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Peyton Manning’s greatest season, Denver’s streaking defense and stable of weapons are some of the reasons to like the Broncos’ chances on Super Sunday
The entire nation, if not the entire world, will be focused on MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 when the Denver Broncos take on the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. While the weather will certainly be one of the main storylines, especially if it takes a turn for the worse, this matchup between the champions of the AFC and NFC will be decided on the field by the 11 players from each team that will line up on either side of the football.
Here are five reasons why the Broncos will win the franchise’s third Lombardi Trophy on Super Sunday:
1. Peyton Manning’s Pinnacle
Win or lose, Manning’s 2013 season will go down as one of the greatest in the history of the NFL. He already has rewritten the NFL record books, adding the single-season marks for both yards passing (5,477) and touchdowns (55) to his resume. He’s all but a lock to receive his record fifth MVP trophy and he’s entered exclusive company just by getting the Broncos back to the Super Bowl.
When he takes his first snap Sunday night, Manning will become just the 12th quarterback in the history of the game to start in three Super Bowls. Among those in that group, eight (Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, Tom Brady, John Elway, Bob Griese, Ben Roethlisberger and Roger Staubach) have each won multiple Super Bowls. This is the next accomplishment Manning has lined up in his sights and should he be successful, it not only would cement his legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, it also would put the finishing touches on what is arguably the greatest season ever by a signal-caller.
Much has been made about Manning’s performance in the postseason, but a victory over Seattle would move his all-time playoff mark to 12-11 and would give him a second Super Bowl ring. The comparisons between Manning and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway are unavoidable if not for the connection they now share. After leading the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl wins at the end of his career, Elway is now the man in charge of the franchise and was responsible for bringing Manning to Denver after Indianapolis released him in March 2012.
In two short seasons with the Broncos, Manning has reestablished himself as one of the game’s elite quarterbacks and led his team back to the Super Bowl. Elway walked away from the game after winning a second straight Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XXXIII. Could Manning do the same 15 years later? With him set to turn 38 years old in March and the lingering questions about his health less than three years removed from multiple neck surgeries, I suppose anything is possible. But whether this does end up being Manning’s final game or not, it only seems fitting that No. 18 walks off the MetLife Stadium turf Sunday night with the Lombardi Trophy in tow.
Considering there are 12 years separating the two starting quarterbacks, it should surprise no one that Denver is an older team than Seattle. According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, the Broncos’ average age is 26.3, while the Seahawks’ is 25.3. Now that one-year difference may not seem like a big deal, but entering the season Denver was the fifth-oldest team in the NFL, while Seattle was the fourth youngest, according to research compiled by ESPN.com NFL Insider Mike Sando.
The Broncos’ roster features eight players who have been in the NFL at least 10 years, while the Seahawks have one. Peyton Manning (16 seasons) is the oldest player on either team, but with age comes experience. Manning has played in two previous Super Bowls and 20 other postseason games. Contrast that to his counterpart, Russell Wilson, who has played in a total of four playoff contests.
Manning, 37, is set to become the second-oldest starting quarterback in Super Bowl history while Wilson will be the sixth quarterback to play on Super Sunday in his first or second season as a starter. Overall, the older quarterback holds a 26-21 edge in the Super Bowl, although the younger signal-caller has been on the winning side in 10 of the past 12.
That said, Manning and several of his teammates have been around the block more than one time. While Manning is looking for his second Super Bowl ring, guys like Champ Bailey (15 seasons), Quentin Jammer (12) and Shaun Phillips (10) are all looking for their first. Even Wes Welker, who went to two Super Bowls during his six seasons with New England, has yet to hold the Lombardi Trophy in his hands. And then there’s head coach John Fox, who led the Carolina Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII, only to lose to the Patriots by just three points.
There’s no question that the Seahawks are hungry and want to win this game. However, they also are fairly young as this is entirely new territory for the majority of this team, especially the quarterback and head coach. On the other side, Manning, Fox, Welker and a few other Broncos have already experienced this stage and know full well what it will take to finish the job next Sunday night.
3. Broncos’ Defense Peaking at Right Time
Seattle’s defense will garner a lot more attention entering Super Bowl XLVIII and understandably so. Not only were the Seahawks the No. 1 defense during the regular season, this unit is faced with the task of slowing down Peyton Manning and the highest-scoring offense in the history of the NFL.
However, this does not mean that Denver’s defense should be overlooked. For one, the Broncos have put up better statistics than the Seahawks so far this postseason. Denver has given up an average of 289.5 yards per game in its two playoff contests compared to the 358.5 surrendered by Seattle. The points allowed (16.5 ppg for Denver, 16 for Seattle) are similar, but if there’s one area that’s been totally different it’s rushing defense. The Broncos have yielded a total of 129 yards rushing while the Seahawks have given up 269. Seattle’s offense is built around the running game (136.8 ypg in regular season, 4th in NFL), so it’s critical that Denver’s defense continues its strong play against the run.
What’s even more impressive about the Broncos’ recent defensive surge is that this unit is doing it without the services of All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson and, for the most part, cornerback Chris Harris. Harris tore his ACL in the Divisional round win against San Diego, yet Denver still held Tom Brady and the Patriots to 320 yards of total offense and just 16 points in the AFC Championship Game.
I’m not saying that Denver’s defense is better than Seattle’s. There’s no question the Seahawks have more talent across the board, especially given the injuries the Broncos have suffered. However, Denver’s defense doesn’t have to stop Manning and company, Seattle does. The Broncos’ defense just needs to do its job against the Seahawks’ offense and lately that hasn’t been an issue for this unit.
4. Denver’s Stable of Weapons
Seattle’s defense finished the regular season tops in the league in both yards (273.6 ypg) and points (14.4 ppg) allowed. The Seahawks are also were No. 1in passing defense (172.0 ypg) in large part thanks to the efforts of their secondary, also known as the “Legion of Boom.”
Headlined by first-team All-Pros cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas, Seattle’s secondary also includes safety Kam Chancellor, who was a second-team All-Pro. Besides being athletic and physical, the Seahawks’ defensive backfield features decent size with Sherman and Chancellor both measuring at 6-3.
Seattle’s defense has had its way with pretty much every team it has played, but the Broncos represent an entirely different challenge. For one, Peyton Manning is enjoying the best statistical season of his Hall of Fame career as the Broncos set a new benchmark for scoring (606 points) in the regular season. Then there’s the stable of weapons Manning has to throw to starting with wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker, but also including tight end Julius Thomas and running backs Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball.
Besides a track record of production, Denver’s pass-catchers bring some size of their own, as Demaryius and Julius Thomas and Decker all stand at least 6-3. This by itself could be a factor when it comes to winning one-on-one matchups with Seattle’s secondary. In addition, offensive coordinator Adam Gase has done a fine job of putting together effective game plans for Manning to execute on the field throughout this season and there’s little reason to expect anything different for this game, especially with two weeks to prepare.
This Super Bowl is somewhat unique in that it will be the first one in more than 20 years to feature the No. 1 scoring offense versus the No. 1 scoring defense. As good as Seattle’s defense has been, it has yet to face anything quite like Denver’s offense. Of the 18 games the Seahawks have played, half of them have been against teams that ranked 26th or lower in the NFL in total offense during the regular season. New Orleans (4th) was the only team among the top 10 offenses that Seattle played and Denver averaged nearly 60 more yards and 12 points more per game than the Saints.
Defense may win championships, but there has never been as explosive and productive an offense as the Broncos, who may have too many weapons for even the mighty Seahawks to contain.
5. The Broncos' Unfinished Business
Denver has been working towards this game since last Jan. 12 when its 2012 season came to a crushing end following Baltimore’s 38-35 double overtime victory in the Divisional round. Not only did the Broncos lose at home, they were forced to sit back and watch the Ravens accomplish what they were hoping to – win Super Bowl XLVII.
A year later, the collapse against Baltimore is all but a memory, as Denver took care of San Diego and New England at home for the right to face Seattle next Sunday. While the Broncos certainly celebrated with their fans at Sports Authority Field at Mile High following the 26-16 win over the Patriots, the Lamar Hunt Trophy, which goes to the AFC champions, is not the hardware this team has been aiming for since the start of training camp back in the summer.
Just like John Elway 15 years ago, this Denver team wants to do all it can to ensure that Peyton Manning gets his second Super Bowl ring. Are you going to bet against a motivated herd of stampeding Broncos?