Seattle Seahawks @ Denver Broncos
Sunday February 2, 23:25
Live on Sky Sports 1 and Channel 4
The notion that stifling defense wins Super Bowls isn't exactly the tagline upon which the NFL would choose to base its advertising strategy. Hardly sounds like a lot of fun. And neither do the Seattle Seahawks, the most miserly outfit in the league (in terms of fewest yards and points conceded). A bummer of a draw for the networks.
Praise be, then, for their opponents: the Denver Broncos. The game's offensive powerhouse have been ripping up the regular-season record books under the guidance of their charioteer Peyton Manning, careering into the Metlife Stadium with leading marks on total yards and touchdowns for Manning. A bums-on-seats draw for the networks.
All of which happily adds up to the perfect match-up for the networks. It's the unstoppable enforcers versus the immovable project, the safe-cracking algorithm against the Fort Knox vault. Will the Broncos break the bank or the Seahawks sit on the cash?
Manning has been cracking the codes of rival defenses ever since he was in college. The number-one draft pick in 1998 and four-time league MVP has the kind of algorithmic brain which can decode a formation and download it on to his hard drive (aka receivers) even at the line of scrimmage.
These computational powers have marked Manning out as the finest quarterback of his generation. He just doesn't have the Super Bowl rings to prove it (one solitary signet from 2007). Now that he is at the controls of possibly the best receiving corps ever, though, Manning has the chance leave an indelible mark in history. And in a campaign which has already seen him turn the tables on familiar foes (San Diego and New England vanquished in the past fortnight alone), it appears Manning has penned himself a new script worthy of his sublime skills.
I seem to be banging on about the Broncos pitch-perfect quartet of receivers every week, so at the risk of sounding redundant I'll keep this brief. But the combination of speed wide-outs Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, coupled to tight end Julius Thomas (the team's premier red-zone catcher) and the rejuvenated Wes Welker (the league's best pocket poucher) does offer Manning all manner of avenues - whether his cannon arm is geared for deepfield of shorter strikes.
Waiting in the Denver running lanes is also a pacy pair of consistent rushers who appear to be peaking in their ground gains for the greatest show on turf. Knowshon Moreno and rookie Montee Ball provide the Broncos with balance and a legitimate alternative to their aerial assault. Even a team a defensively agile as the Hawks could be left chasing shadows if this offensive equilibrium affords Manning more time in the pocket.
Even so, the experienced 37-year-old is facing off against the legendary Legion of Boom. The Seattle secondary have earned their nickname with the kind of physical and athletic assaults which were again in evidence during the closing quarter against San Francisco, their adversaries in the NFC Conference Championship game.
Two vital picks off Colin Kaepernick, including that signature move from Richard Sherman (which gave rise to his trending post-game diatribe on Michael Crabtree), eloquently demonstrate the danger they pose. Yet, equally, they haven't faced the towering talents of Decker and DT, speed receivers blessed with strength, height and bucket hands. The potential match-up between Thomas and Sherman is especially intriguing.
However, a gruelling campaign of digging their offense out of trouble has not been without its collateral damage. Three brutal games against the Niners in particular mean that Seattle are banged-up and tired. And if they fail to fire on all cylinders, it will be left to their QB Russell Wilson to maintain stride with Manning. Tom Brady couldn't manage it the other week, so few would give Wilson a prayer in light of some ineffectual recent outings. Nevertheless, it's worth recalling that he is possessed of a long arm and the scrambling which the immobile Brady lacks.
Wilson also has Old Faithful in his back field, aka Marshawn Lynch. The dependable running back continues to move the chains with both attritional and breakout advances and will once again be their go-to guy. This bankable strategy is beginning to look predictable, though, and a progressive Denver D will fancy their chances of slowing Lynch, even if they can't stop him. They held both the Pats and the Bolts to double-digit yardage in rushing, while they have limited their opponents to under 280 yards in total offense in five of their past six games.
The weather is another important variable to factor into your betting plan. Sub-zero temperatures and a snowstorm were initially forecast but predictions have thawed, with a more benign climate is now anticipated in New Jersey. This will also favour the Broncos. However, should the polar vortex tighten its grip again, the sensitive Vegas line will flick in favour of the Seahawks.
Still, a game which pits number-one seed against number-one seed (for just the second time since 1993) was always going to be tight. But Manning could once again prove the game-changer, now that he's conquered his previous demons in San Diego and Foxborough (where he threw for 400 yards and an impressive 118.4 rating).
The Hawks have one of the best defenses in recent years. The Broncos operate the highest-scoring offense of all-time. Manning has 12 years' experience over Wilson, too. Plus no Seattle player has ever been to a Super Bowl. This big-match temperament should prove the kicker. No disrespect to Matt Prater.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll may have called on his team to embrace their trademark demeanour of ballsy and brash, but it is Denver that I expect to jump out to a decent early lead and hang on as time winds down. Indeed, the Broncos have bucked their rivals by a combined 37-3 over the first three quarters in their two play-off encounters to date. So a fast start on the first-half moneyline rates my best bet.
However it plays out, though, remember that differing styles invariably make for good fights. So with these two polar opposites on show, Super Bowl XLVIII ought to be a great one. Enjoy.
Back Denver Broncos to beat Seattle Seahawks on Match Moneyline @ 1.87 or better
Back Denver Broncos (-2) to beat Seattle Seahawks on Match Handicap @ 1.96 or better
Back Denver Broncos to beat Seattle Seahawks on First Half Moneyline @ 1.93 or better
Back Over 25.5 Total Denver Points @ 2.2 or better
Back Under 24.5 Total Seattle Points @ 1.57 or better
Back Denver Defense to make The Most Interceptions @ 2.8 or better
Back K.Moreno to be First Touchdown Scorer @ 12.0 or better
Back P.Manning to win Super Bowl MVP @ 2.1 or better
Back Denver Broncos to win Super Bowl @ 9.08/1
Back Denver Broncos to win Super Bowl @ 4.03/1