Super Bowl XLVIII. Can it be the best of all time?
It has the potential. The top offense will meet the top defense, possibly in adverse conditions, with one player's legacy and a franchise milestone at stake. Whether Peyton Manning cements his status as the greatest ever or the Seattle Seahawks notch the first Super Bowl victory in their history remains to be seen, but it's clear that there is much more riding on this game than just the championship of pro football.
We ranked the Super Bowls from I to XLVII this week, and I certainly think this Super Sunday has a chance to squeeze into the top 10 -- rarefied air, as a look at our list will reveal. Some of the most entertaining and important games in the 94-year history of the NFL were Super Bowls.
Now, let's get to it.
Elliot Harrison went 1-1 on his predictions for Championship Sunday, giving him a record of 168-98 this season. How will he fare on Super Bowl XLVIII? His pick is below. To make your own prediction for Super Sunday, click here.
Way back in the spring of 2013, when people were talking about the viability of
Robert Griffin III's knee, the viability of
Alex Smith as a premier quarterback and the viability of
Brandon Weeden -- period -- we did a little prognosticating on NFL.com. Who thought at the time that the
Eagles would go on to win the NFC East? Not me. I
predict that the last two teams standing would be the Seahawks and Broncos. And, while I ended up reversing course on the
Seahawks for Championship Sunday --
forecasting they'd fall to the Niners -- Seattle prevailed. So here we are.
I worry about Seattle's offense, even more so now than I did in the spring. That Seahawks attack finished 17th in the league this season -- and more importantly, has looked inconsistent in the playoffs.
That said, it's tough to dispute the fact that bad weather Sunday in East Rutherford would work against the Broncos' offense. Seattle just doesn't rely on precision route-running and on-time throws in the same way that Peyton Manning and his receivers do. Usually, games between relatively equal foes played in bad weather are won by the squad with the better defense -- particularly in the playoffs. Of course, there have been several exceptions to the rule, as when the San Francisco 49ers blew out the Chicago Bears in the 1988 NFC Championship Game, or when the New England Patriots wrested the 2011 AFC title away from the Baltimore Ravens with the temperature at 29 degrees.
Here are some memorable examples of clubs with better defenses prevailing in cold-weather playoff bouts:
» 2010 NFC Championship Game: Packers 21, Bears 14. B.J. Raji and the league's second ranked defense -- not Aaron Rodgers -- lifted the Packers from a wild-card berth to a Super Bowl spot.
» 2010 AFC Divisional Playoff Game: Jets 28, Patriots 21. Gang Green dominated the Pats' offense in 30 degrees and 14 mph wind.
» 2009 AFC Wild-Card Game: Jets 24, Bengals 14. With a wind chill of 9 degrees, the Bengals started a playoff run of just chillin' ... and not winnin'.
» 2005 AFC Championship Game: Steelers 34, Broncos 17. Pittsburgh sank its fangs into Jake Plummer with a wind chill of 17 degrees.
» 2002 NFC Championship Game: Buccaneers 27, Eagles 10. Who can forget Ronde Barber taking Donovan McNabb to the house?
In a very cold atmosphere, the Seahawks' offensive attack would fare a bit better than the Broncos' unit, in that most of it is dependent on a) Marshawn Lynch carrying the football 25 times and b) Russell Wilson making plays with his feet. That said, make no mistake about the fact that the Seattle offensive line is going to have to play ball against a Broncos pass rush that has six sacks in the postseason, with numerous hurries and pressures.
As it stands at publishing, of course, the weather is not expected to be too harsh: somewhere between freezing and the mid-40s, which is also known as football weather. That is not enough for me to give Seattle the advantage.
Here are some more fun facts:
» This will be the sixth Super Bowl featuring a matchup between the No. 1 scoring offense and the No. 1 scoring defense. The top-ranked defenses are 4-1 in those games.
» Seattle is the first Super Bowl team since the 1990 Bills to not have a player with Super Bowl experience on the roster.
» The age difference between Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson -- 12 years, 250 days -- is easily the biggest ever among starting quarterbacks who are Super Bowl opponents.
» This will be the Broncos' seventh Super Bowl appearance, tying the Patriots for the third most all time (behind the Cowboys and Steelers, who have each made eight appearances).
» The Broncos and Seahawks met in a 1983 wild-card game, back when both teams were in the AFC West. Seattle prevailed behind Dave Krieg, who posted a 158.3 passer rating that day.
KNOW YOUR ROLE: Manning must take what the defense and weather give him. That means checking down to runs often -- and that means going to Knowshon Moreno. The Broncos back has been plenty effective this season. The only concern is how much the Broncos run out of shotgun. On those plays, the running back gets very little "push" -- that is to say, he doesn't get the running start that he'd get out of typical pro sets. Oh, and this Seattle front seven is a far cry from the Chargers' and Patriots' fronts Denver faced in the previous two rounds. Those defenses allowed 4.59 and 4.46 yards per carry this season, respectively. Seattle? 3.85.
I expect Denver to get enough from him to balance a solid -- but not outstanding -- passing attack. The weather won't be bad enough to slow Manning's air game drastically. If Seattle is to have a chance, Wilson and the 'Hawks will have to get it together in the air to make it close at the end. Ultimately, though, given how the Broncos' defense has played of late, I feel that Denver will win Super Bowl XLVIII. #SEAvsDEN
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.