When the Denver Broncos walked off the field at Met Life stadium two week ago, the team knew that they had lost out on a great opportunity to win a Super Bowl. But was that embarrassing loss to the Seahawks the team’s last chance to win a Super Bowl in the immediate future, or is Denver’s window to return to win a Super Bowl still open for at least another year or two?
Obviously, the Broncos having a chance to win a Super Bowl hinges on Peyton Manning. If he decides, or is forced, to retired because of concerns regarding his health, Denver’s window for winning a Super Bowl would immediately slam shut. Manning is the primary reason why the Broncos have been one of the best teams in the NFL the past two seasons and why their offense set NFL records while carrying the team to the Super Bowl this season. Without Manning, the Broncos would have a lot of rebuilding in front of them after taking a two-year all-in shot at winning a championship.
However, Manning does have three years left on his contract with the Broncos, and as long as he’s healthy he intends on playing until the end of his deal. But it would be unrealistic not to expect some decline in Manning’s performance over the next three seasons, even if he’s coming off what was arguably the best single season by a quarterback in NFL history. If Manning isn’t able to put together another super-human season, the Broncos may not be able to cruise to the Super Bowl so effortlessly the way they did in 2013, but even if they do, there is a slew of tough defenses in the NFC that could be waiting for them if they get there, much like the Seattle defense that stopped them dead in their tracks two weeks ago.
The next issue for the Broncos is the supporting cast around Manning. The team has several key players heading into free agency this offseason, and it’s unrealistic to think that they’ll be able to retain all of their key players. Offensively, running back Knowshon Moreno and wide receiver Eric Decker are both free agents, and both are coming off the best season of their career, which will make it difficult for the Broncos to retain them and give Manning the same caliber of weapons around him next season.
Key defensive players like Shaun Phillips and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are also free agents, while the Broncos may have to deal with Chris Harris and Von Miller recovering from serious injuries they suffered late in the season, making their status for next season less certain. Moreover, Denver will have even more key players entering free agency after the 2014 season, making the shape of the roster around Manning uncertain moving forward, putting a lot of pressure on the team to find the right players in the draft and in free agency to keep the talent level around Manning high, even amidst a lot of roster turnover.
Finally, there is the competition they’ll have to face on their way to another Super Bowl. Despite Denver being in a division with two other playoff teams this season, there was profound mediocrity throughout the AFC in 2013. At the moment, there are few reasons to think that this will change drastically in 2014. However, as long as Tom Brady is around, the Patriots are in a similar boat as the Broncos, while the Colts could be ready to make a significant leap if they can put a better supporting cast around Andrew Luck. This could make a repeat appearance in the Super Bowl a little more difficult yet quite feasible for the Broncos, but as they learned this year, there’s a fine line between playing in a Super Bowl and winning one.
All things considered, the relative weakness of the AFC keeps the Super Bowl window open for the Broncos, because with a healthy Manning they could easily be considered the conference favorites heading into 2014. However, with Manning’s age and the uncertainty of the roster around him, they will not be the heavy favorites they were in 2013. On top of that, there are several NFC teams, most notably Seattle, San Francisco, and Carolina, that would tough for the Broncos to beat because of their elite defenses if Denver were to return to the Super Bowl. So while the Super Bowl window remains open for the Broncos, it’s barely more than a crack, and it’s closing fast.
The AFC West was one of the best divisions in the NFL in 2013, putting three teams into the postseason. That means it could be a bit of an arms race this offseason, as the teams know that competition within the division will be tough in 2014. Let’s take a look at the offseason plans for the four teams in the AFC West.
Denver Broncos – As long as Peyton Manning is still around the Broncos are going to do everything they can to win in the short term. Eric Decker may leave in free agency and Wes Welker is getting old, so Denver needs to find a receiver that can team up with Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas to make sure Manning still has an elite arsenal of receivers at his disposal. The Broncos also have a few free agents along their offensive line, and whether they re-sign those guys or bring in new players, they have to make sure that unit is strong and Manning is well protected. On defense, something has to give at cornerback, where the Broncos need help, regardless of whether or not they’re able to bring back Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Denver also needs to invest in a young pass rusher to complement Von Miller, who will need some help next season after coming off an ACL injury.
Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs have a team that can reach the playoffs, but they won’t have a team that can play at a championship level until they address certain areas. Alex Smith is likely to stay at quarterback, who is fine for now, but Kansas City needs to get him more help around him outside of Dwayne Bowe and Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs should explore the free agent market for wide receivers while also taking advantage of a deep class of wide receivers in the draft, which should help them pick up at least two talented wide outs this offseason. The Chiefs also have a few starters along the offensive line approaching free agency, which is something they’ll have to adequately address if they’re going to remain competitive in 2014. Defensively, the Chiefs are in relatively good shape, except in the secondary, where they got exposed late in the season when their pass rush wasn’t quite as dominant as they were early in the season. If Kansas City can get more talent around safety Eric Berry they’ll be in good shape on the back end of their defense.
Oakland Raiders – Dennis Allen has one more season to start turning things around in Oakland or he’s going to be unemployed. The first thing Allen will have to do is decide on a course of action at quarterback, because if he doesn’t want to commit to Terrelle Pryor or Matt McGloin in 2014, the Raiders may have to use their first round pick on a new quarterback. Once the quarterback position is figured out, Oakland may have to make due with the rest of the offense as is, because their defense needs a lot of attention. Oakland had a terrible pass defense last year, and they’ll not only need to overhaul their secondary, but they’re going to need to find pass rushers along the defensive line. On the off chance Jadeveon Clowney falls to them in the draft, they may need to take him, even if it means waiting until later in the draft to pick a quarterback, because generating a pass rush may be equally important to becoming a competitive team in 2014.
San Diego Chargers – The resurgence of Philip Rivers and the emergence of rookie receiver Keenan Allen have given the Chargers a boost and a chance to remain competitive for a few more years. Some improvement to the offensive line could be made this offseason, and it also wouldn’t hurt San Diego to add another receiver or two, perhaps a tight end that can ultimately take over for Antonio Gates. But the biggest priority for the Chargers this offseason could be cornerback, where the team may need to invest an early round draft pick while also acquiring one or two players in free agency to give that position a boost. Finally, San Diego could use another pass rusher, and if they can find a way to make a splash in that area, it could go a long way towards helping them challenge for a division title in 2014 if Rivers can continue to perform at the level he did in 2013.
As Peyton Manning took two steps forward to yell out the play call, after he likely saw something in the defense he thought he could exploit, something he’s done thousands of times before, Denver center Manny Ramirez flung the ball in the air, whizzing past Manning’s head, much to his surprise and dismay. The ball hit the ground and continued to roll into the Denver end zone until running back Knowshon Moreno ultimately fell on it, giving the Seattle Seahawks two points and a lead they would not relinquish.
For 18 games this season, the Denver Broncos galloped up and down the field. A record setting offense led by a now five-time most-valuable player could not be stopped; opposing defenses could only hope to contain them. But in their 19th game of the season, on the biggest stage of all, the Broncos pulled up lame, as the offense that dominated every team put in front of them, finally met their match.
After 18 phenomenal weeks of football, it took just one play for Denver’s entire season to unravel; one play to stop the seemingly unstoppable Broncos dead in their tracks; and one play to turn the dream of a Super Bowl into a 60 minute long living nightmare. After an 18-game buildup that began in spectacular fashion and included several NFL records, making us believe there was no challenge the Broncos couldn’t rise up against and defeat, it only took one play for the Broncos to fall flat on their face; and once down, the Seahawks made sure they were never able to get back up.
The Broncos literally took offense to another level in 2013, breaking the NFL record for points scored. They had a set of skill players that couldn’t be covered and one of the most brilliant minds in football history pulling the strings at quarterback. Denver’s running backs and receivers out-performed opponents with their talent, while Peyton Manning out-smarted opponents with his intellectual mastery of football. But in the end, the Broncos failed at the most fundamental part of football, the snap of the ball, and it became their downfall.
Once down 2-0, the Broncos might as well have packed up and headed home. They would trail 5-0 before Manning would touched the ball for the first time, and it would eventually take them three full quarters until their first and only touchdown of the game, a meaningless consolation prize. While all of their snaps were practically flawless the rest of the game, one bad snap dashed their confidence and took them completely out of rhythm against a Seattle defense that was fast and physical, and ready to strike.
One bad snap threw the Broncos completely off their game, while Seattle’s ferocious pass rush and physical secondary made sure there was no getting back on track. Had the first snap of the game landed perfectly in Manning’s hands, would the Broncos have struggled to move the ball and score points against the Seattle defense? Absolutely, but the bad snap changed the complexion of the game before Manning could get his hands on the ball, and it crushed the confidence that was built up by 18 weeks of brilliance. That one play, the very first play of the game, turned Denver’s Super Bowl into a super bust.
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has been the main focal point of Super Bowl week, and deservedly so. Manning is approaching the end of an incredible career that will undoubtedly put him in the Hall of Fame one day. He’s also going for his second Super Bowl championship, which many critics believe he needs in order to make a strong argument for being the best quarterback in NFL history, and with the uncertainty around his health and his future in football beyond this season, this could be Manning’s last chance to win a second Super Bowl. However, win or lose, Manning has already stated his case for being the best quarterback of all time, and it’s a strong case.
First, there are the numbers. For his career, Manning has thrown for nearly 65,000 yards; not including the postseason, and nearly 500 touchdown passes, again not including the postseason. He holds the record for the most touchdown passes, passing yards, and completions a quarterback has made in a single decade. He has the largest differential between touchdowns and interceptions of any quarterback in NFL history. His career passer rating is 97, good for second all time behind Aaron Rodgers. Manning has more 300-yard passing games than any other quarterback in NFL history. Just this season, he set the single-season record for both passing yards and touchdown passes. Also, Manning is one of three quarterbacks that has thrown seven touchdowns in a single game without also throwing an interception, doing so in this year’s season opener against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
Next, there are the accolades. He is a five-time MVP, which is more than any other player. He is a 13-time Pro Bowler, and seven times he’s been named the All-Pro first-team quarterback. Manning has been the AFC Offensive Player of the Year seven times. He has been a Pro-Bowl MVP, a Super-Bowl MVP, and won the 2012 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
The statistics Manning has put up and the awards he’s won over the course of his career are nothing short of astonishing. But Manning is even better than his credentials would indicate. His intellectual mastery of the position is unmatched by any other quarterback in the history of the NFL, and is a unique trait that will be nearly impossible for any other quarterback to replicate, ever. Not only has Manning thrown a countless number of passes with pinpoint accuracy, but throughout his career he has shown an uncanny ability to outsmart opposing defenses win the play for his team before the ball is even snapped. No other quarterback has combined the physical talents of an elite quarterback with the brilliant mental acuity of the position the way Manning has.
Even if all the stats and awards didn’t exist, no quarterback has been more impressive to watch operate than Manning. No other quarterback has mastered the game of football the way Manning has. It’s nothing short of insane to think that Manning needs to win a second Super Bowl to be considered the greatest of all time; after all, teams win Super Bowls not individuals, which is why none of the accolades mentioned have anything to do with his team winning or losing. Whether or not the Broncos beat the Seahawks Sunday night should have little bearing on Manning’s legacy; it’s just one of hundreds of games Manning has played throughout his career. Win or lose, he’s already stated his case as the best quarterback of all time, and it’s a case that’s going to be tough to beat.
When the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks take the field Sunday night, there’s no doubt that the Seahawks will be the team with the better defense. However, there’s also no sense debating that the Broncos will have the more resilient defense. The Broncos have fought through injuries on the defensive side of the ball all season long, but the Denver defense has persevered, and now they enter the Super Bowl playing their best football of the season, even amidst some of the most significant injuries they’ve suffered this year.
The Broncos began the season with Von Miller, one of the best defensive players in the league, serving a six-game suspension. Without Miller, the Broncos were missing one of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL, and that was after losing their other top pass rusher, Elvis Dumervil, in free agency during the offseason. Denver also had to place rookies Lerentee McCray and Quanterus Smith on injured reserve before the season started, after hoping that at least one of them could develop into a pass rush specialist and help fill the void in the absence of Miller and Dumervil.
A lacked of pass rushers looked like an area of concern for the Broncos, especially with their opponents routinely playing from behind and relying on their passing game. But the resilient Denver defense has been able to put together a viable pass rush, led by the 10 sacks from 10-year veteran Shaun Phillips, who has received help from backup Malik Jackson and backup turned starter Robert Ayers. Miller gave the Denver pass rush a temporary boost, but he was lost to a season-ending injury in week 16, before he had a chance to make an impact in the postseason.
The Denver defensive line also had to deal with the loss of Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson to the injured reserve list for the latter part of the regular season and the postseason. Neither Wolfe or Vickerson is a star by any stretch, but both have become important contributors and a key part to Denver’s success over the past two seasons. The loss of those two players forced the Broncos to sign free agents late in the season to help fill out their depth chart. The absence of Vickerson could be felt in the Super Bowl, as both of Denver’s backup defensive tackles, Mitch Unrein and Sione Fua, are nursing injuries, and the ability of the Denver defensive to stop Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch could be a critical component of the game.
While the Denver defensive line has been battered and banged up all season, the secondary has been a revolving door personnel wise due to a constant flow of injuries. The aging Champ Bailey has struggled to get on the field and stay on the field all season, rarely staying on the field long enough to redeem himself for his pitiful performance in Denver’s playoff loss to the Ravens last year.
In addition to Bailey, starting safety Rahim Moore has been out since mid-November and the team’s best cornerback Chris Harris suffered a season-ending injury in the divisional round playoff game against the Chargers. At times, the entire Denver secondary appears to be an injury waiting to happen, as it’s become common for players to leave with an injury and re-enter the game later, giving the group little consistency or cohesion with regard to who’s on the field.
But through it all, the Denver defense has managed to survive all of the injuries and lineup changes, and they are now playing their best football at the right time of year. The Broncos have given up 15 points per game over their last four games, including their two postseason wins, after giving up no less than 17 points in a game through the first 15 weeks of the season. The Broncos are stuffing the run, sacking the quarterback when they need to, and holding their own in the secondary.
With the Broncos having a historically good offense, the defense isn’t the strength of the team; and with that offense facing the NFL’s stop defense Sunday in the Super Bowl, the Denver defense has been easy to overlook. But the Denver defense has fought through a series of key injuries and become an important part to the team’s success. After the adversity they’ve faced this season, they won’t be a liability in the Super Bowl, and if the Broncos win, the defense will likely be a big reason why.
When Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning takes the field for Super Bowl XLVIII, there’s a chance he’ll be taking the field for the final time in an NFL game. Obviously, we don’t know how much of a possibility it is that Manning has just one game left in his Hall-of-Fame career, but with his upcoming doctor’s appointment that will take place after the season being widely publicized and Manning being less than three years removed form multiple neck surgeries, there’s at least a chance that Manning is about to play his final game of competitive football.
Sadly, there’s no way of knowing beforehand whether or not Manning’s health has deteriorated over the past two seasons to the point where he’ll be forced to retire. Having put together one of the best seasons from a quarterback in NFL history, and having led arguably the most prolific offense in NFL history this past season, his play on the field wouldn’t seem to indicate that his health is an issue, as he’s obviously still able to perform at high level. However, that doesn’t mean that an issue is lingering beneath the surface that will prevent Manning from continuing his career beyond this Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Manning does have three years remaining on his contract with the Broncos, and when he made the decision to come to Denver before the 2012 season he wouldn’t have signed a five-year contract if he had no desire to play at least five more seasons in the NFL. But at the same time, Manning isn’t about to put his health and well being at risk just so he can play another season or two, and the Broncos, who mandated the health check up in their contract with Manning, won’t be eager to let Manning keep playing if it means putting his health at risk.
If the Super Bowl does indeed end up being the final game of Manning’s career, there’s a lot at stake, for both him and the Broncos. It would be Manning’s last chance to grab that elusive second Super Bowl title that critics and fans feel is essential to his legacy. A win and his place in the history books among the best quarterbacks of all time would be solidified, but a loss, especially in the final game of his career, would mean that criticisms would always linger about his performance in the postseason.
For the Broncos, they’ve invested so much into trying to win a Super Bowl during the short window of time that they have Manning at quarterback, and winning would be validation that it was all worth it. But a loss, especially if it’s followed by Manning’s retirement, would be seen as a failure in many respects, as well as a major set back for the entire organization, which will probably have a lot of rebuilding to do in 2014 if Manning is forced to retire, which is why this game carries so much important for both Manning and the Broncos, on the off chance that this ends up being the final game of Manning’s brilliant career.
Congratulations, we have all survived the dreaded bye week that follows the conference championship games, not to mention last night’s revamped Pro-Bowl, and we are officially in Super Bowl week. Instead of closing out the week with our preview, let’s kick off Super Bowl week with a closer look at the game between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.
HOW THEY GOT HERE?
Sometimes, getting to the Super Bowl means getting hot at the right time, but not this year. For the first time in four years, the top-seeded teams from each conference held serve at home and advanced to the Super Bowl. Both Denver and Seattle finished with 13-3 records in the regular season and won two home playoff games to get to The Big Game. The Broncos were a bit more convincing, dominating both the Chargers and the Patriots, even though both teams came on strong in the 4th quarter to make the final score closer than it should have been. Of course, Seattle played better teams in the more competitive NFC, as they had to hold on late to beat both New Orleans and San Francisco. In the end, it’s hard to argue against the fact that we ended up with the two best teams in football playing one another in the Super Bowl.
DENVER OFFENSE VS. SEATTLE DEFENSE
This is the matchup we’ve wanting to see all season. The Broncos have one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history, but they may be meeting their match in Seattle’s defense. The Seahawks had the top pass defense in the NFL season, due in large part to three Pro Bowlers in their secondary, but their depth in the secondary will be put to the test in this game, as the Broncos have an almost endless number of wide receivers and tight ends that pose a threat to opposing defenses, and if there’s a mismatch somewhere Peyton Manning is sure to find it and exploit it. At the same time, the Broncos like to stay balanced on offense, and if the Seahawks put too many defensive backs on the field and put fewer players in the box, Manning has no problem calling running plays for Knowshon Moreno, who has been great all season and if necessary could become Denver’s workhorse back against the Seattle defense.
The Broncos shouldn’t expect to move the ball as easily against the Seahawks as they have against every other defense they’ve played this season, but if they can remain balanced on offense they should expect a reasonable amount of success, with the only variable being their ability to score in the red zone, which has been a troubled spot for them during their two playoff games. As for Seattle, the best way to slow down Manning may be to create situations where he has to throw, which means they can’t sleep on Denver’s running game. Of course, even if the Seahawks can get Denver in obvious passing situations, they’ll also need their pass rush to put Manning under pressure against a Denver offensive line that’s huge tough all season, while also accounting for Manning’s uncanny ability to get rid of the ball quickly. If the Seahawks can’t knock Manning off his spot and throw his timing off, he’ll be hard to defend, even with a secondary full of Pro Bowlers.
SEATTLE OFFENSE VS. DENVER DEFENSE
This matchup isn’t nearly as compelling as the first one, but it will be just as important to the outcome of the game. The Seahawks rely on Marshawn Lynch to make their offense go, and that’s not going to change against the Broncos. However, the Denver defense has done well to stop the run in its two playoff games, so they should be well prepared to stop the run, although if the Seahawks aren’t successful running the ball early in the game they won’t abandon it as quickly as Denver’s last two opponents. If Lynch is as productive as he usually is, it’ll take the pressure off Russell Wilson, who’s had an uneven season and whom the Seahawks don’t want to rely on to do too much. Even against a Denver secondary that’s missing key players due to injury, the Seahawks don’t have a set of receivers that can be relied upon to make big plays, even with Percy Harvin being cleared to play, so it’s essential that Lynch be productive throughout the game.
If the Broncos can slow up Lynch, their next goal will be to keep Wilson confined to the pocket. Wilson doesn’t always like to pull the ball down and run; instead, he buys time with his legs while keeping his eyes downfield, which gives his receivers more time to get open. The Broncos have to keep Wilson inside the pocket, because most of Seattle’s big plays happen when Wilson breaks containment on the outside. If the Denver defense can keep the Seahawks from creating big plays, the Seattle offense may have difficulty putting together long drives against a defense that has played its best football down the stretch, giving up just 15 points per game over its last four games.
Don’t expect either team to get off to a fast start. This game will be like a heavyweight fight, as both teams are talented, well coached, and will have two full weeks to prepare, so it may take a while for both teams to get going. Ultimately, the Broncos are too good on offense to keep contained for 60 minutes, even for a great defense like Seattle’s. Meanwhile, the Seahawks will struggle to make big plays against a Denver defense that’s playing well. The Seahawks are good, but the Broncos are a little better because they’re a little more balanced. Manning wants this game badly, and some say that he needs it, and so he will seize this opportunity and win his second Super Bowl: Denver 24, Seattle 13.
By now, hopefully you’ve settled into viewing the never-ending parade of Super Bowl coverage. Well, here comes the float in that parade, the five most important matchups between the Broncos and the Seahawks that will go a long way towards determining who wins Super Bowl XLVIII.
MARSHAWN LYNCH VS. DENVER RUSH DEFENSE
Lynch has been the motor that makes the Seattle offense go all season long, and nothing is going to change in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks need Lynch to be their workhorse back that gets 20 to 25 carries and not only softens up the defense to help break long runs in the second half, but also to open up things for Russell Wilson and the passing game. On the other side, the Denver defense has done a great job against the rush the past two weeks, which has been a driving force in the Broncos winning their two postseason games. The Broncos have good size on their defensive front, led by Terrance Knighton, who played great against the Patriots, and they’ve also moved linebacker Paris Lenon into the starting lineup to give that unit size and physicality as well. Both Lynch and the Denver front-seven have played well this postseason, and both will need to come up big for their teams in the Super Bowl, in what should be a compelling and critical matchup.
DEMARYIUS THOMAS VS. RICHARD SHERMAN
The Broncos have one of the best receiving corps in the NFL while Seattle’s secondary is one of the best in the league, but the matchup everyone wants to see is Thomas vs. Sherman. Thomas is as big and physical as any other wide receiver in the league, and he’s earned Peyton Manning’s trust over the past two seasons, so Manning won’t be afraid to throw in his direction, even if Sherman is the cornerback matched up against him, which he most likely will be for the entire game. The Broncos have plenty of other passing targets to go to if Thomas can’t get open against Sherman, but things will be much easier for them if Thomas becomes a factor in the game, and it’ll be Sherman’s job to make sure that doesn’t happen.
SEATTLE PASS RUSH VS. DENVER OFFENSIVE LINE
Despite several key injuries this year, including Pro-Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady, who missed the entire season, the Denver offensive line has held up well all season, and kept Manning healthy and on his feet, although the Seattle pass rush will be one of the best they’ve faced all season. The Seattle front four is great at getting pressure on the quarterback, even without linebackers blitzing, and they’re even better because they have a great secondary behind them that keeps receivers covered and forces quarterbacks to hold the ball longer. The Denver offensive line will have to hold strong for one more game, because they can’t allow a team with Seattle’s secondary to get pressure on Manning with just a four-man rush.
SEATTLE PASS RUSH VS. PEYTON MANNING
It’s not just the Denver offensive line that the Seahawks will have to get past, it’s also Manning himself. Manning is one of the best in football at getting the ball out quickly, and if he sees that that the Seahawks are getting a strong push up front, he’ll be able to make the adjustment and ensure the ball is out of his hand before the pass rush gets to him. Manning is also masterful at pre-snap reads and will be able to call for the right protection that gives him the time he needs to deliver the ball. If the Seahawks need to start blitzing to get pressure on Manning quicker, he’ll be able to counter against a defense that has fewer players in pass coverage. Manning, with plenty of help from his offensive line, has done a great job at avoiding pressure and the getting the ball out on time all season, and the Seahawks will have to find a way to disrupt his and throw his timing off.
RUSSELL WILSON VS. JACK DEL RIO
The Denver defense has suffered a lot of injuries this season, especially with their best past pass rusher in Von Miller and their best cornerback in Chris Harris both going down within the past month, but Jack Del Rio has done a great job of holding the unit together, as the Denver defense is just as responsible for the team’s two postseason wins as the offense. Seattle should get something positive from its running game, but at some point Wilson will have to make a play, and with two weeks of preparation for a defensive coordinator like Del Rio, that’s not going to be easy for Wilson to do, especially since he’s had a rather uneven performance over the past month or so, while the Broncos are coming into their own on defense, even with all of their injuries. Despite how impressive he’s been over the past two years, Wilson is still a young quarterback on a big stage, and at some point he’s going to have to outperform the defensive scheme that Del Rio throws at him.
The Super Bowl matchup is set, and we couldn’t have gotten a better matchup, with the league’s best offense going up against the league’s best defense. Of course, we have to wait two full weeks to see it, which leaves a lot of time for talking between now and then. Here are a few of the storylines people will be talking about that you should probably get ready to hear all about leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII.
PEYTON MANNING’S LEGACY
Is Manning the best quarterback of all time? Does he need a second Super Bowl ring to solidify that? Is he even the best quarterback in his family if he doesn’t win a second Super Bowl to match his brother? Get ready, because these questions are going to be posed non-stop all the way until kickoff next Sunday. It’s a ridiculous notion, but somehow Manning’s entire legacy comes down to this one game. Adding to this plot line is the fact that everybody knows about Manning’s upcoming doctor’s appointment in March, which at least lays out the possibility that this could be his last game, which only adds to the pressure on him to win. This is bound to get tiresome at some point leading up to the game, but Manning is the pre-eminent figure in this year’s Super Bowl and one of the greatest of all time, so it’s mandatory that most of the focus be on him.
WHAT WILL RICHARD SHERMAN SAY NEXT?
Sherman’s postgame tirade when viral in a hurry Sunday night, and now everybody’s just sitting back and waiting to see what he’s going to do as an encore. Sherman is no stranger to controversy and he’s not afraid to open his mouth, so he’s not going to be shy about stirring the pot leading up to the Super Bowl, especially with two weeks before the game and the entire world focusing on Manning, which he’ll probably view as a sign of “disrespect” towards him and the Seahawks. Whoever holds the current record for most media members surrounding him on media day of Super Bowl week should feel threatened, because Sherman is coming for the record. Oh, there’s also the little matter of his matchup against Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who happens to be one of the top receivers in the NFL after being selected to back-to-back Pro Bowls.
CHAMP BAILEY FINALLY GETS A CHANCE AT A SUPER BOWL
Yes, he is a shadow of his former self, but Bailey was the best cornerback in the NFL for a significant chunk of his 15-year career and he’s never been to a Super Bowl before now. Not only is Bailey finally going to a Super Bowl, but also with the recent injury to Chris Harris he’s going to have play a far bigger role in the game than he’s played in any other game all season. He’s going to end up being a key player in the game, and his performance could go a long way towards determining whether the Broncos win or not; and with the season he’s had you have to wonder if he can make it through one more game without injury and whether he’ll be able to play the way he did in his prime in order to help secure a Super Bowl ring in what may be his one and only chance to get one.
POCKET PASSER VS. MOBILE QUARTERBACK
We went through this last year with Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick, and we have another matchup this year between a traditional pocket passer in Manning and a mobile dual-threat quarterback in Russell Wilson. Mobile quarterbacks have taken the league by storm over the past few seasons, but pocket passers keep on winning the Super Bowl, and so a mobile quarterback like Wilson needs to win a Super Bowl to add some legitimacy to this growing trend. Of course, Manning is the ideal pocket passer with great height but little mobility, while Wilson is a short scrambler who represents everything the league didn’t want at quarterback just a few years ago, which sets up the ultimate clash of cultures at the quarterback position in this year’s Super Bowl.
Rarely are there daily updates on the weather forecast for a Super Bowl, but that could very well happen this year after so much has been made about the game being held in a cold weather city. What makes the weather all the more important is the fact that poor weather conditions would obviously put the Broncos at a disadvantage, while rain and wind is exactly what the Seahawks are used to playing in at home in Seattle, making poor weather conditions advantageous to their cause. As it stands now, picking this game is a tough call, but as we get closer to the game and the forecast begins to take shape, it could have an impact on which team is viewed as the favorite to win.
If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. In 2012, Peyton Manning came to the Denver Broncos after a one-year hiatus from football, during which he underwent multiple neck surgeries that left his career in a state of uncertainty. Until he stepped onto the field in a regular season game, there were questions and doubts about whether he could still play at a high level, how he would hold up during the course of an NFL season, and if he could still be the same player he was during his 13 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.
But last season Manning answered all those questions and then some, proving doubters wrong by picking up where he left off before his surgeries. He led the Broncos to a 13-3 record, including an 11-game winning streak to finish the regular season, while recording the second most passing yards and second most touchdowns of his career. He helped the Broncos secure the top seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, giving them a clear path to the Super Bowl, only to have their season foiled by a profound failure on the part of safety Rahim Moore on a Hail Mary throw late in Denver’s playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens, which opened the door for the Ravens to beat Denver and ultimately win the Super Bowl that the Broncos once looked destined to claim for themselves.
But despite that disappointment, Manning and the Broncos tried again in 2013, and put together an even more dominating performance than they did in 2012. It started with a seven-touchdown performance by Manning on opening night against the same Baltimore team that ended their Super Bowl hopes the previous season, and it didn’t stop there. When all was said and done, Manning threw 55 touchdown passes, a new single season NFL record, and the Broncos had scored more points than any other team scored in a single season in NFL history. More importantly, the Broncos had once again solidified the top seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, except this time they refused to let their Super Bowl hopes slip away.
Manning has played a nearly flawless postseason this year, leaving nothing to chance, and making sure the Broncos get a chance to play in the Super Bowl. He’s completed more than 70% of his passes for 630 yards and four touchdowns. He’s been in complete control of not only Denver’s offense, but also the opposing team’s defense, manipulating things exactly how he wants them. As a result, the Broncos have dominated time of possession in both postseason games, they never trailed in either game, and most importantly Manning wasn’t sacked in either game. The Broncos have been in complete control in both games and rarely was there any doubt that they would win both games.
Once again, there were doubters along the way, questioning whether Manning could get the job done if he had to face a cold weather environment in the playoffs, and whether the Broncos would succumb to the pressure of being the AFC favorite, especially after the way their season ended last year. But when given a second chance, Manning and the Broncos redeemed themselves for their shortcoming last year and made sure there was nothing that could stand in their way of reaching the Super Bowl. In fact, after the brilliant season Manning has had, and all the records he and the Broncos have set, there never should have been any doubt about this team reaching the Super Bowl; with Manning and the Broncos getting a second try, their season was never going to end any differently than with a trip to the Super Bowl.