RICK MORRISSEY: Broncos, 31-21
RICK TELANDER: Broncos, 34-30
DAN McGRATH: Broncos, 24-23
HUB ARKUSH: Broncos, 31-27
ADAM L. JAHNS: Broncos, 30-20
PATRICK FINLEY: Seahawks, 27-26
MARK POTASH: Seahawks, 24-21
Updated: February 1, 2014 5:15PM
SUPER BOWL XLVIII
BRONCOS VS. SEAHAWKS
Time: 5:30 p.m. Sunday at East Rutherford, N.J.
Line: Broncos by 2 1/2. Total: 48.
TV: Fox-32 (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman).
WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
Even with one of the best passing QBs of all time under center, the Broncos’ best chance to win the Super Bowl starts with establishing a running game that will prevent the Seahawks’ aggressive defense from teeing off on the Broncos’ protection of Peyton Manning. With a solid offensive line and capable RBs in Knowshon Moreno (241-1,038, 10 TDs in the regular season) and Monte Ball (120-559, 4 TDs), the Broncos were 15th in the NFL in rushing (117 ypg) and seventh in rushing TDs (16). The Broncos, though, faced only one top-10 run defense this season, and that was the Eagles in Week 4.
IN THE AIR
Manning vs. Sherman is one of the most anticipated Super Bowl battles in recent memory. Sherman has all but dared Manning to throw his way, but don’t expect Manning to take the bait. With a variety of targets, including Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and TE Julius Thomas, Manning usually is adept at torching the weakest links in a secondary. The question is whether there is a weak link on the Seahawks’ secondary — and will he have time to exploit it? Manning has not been sacked in two postseason games, but all the Seahawks want to do is keep him out of his comfort zone.
WR Demaryius Thomas figures to have a tough matchup with Seahawks CB Richard Sherman. With the attention on Sherman, it’s Byron Maxwell, the Seahawks’ other CB, who is on the spot. Maxwell has been excellent in place of Brandon Browner with 12 pass breakups and 4 INTs. But he’ll need more help than usual against Broncos QB Peyton Manning.
WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
The Seahawks have an old-school, run-oriented attack with a 21st-century twist — the power of Marshawn Lynch (301-1,257, 12) and the quickness and intuition of QB Russell Wilson (96-539, 1) prevents opponents from getting a bead on what looks like a predictable attack. The Seahawks were fourth in the NFL in rushing (137 ypg), second in attempts (509) and — perhaps most important — only lost two fumbles in the run game. The Broncos were seventh vs. the run but allowed 15 TDs. Lynch is known for wearing down defenses, and the Broncos, not the heftiest defense, will be challenged to hold up all game.
IN THE AIR
If Wilson is not overwhelmed by the moment, he could have a huge game against a Broncos defense that is good but not great. Wilson is deceptive as a passer; he was 16th in passing yards (3,357) but fourth in yards per attempt (8.25). His weapons similarly are underrated, and Wilson has a lot of them, led by Golden Tate (64-898, 5), Doug Baldwin (50-778, 5) and TE Zach Miller (33-387, 5), with Percy Harvin back from an injury. If Wilson can withstand the Broncos’ pressure, he will have plenty of opportunities to make plays against a secondary that is opportunistic but vulnerable.
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson always seems to find himself at the right place at the right time. His uncanny knack for making big plays — and avoiding bad ones at the wrong time — could make the difference. Veteran Broncos CB Champ Bailey, healthy after recovering from a foot injury, relies on guile more than superior talent in his 15th NFL season.
It’s difficult to tell who has the edge here. The Broncos’ Trindon Holliday (105-yard KO-return TD and 81-yard punt-return TD) is the most dangerous return man on the field, but he also has a knack for fumbling. The Seahawks’ Golden Tate had a 71-yard punt return this season, but the biggest key with two evenly matched units could be avoiding mistakes in winter conditions. The Broncos’ Jon Ryan had two punts blocked this season. The Seahawks’ Steven Hauschka (33-for-35) and the Broncos’ Matt Prater (25-for-26) are excellent. For what it’s worth, the Seahawks had two FG attempts returned for TDs this year.
This will be the first Super Bowl outdoors in a cold-weather city, and though fears of inclement weather likely will not be realized, the elements will be different than any previous Super Bowl. The weather forecast for Sunday night is temperatures in the upper 20s at kickoff, with light wind (6 mph) and a 20 percent chance of precipitation. Windy, cold weather would seem to favor the Seahawks and their No. 1-ranked defense and punishing ground game. But if the turf is slick or snow-covered, all bets are off. The Broncos are used to bad weather, and Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning. But the Seahawks are better built for it.