By Daniel Hill
Super Bowl XLVIII will feature the National Football League’s best offense versus its top defense when the Denver Broncos take on the Seattle Seahawks for all the marbles on Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
The championship matchup features Denver’s No. 1 offense against Seattle’s No. 1 defense. These prolific units will be squaring off with each other and that is one reason why this year’s Super Bowl offers intriguing storylines.
The Broncos are the No. 1 seed from the American Football Conference. Denver shattered nearly every offensive record this season. Denver quarterback Peyton Manning had a historic season by obliterating the record books and is the heavy favorite to win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player Award.
Manning passed for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns, both all-time records. Leading the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense, Manning still protected the football and threw only 10 interceptions on 659 passing attempts.
Not only is Peyton Manning a sure-fire NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, but he also has a plethora of weapons to work with. Denver has one of the most complete groups of receiving threats in the NFL.
With Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker, the Broncos have one of the most dynamic 1-2-3 punches at receiver in the NFL.
Thomas hauled in 92 catches this season for 1,430 yards with 14 touchdown grabs. Decker racked up 1,288 receiving yards for 14 touchdowns off 87 receptions. Wes Welker, one of the most efficient slot receivers in football, caught 73 passes for 778 yards with 10 touchdowns in only 13 games this season.
Add tight end Julius Thomas to the mix, and the Broncos are nearly unstoppable when passing the ball. Thomas, the former Portland State basketball player, presents a unique matchup at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds. Thomas scored 12 touchdowns and reeled in 65 passes for 788 yards.
Historically, the Broncos are the best offense the NFL has ever seen, averaging a record 37.9 points per game. Few teams have been able to slow down Denver this season. The only formula for defeating the Broncos is to keep Peyton Manning off the field.
In two of Denver’s three losses this season, the Broncos have lost the time of possession battle. The only time Denver lost while winning the time of possession battle was a 34-31 overtime loss at New England where the Patriots overcame a 24-0 deficit.
In December, the San Diego Chargers defeated the Broncos by holding onto the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game and by rushing for 177 yards as a team.
Fortunately for the Seahawks, their run-first, ball-control offense has been adept this season.
The Seahawks won the National Football Conference’s West division en route to earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs before defeating San Francisco to win the NFC and advance to the Super Bowl.
With running back Marshawn Lynch shouldering the load out of the backfield, Seattle has been able to execute when running the ball, while also limiting the number of possessions in the game. Lynch averaged 4.2 yards per carry this season. The workhorse running back totaled 1,257 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 301 carries.
Seattle is not necessarily a high-powered offense, but it is an efficient one. Despite Seattle’s conservative nature on offense, the Seahawks still managed to rank eighth in the NFL in scoring with 26.1 points per game.
Seattle’s second-year starting quarterback Russell Wilson takes care of the football at all costs. Wilson threw 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season on the way to a 101.2 passer rating.
Seattle relies on establishing the rushing game to open up the passing game. Despite Seattle’s conservative style, the Seahawks ranked fourth in the NFL with 7.7 yards per passing attempt and were fifth in the league with 38 big passing plays. To put that into perspective, the Denver Broncos averaged 8.1 yards per pass attempt and led the league in passing big plays.
Seattle also gets a weapon back for the Super Bowl with the healthy return of receiver Percy Harvin. Harvin has only appeared in two previous games this season and remains somewhat of a mystery in the Seahawks arsenal. Undoubtedly, Harvin is a bona fide playmaker and his return is an added bonus for the Seahawks.
The Seahawks offense is also predicated on taking care of the ball. Seattle ranked fourth in the NFL with 19 giveaways and Denver placed 17th with 26.
Denver clearly has the advantage on paper when it comes to offense. On defense, this is where the Seahawks have the edge.
The Seahawks defense ranked first in the NFL in scoring defense, takeaways and yards per game. The Seahawks held opposing offenses to a league-best 14.4 points per game. Denver’s defense was 22nd by allowing 24.9 points per game.
Statistically speaking, the Seahawks and the Broncos have identical run defenses. Both teams rank seventh in the NFL by allowing 101.6 yards per game.
This statistic needs to be taken with a grain of salt though, because Denver’s torrid offense usually forced opponents to resort to the pass in order to play catch-up.
The most obvious differences between the Seahawks defense and the Denver defense are takeaways and pass defense.
The Seahawks ranked first in takeaways with 39 and Denver was 27th by forcing 26 takeaways.
While Denver might have the best receiving corps in the NFL, Seattle might have the best secondary.
Seattle has three All-Pro players in the secondary with first team free safety Earl Thomas, first team cornerback Richard Sherman and second team strong safety Kam Chancellor.
In a classic matchup of the best offense against the top defense to determine the winner of the Lombardi Trophy, Super Bowl XLVIII is sure to be a spectacle of gridiron greatness.