SUPER BOWL XLVIII STORYLINES
1. Peyton Manning has commanded center stage from the moment he was taken with the top overall draft pick in 1998 and the spotlight will never be brighter than when he leads the Denver Broncos against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday night at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium. Manning put together the finest season by a quarterback in NFL history - shattering records for touchdowns and yards - and a victory could settle the debate of whether he is the greatest quarterback of all time. Conversely, a loss by the Broncos will drop the league's only five-time MVP below .500 in the postseason and 1-2 in Super Bowls to bolster the argument by his detractors that he continually comes up short in the big game.
2. Who's No. 1? It is the quintessential matchup, pitting the Broncos' top-ranked offense against Seattle's league-best defense, marking only the fifth time in Super Bowl history that the NFL's highest-scoring team (Denver, 606 points) squared off against an opponent that surrendered the fewest points (Seattle, 231). “We wouldn’t have it any other way,” bombastic Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said. “They’re an unbelievable record-setting offense with a Hall of Fame quarterback. That’s as tough as it gets. The No. 1 defense against the No. 1 offense.” It is also only the second time in 20 seasons that the No. 1 seeds in each conference reached the Super Bowl - the last coming when Manning's Indianapolis Colts lost to New Orleans in Super Bowl XLIV four years ago.
3. The first outdoor cold-weather Super Bowl - and the potential for playing in a blizzard - caused a lot of teeth-gnashing leading up to the game, but conditions are expected to be relatively benign with temperatures in the mid-30s and light winds. That's a huge plus for Manning and a Broncos' offense that features an unprecedented five players to have scored at least 10 touchdowns. “We’ve spread the ball around so well all season, so it’s hard for teams to know who to key on,” said Manning, who was held to a season-low 150 yards passing in bitter cold and high winds at New England in late November. Seattle has built a legendary home-field advantage at CenturyLink Field but like Denver, has already played at MetLife this season. The Seahawks blanked the New York Giants 23-0 on Dec. 15 while the Broncos scored 31 second-half points in a 41-23 victory over the Giants on Sept. 15.
TV: 6:25 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Broncos -2. O/U: 47
ABOUT THE SEAHAWKS (15-3): Aside from allowing 14.4 points per game, Seattle surrendered the fewest total yards and passing yards while leading the league in takeaways (39) and interceptions (28), including a league-best eight by Sherman. Quarterback Russell Wilson tied Ben Roethlisberger for the second-most wins (27) in his first two seasons but he did not throw for more than one touchdown or 215 yards in his past six games. One of the reasons is bullish running back Marshawn Lynch, who has gone over 100 yards four times in six postseason games and rushed for 249 yards and three TDs in the Seahawks' playoff wins over New Orleans and San Francisco. Wilson will also get back a big weapon in wideout Percy Harvin, who played in only one game during the regular season after recovering from hip surgery and suffered a concussion in the victory over New Orleans that caused him to miss the next contest.
ABOUT THE BRONCOS (15-3): Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are only the second tandem with more than 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in consecutive seasons. Add in Wes Welker (87 catches, 10 TDs) and tight end Julius Thomas (65 catches, 12 TDs) along with 1,000-yard rusher Knowshon Moreno and it's not hard to see why Manning threw for 55 scores and 5,477 yards - both NFL single-season records. Denver's high-powered offense overshadowed a much-maligned defense that has made enormous strides and yielded an average of 14 points over the past four games since a 27-20 home loss to San Diego on Dec. 12. "We kind of made a pact after the San Diego loss," said Broncos coach John Fox, the sixth coach to lead two different teams to a Super Bowl. "Basically, everybody made a pact that we're going to be the best we can be these last five games. We've gone through four of them; we've got one remaining."
1. Manning, bidding to become the first QB to win a Super Bowl title with two different teams, needs 116 passing yards to surpass Tom Brady (6,424) for the most in NFL postseason history.
2. Wilson can join Brady, Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner as the only quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl in his first two seasons.
3. Denver is 2-4 in the Super Bowl, winning its last two appearances following the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
PREDICTION: Broncos 23, Seahawks 20