Lines from covers.com as of Jan. 29, 11:00 a.m. CT. Game time is Feb. 2 at 5:30 p.m. CT
Defense wins championships
Who hasn’t heard that sports cliche? The Seattle Seahawks are hoping to enforce that theory when the “Legion of Boom” attempts to contain Peyton Manning and the record-breaking Denver Broncos offense. This matchup features the No. 1 scoring offense (Broncos, 606 points) vs the No. 1 scoring defense (Seahawks, 231 points). Those 606 points set an all-time NFL record. This game also features the No. 1 point-differential (Broncos, +207 points) vs the No. 2 point differential (Seahawks, +186 points).
Here are a few matchups to keep an eye on:
5. Russell Wilson vs Broncos Front Seven
Keep containment. Wilson hasn’t posted the fanciest passing statistics, however, he’s always a threat to use his legs to shift momentum or make a big play. Sometimes, a quarterback’s legs are just as effective at winning games as his arm. The Broncos’ front seven must maintain their discipline.
4. Julius Thomas vs Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright
Tight ends haven’t enjoyed much success against Seattle. Just consider these three examples:
Jimmy Graham: 2 games, 4 catches, 50 yards, 1 touchdown
Vernon Davis: 3 games, 8 catches, 57 yards, 1 touchdown
Tony Gonzalez: 1 game, 3 catches, 29 yards, 0 touchdowns
Chancellor is an All Pro safety who, time and time again, has proven that he can shut down these tight end / wide receiver hybrids. Thomas shouldn’t overwhelm him.
SOURCE: Seattle Times
3. Richard Sherman vs Demaryius Thomas
Less talk and more action; we’re all going to get it in this game. Sherman has conceded that Thomas is a top-five wide receiver. Of course, a top-five wide receiver is nothing for “the best cornerback in the game,” right?
It’s a straightforward matchup. Can Sherman lock down his man? If he can’t, then this defense has a long day awaiting them…
2. Marshawn Lynch vs Broncos Run Defense
The Seahawks aren’t an explosive offense. They prefer to grind out victories with their defense and ground game. After not having a 100-yard game from Week 10 to Week 17, Lynch has put together two consecutive games with more than 100 yards. He’s accomplished that against two of the NFL’s top-five regular-season defenses.
Can Lynch run wild on Denver? The Broncos have the NFL’s No. 7-ranked run defense. They surrender fewer than four yards per carry. A steady diet of Lynch and Robert Turbin will help keep the Seahawks defense fresh and Manning off the field. It’s the perfect way to punish Denver if they score too fast on the previous drive and the defense hasn’t had enough rest.
1. Byron Maxwell vs Eric Decker
The WR-CB battle between Sherman vs Thomas is the main event. So let’s consider Maxwell vs Decker as the Daniel Bryan vs Bray Wyatt. It’s not as heavily publicized but it’s a huge matchup that will dictate how the rest of the night goes for the Seahawks defense.
Maxwell was a sixth-round pick from the 2011 NFL Draft. Late this season, Maxwell was promoted to No. 2 cornerback after Brandon Browner was suspended for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. Few quarterbacks are better than Manning at exploiting young and inexperienced defensive backs.
It’s important for Maxwell to win his head-to-head matchup with Decker. If Sherman and Maxwell can both win their matchups without assistance, then Seattle has much more flexibility in how they pressure Manning or give Walter Thurmond help against Wes Welker in the slot.
Maxwell is the least experienced of the four main defensive backs. Look for Manning to look his way—and often.
Neither team has suffered anything greater than a one-possession loss. Everyone should have confidence in a competitive championship battle. There’s no reason to not expect this game to come down to the late stages of the fourth quarter. These are the top two teams from the regular season and they’re both peaking at the opportune time.
The Super Bowl XLVIII winner will come down to whoever wins the trenches. The “Legion of Boom” will only play as well as their front seven permits. No matter how good the defensive backfield, Manning will find open receivers if he’s given time.
That same logic applies to the Broncos defense. They must contain Marshawn Lynch and keep Russell Wilson inside the pocket. When the Broncos surrender huge point totals, it’s largely because they generate zero pass-rush. They’ve done a much better job of that during their playoff run.
Defense can help win championships. It’s not a sole determining factor. While the Seahawks have a superior defense, the Broncos have better balance and the best quarterback. If the Broncos play defense like they have the past few weeks, they’re winning this game. If they play like they did in games against Tony Romo and Andrew Luck? Seattle wins.
I’m buying into the Broncos defense.
Super Bowl XLVIII Picks Against the Spread: Broncos vs Seahawks
Denver Broncos 20
Seattle Seahawks 16
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