One more game to go. The NFL journey that began on a Thursday night in Denver last September comes to its conclusion in the Big Apple on Sunday night, with Peyton Manning and the Broncos again in the spotlight as they face the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl (6:30 PM ET, Fox). Without further ado, and without delving into any of Richard Sherman’s histrionics, here’s the Notebook Nine, our points to take into the Seattle-Denver championship fight…
*Both quarterbacks are looking to make history. Peyton can win his second ring, and do it in his brother Eli’s home stadium. By odd coincidence, when Eli won his second ring it came in what was then Peyton’s stadium, in Indianapolis following the 2011 season. This is surely on par with the historical oddity of Abraham Lincoln having a secretary with the last name Kennedy, and JFK having a secretary with the last name of Lincoln.
*Russell Wilson’s quest for history doesn’t get the same attention, but it’s much more significant. Wilson would become the first African-American quarterback to be a team’s season-long starter and then win the Super Bowl. Before you say “What about Doug Williams in 1987?”, remember that Williams did not became the Washington Redskins starter until literally the last game of the regular season. By the standards of what it means to a team’s true quarterback—being “the guy” in September and leading it all the way through, Wilson is looking to complete a journey that Steve McNair and Donovan McNabb have sniffed, but came up a little bit short on.
*Denver comes in a two-point favorite, with the Over/Under of 48, equating to a final score of 25-23. Let’s tweak that and say 24-21 Broncos is about how Vegas sees this game. Sitting here on Thursday, it looks the weather will cooperate with Peyton. There will be a high of 46, and winds of just 8 mph. The cautionary note is how cold will it get into the night, and MetLife Stadium is notorious for its swirling gusts, meaning the wind might play a bigger role in this venue than it will in the city overall.
*Seattle’s key point of concern in their two playoff wins—they have allowed seven sacks, even with a mobile quarterback, continuing a season-long problem and now have to deal with a good pass rusher in Denver’s Shaun Phillips. The Seahawks have also allowed over 100 yards rushing each game. Both stats belie their reputation for physical play and controlling the trenches.
*Denver’s key point of concern in their two playoff wins—they’ve given up 30 fourth quarter points. Of course it’s true they’ve only given up three points in the first three quarters combined of both games, but both the San Diego and New England games got right to the verge of becoming interesting after it seemed like Denver had it blown open. A more pertinent concern might be this—most observers believe the NFC is stronger at the top, meaning the strong Denver showings might be as much about a weak AFC bracket.
*Seattle’s key strong point in their playoff run—Marshawn Lynch has continued to run well. In today’s NFL, when good defenses decide they want to take away the run, they usually can. But Lynch has a combined 249 yards in the two games and his team only has one turnover. Seattle isn’t beating themselves and they are controlling tempo.
*Denver’s key strong point in their playoff run—the rush defense is peaking. Both the Chargers and Patriots came to Denver running the ball exceptionally well. Each was held below 70 yards as a team. The Broncos are as ready as they’ll ever be for Lynch.
*While media speculation has centered on who Sherman will cover, Denver has a deep enough receivers’ corps to look elsewhere. That points us to two other matchups and two exceptional Seattle defensive backs. Strong safety Kam Chancellor will have to take away tight end Julius Thomas. And free safety Earl Thomas is a big hitter roaming centerfield in search of big plays. How Chancellor and Thomas fare will likely decide how the Seattle defense fares.
*What will the Percy Harvin factor be, if any? Seattle is woefully lacking in receiver talent and desperately needs the oft-injured Harvin to play. He’s ready to go after a concussion in the NFC Championship Game, but the track record says to skeptical about how long he’ll last. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll might want to consider just having Harvin return kicks in the first half—where he’s as dangerous as anyone—and then use him in the offense in the second half.
I’m picking Seattle to win. The track record of teams with great defenses in the Super Bowl is overwhelming—the 1985 Bears, 1986 Giants and 2000 Ravens not only won, they won big. In two of those cases (Bears & Ravens) they faced mediocre quarterbacks, so I don’t suggest Seattle is going to destroy Denver, but the track record tells you to pick the great defense over the great offense.
But I’m pulling for the Broncos. As much as I like Wilson, the thought of Pete Carroll leaving USC in the lurch to face NCAA sanctions for his sins after the 2009 season and then winning a Super Bowl is enough to make one nauseous. As does the fact that Peyton has one fewer ring than his overrated younger brother.