The Hot Corner
Super Bowl Breakdown
Since the dog days of August where 32 NFL teams entered the 2013-14 season with an optimistic look ahead, the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos appeared to be the front runners for a Super Bowl bid and a trip to MetLife Stadium. Five months later, this tailor-made game between two football heavyweights has come to full fruition. In this edition of the Hot Corner, Knight Times sports analyst J.T. Grugen examines 10 of the biggest questions heading into Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 1.
10: What’s the biggest takeaway for each team after the Conference Championship?
DENVER: Play hard for all 60 minutes – In the first half of the AFC Championship, Tom Brady and the Patriots managed a measly three points. Up 20-3 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Broncos set their cruise control and surrendered two touchdowns to New England, making a lopsided game all of the sudden very interesting. Seattle is a team that has experience in putting up 40 on the scoreboard and cannot be given a chance to get back into games. The Denver offense needs to play aggressive and contain Russell Wilson or else he can run to a Lombardi Trophy for the Seahawks.
SEATTLE: Secure the football – Three times in the NFC Championship, Seattle put the ball on the ground. One of these fumbles was on the first snap when Russell Wilson coughed the ball up to Pro Bowl linebacker Aldon Smith. While Denver doesn’t have an elite defense like the 49ers, this team knows how to hit hard. Lineman Robert Ayers and Terrance Knighton will create pressure up the middle for the elite linebackers Von Miller and Wesley Woodyard to knock the ball out. Seattle must avoid turnovers at all costs or else Peyton Manning is almost guaranteed to make them pay.
9: How much is added to the legacy of Peyton Manning with a Broncos win?
If the average fan had a chance to select either of the Manning brothers to be their quarterback, the overwhelming majority would go with Peyton. One of the few quarterbacks in history that has made receivers into stars, Peyton Manning consistently delivers season after season. However, his brother Eli still has two Super Bowl rings that trumps Peyton’s lone ring.
In the postseason, Peyton’s record isn’t all that impressive. Denver’s AFC Championship victory over New England bumped the living legend back to a .500 playoff record at 11-11. Without a doubt, Manning is a first ballot Hall of Famer for leading the Colts and Broncos to winning seasons every year. His legacy is great in it’s current state, but a Super Bowl win would just add to the running list of accomplishments in his career.
8: Who could get a major payday this offseason with a victory?
Contract seasons for every player is their best chance to collect a huge paycheck for the next several years. Inflated numbers driven by the ambition to earn a higher salary are common, but how much would a great Super Bowl performance entail for someone hitting the market this spring? Eric Decker of the Broncos has finished with back to back 1000 yard receiving seasons upon Peyton Manning’s signing a few seasons ago. Decker appears to have turned the corner and with a little more work, could become one of the NFL’s elite wideouts.
Denver’s chance to retain the stud receiver looks promising with nearly 20 million dollars in cap space this offseason. Meanwhile out west the Seahawks find themselves in quite the financial pinch over the next few seasons. With 12 million dollars currently open on the payroll, the Seahawks will have to start looking at extensions for Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner, and other talented players. A Super Bowl win would very well boost all these player’s resumes when free agency begins.
7: If Percy Harvin suits up, what does he add to the Seahawks?
Perhaps the biggest item on the offseason agenda for Seattle a season ago was finding a veteran receiver for Russell Wilson, a man who has all of the talent to be among the elite if he had more targets. Enter Percy Harvin, former first round pick of the Minnesota Vikings. After undergoing hip surgery and missing the first several months of the season, but upon his return still only managed sporadic appearances and suffered a concussion.
The Seahawks are reporting that Harvin will most likely be ready to go for Super Bowl Sunday, the question is though, what is his role? For Seattle, he can only be helpful. Should Harvin sit out, Seattle will use the same core of the receivers they’ve used all season. However, Harvin could serve as a very valuable decoy to free up Doug Baldwin or Golden Tate down the field, or potentially create a running lane for a Wilson scramble. Harvin is a huge X-Factor heading into this game, giving Seattle another minor advantage.
6: What does mother nature have in store?
This past week has been another winter nightmare on the east coast. Wind chills way below zero and over a foot of snow has swept across East Rutherford, New Jersey, where the first non-dome or warm weather Super Bowl will be played in quite some time. MetLife Stadium could look very similar to the whiteout conditions in Philadelphia earlier this season for an Eagles game.
Who does this benefit? Typically snow will require teams to be physical, and run up the gut with a ground and pound offense. Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks hit the billing perfectly, he’s a strong half back who can power his to a first down. This very well could be Seattle’s game plan on offense. The Denver backs have more of a speed attribute which won’t be useful when the slippery surface takes away counter runs and stutter steps.
5: Is the league’s top defense enough to limit Peyton Manning?
For the fifth time in the Super Bowl era, the league’s top offense and top defense will meet on the big stage. Seattle has found a few diamonds in the rough with Richard Sherman, Bobby Wagner, and Michael Bennett over the past few seasons. Mix in a few free agent signings and all eleven men on the defensive side of the ball are playmakers. However, even this group might not be enough to slow down Peyton Manning and company.
Seattle’s best chance will be to throw in some blitz schemes which potentially leaves receivers open down field for Manning, a recipe for disaster and a quick six points for the Broncos. Even if Seattle can’t match the high octane Manning, smart decisions on offense and avoiding turnovers can keep them in the game.
Note: The Broncos last game against the league’s top defense was Week 12 against the Chiefs, in which Manning was not taken down once and Denver cruised to a 27-17 victory.
4: How much will the 12th man’s presence be missed?
One of the Seahawks most effective weapons is not signed to a contract, nor does this weapon suit up every week. Seattle’s home crowd makes up football’s most famous 12th man. These fans rattle the opposition with cheering so loud you can barely hear a quarterback’s pre-play signals and audibles. While it’s expected that some Seattle fans will travel across the country to East Rutherford for the Super Bowl, the distinct home field advantage will not be present for the Seahawks.
While at home, Seattle was undefeated this season, but away from their friendly confines, this powerhouse was only 5-3. Any west coast team typically struggles when playing across the country due to jet lag and the time zone adjustments. Geography could end up being the underlying variable that costs the Seahawks a victory, along with a disproportioned fan base.
3: Can Russell Wilson keep pace with Peyton Manning?
In the 2012 NFL Draft, every team passed on below-average sized quarterback out of Wisconsin named Russell Wilson. Seattle, who at the time had an uncertain quarterback situation, drafted Wilson in an attempt to find a poor man’s Cam Newton or Robert Griffin III. In two NFL seasons, Wilson has led the Seahawks farther in the playoffs then both of the quarterbacks mentioned above have with their respective teams. Now though, Wilson has his toughest assignment to date: matching score for score with one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.
The NFC Championship win over the 49ers proved that what once looked like an unstoppable Seattle team that would march to the Lombardi Trophy has flaws. Wilson and company only managed three points in the first half, which is not nearly enough to keep up with the Broncos. If the Seahawks have any chance to stay competitive, the team needs to focus on moving ten yards at a time. Pick up first downs and the rest will fall into place.
2: What must Richard Sherman do to prove he’s the best corner in the NFL?
Following an emotional win over the rival San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman gave a very strange rant targeted at 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree. Apparently there had been some trash talk between the two sides before last Sunday’s game. During his rant, Sherman once again proclaimed himself as the best cornerback in the NFL today. Now he has a golden opportunity to back up his bold statement on the NFL’s biggest stage.
Sherman will likely be matched up against Demaryius Thomas, one of the best young, emerging wideouts in the game today. While Thomas has greatly benefitted from Peyton Manning’s presence, the stud wideout can easily be taken away by Sherman. One of the Patriots biggest struggles was limiting Thomas after Aqib Talib went down with an injury. Would holding Thomas to under 50 yards make Sherman the best? Well, it would at least be an important piece to his resume.
1: Is this the end of the road for Peyton Manning?
When one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks to ever step onto the gridiron shocked everyone by signing with the Denver Broncos, head coach John Fox said his goal was to make sure Peyton Manning went out on top. The last time Manning made a trip to the Super Bowl was in the 2010-11 season when Drew Brees led his Saints to victory. Following neck surgery that sidelined the star QB for over a year, Manning has found a career renaissance in Denver.
In this season alone, Manning has helped free agent acquisition Wes Welker turn out one of his most productive years, made a star out of impending free agent Eric Decker, put young tight end Julius Thomas on the elite tight end radar, and overall improve the entire foundation of the team. However, should the Broncos win the Super Bowl, what else is left for Peyton Manning to achieve? With several records belonging to him after this historic season and a potential second Super Bowl ring, the possibility that Manning could go out a winner and retire once the clock hits zero at Super Bowl XLVIII is all too real of a possibility.
Prediction: Broncos 35, Seahawks 20
At the end of the day I can’t see Russell Wilson keeping up with Peyton Manning. Both have two very different offensive schemes, but if snow becomes a factor, Wilson’s speed and agility will be taken away, forcing him to play like a pocket passer. Also, I believe this will be Peyton Manning’s final game as he retires by going out on top.
photo credit: ESPN.com