broncos have undoubtedly the league’s best pass offense, while the Seahawks have undoubtedly the league’s best pass offense. Peyton Manning has had a career year (and that’s saying something), and has multiple explosive targets in Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, and Wes Welker, among others. But there’s a reason the Seahawks secondary is known as the “Legion of Boom,” with 4 of the best secondary players in the league at starting positions: Richard Sherman (who actually is “The best corner in the league!” as he exclaimed after the NFC Championship) and Byron Maxwell at cornerback, and Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor at safety. This matchup may decide this Super Bowl, but when the games on the line, I’ll trust the man who may be the greatest QB to ever play the game.
Advantage: Broncos (barely).
Broncos Run Offense vs. Seahawks Run Defense:
Knowshon Moreno is having an outstanding season for Denver, and is backed up by Montee Ball, who played with the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson at Wisconsin. Often, a team that leads the league in passing is near the bottom in rushing, but in this case the Broncos are 15th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, averaging 117.1. The Seahawks rushing defense is 7th in the NFL, and while their defensive line has no superstars, they are a very good all-around unit. Fortunately for Denver, the run game isn’t generally the biggest chunk of their offense.
Seahawks Pass Offense vs. Broncos Pass Defense:
Russell Wilson is currently tied with Ben Roethlisberger for the record for most wins by a QB in his first 2 seasons, and can own the record outright with a win Sunday (that includes the playoffs, he already owns the regular season record outright). Some might say he’s actually been in a bit of a slump over recent weeks, although that’s hard to argue since he’s playing in the Super Bowl. Wilson, along with targets Golden Tate, Jermaine Kearse, and Doug Baldwin do face an attack in the Broncos secondary that includes future Hall of Famer CB Champ Bailey, playing in his first Super Bowl in 15 years, and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who said this week at age 27 that he may retire if the Broncos win, despite a good career he’s starting to build. This is the weakest two-way matchup in this game, as the Seahawks are 26th in passing offense and the Broncos are 27th in passing defense. In the end, I don’t think this is the matchup that decides the game, but I’ll give the edge to the Broncos, as that weak stat is mostly without Bailey, who is finally playing significant snaps after battling injuries all year.
Advantage: Broncos (barely).
Seahawks Run Offense vs. Broncos Run Defense:
There’s a reason Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch is known as “Beast Mode” in Seattle. Lynch has great speed, but his signature move is his devastating stiff-arm. The Broncos are 8th in rushing defense, and like the Seahawks defensive line, they don’t have any superstars but a very solid unit. LB Nate Irving played with Russell Wilson at NC State, and now may be trying to tackle or intercept him in the biggest game of both of their lives. However, while the Broncos have a good unit, I expect Lynch to have a huge game, as he seems to play better the bigger the stage.
The Seahawks special teams have played well all year, with Steven Hauschka handling the placekicking duties, Doug Baldwin returning kickoffs, and Golden Tate returning punts. Hauschka went 39-41 this year (including the playoffs), with a long of 53. However, Matt Prater of the Broncos may be the best kicker in the league, going 30-32 (including the playoffs), including an NFL record 64-yard field goal (even if it was downwind in the Denver altitude, that’s quite an accomplishment). Returner Trindon Holliday has run back 2 kickoffs and 2 punts for touchdowns.
This matchup is between a pair of excellent coaches, Pete Carroll of the Seahawks and John Fox of the Broncos. Carroll took over the Seahawks in 2010 after leading USC to 2 national championships (although 1 was vacated), and has transformed a struggling franchise into one of the best in the game, winning 2 division titles and appearing in the playoffs 3 times in his 4 seasons. In a survey of NFL players released this week, the coach players most want to play for in the NFL is Pete Carroll. In a league that currently includes coaches such as Bill Belichick, the Harbaugh brothers, Chuck Pagano, Mike Tomlin, and Chip Kelly, among others, that is quite an honor for Carroll. John Fox’s first head coaching job was with the Carolina Panthers from 2002-2010, when he led the Panthers to 3 playoff appearances and an appearance in Super Bowl XXXVIII, which the Panthers lost to the Patriots. After leaving Charlotte, he took the job in Denver in 2011 and has won the AFC West in all 3 seasons, first with QB Tim Tebow, then the last 2 years with QB Peyton Manning. The first two years of that stretch the Broncos lost in the Divisional Round, both times to the eventual AFC Champion. This year, Fox and the Broncos return to the Super Bowl with their record-setting offense. Fox missed a few games this season after bypass surgery, making this trip to the Super Bowl that much more remarkable. Interestingly enough, both coaches were assistants at Iowa State at different times early in their careers, with both coaching the defensive backs; Carroll coached the Cyclones in 1978, while Fox’s tenure in Ames was in 1984.
One interesting thing about this Super Bowl is that one stat or another has to give. The winner of a Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady playoff game has won the Super Bowl all 3 previous times. However, when 2 of the top 3 defenses in the NFL (the Seahawks and 49ers in this case) have met in a conference championship game since 1990, the winner the previous 8 times has won the Super Bowl. For the first time since the 1990 season, when the Giants beat the Bills 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV, the league’s top ranked offense (Denver) meets its top ranked defense (Seattle). The last time the 1-seeds in both conferences met in the Super Bowl was after the 2009 season, in Manning’s most recent Super Bowl trip when the Colts lost to the Saints. The Broncos are a 2-point favorite, although this Super Bowl really could be a flip of a coin, and might come down to a flip of the coin in the event of overtime, which EA Sports predicted in their annual Super Bowl simulation through the Madden video game. There has never been an overtime Super Bowl. In the end, I think it is a memorable performance by Peyton Manning that makes the difference.
Broncos 24, Seahawks 20.