WHY THE SEAHAWKS WILL WIN
This is an article from the Feb. 3, 2014 issue
1 The Super Bowl record for teams, like the Seahawks in 2013, who finished as the regular season's top scoring defense is 13--5. It has been more of a mixed bag, however, for teams that led the league in offensive scoring, as did the Broncos: They're 10--11. The NFL's best defense and best offense have squared off in the Super Bowl five times. In four of those matchups, the more dominant defensive team has prevailed.
2 In the 47 previous Super Bowls, 35 winners have come out ahead in the turnover battle; just three winners had more giveaways than takeaways. That you could have guessed. But it's not often that one entry is so much better at creating takeaways. Seattle had an NFL-best regular-season turnover margin of plus-20 and forced fumbles on 1.75% of touches (No. 2). Denver, meanwhile, finished dead even in turnovers and lost a league-high 16 fumbles.
3 The Broncos allowed 290 rushing yards to quarterbacks, the fifth most in the league, and got shredded by passers who are known for their wheels. In a total of six games against Denver, QBs Andrew Luck, Terrelle Pryor, Alex Smith and Michael Vick rushed for 253 yards, at 7.4 per carry. And Seattle's Russell Wilson? He ran for more yards (539) than any quarterback not named Pryor or Cam Newton.
4 Against Seattle, harried QBs tried to force the ball to their tight ends 122 times (ninth most in the NFL) but had little success: The Seahawks allowed just 782 yards to ends, 12th fewest. They've been even stingier in the playoffs as their LBs and punishing strong safety Kam Chancellor limited Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis, Pro Bowlers both, to three total receptions. All of this paints a bleak picture for Denver TE Julius Thomas.
WHY THE BRONCOS WILL WIN
1 While the Broncos won't have Von Miller (ACL), they can expect their healthy pass rushers—ends Shaun Phillips (10 sacks), Malik Jackson (six) and Robert Ayers (5½)—to find success against the Seahawks' shakiest unit. Seattle started seven O-line combos in 2013, involving eight players, none of them deserving of much applause. That helps explain why Russell Wilson (left) was sacked 44 times, third most in the league.
2 These two teams faced off in the preseason, and while Seattle won 40--10, Manning was splendid before leaving mid--second quarter. He completed 11 of 16 throws for 163 yards and a TD—for a passer rating of 122.7, second highest against the Seahawks all year—and hit each of his top four targets at least once. And that was against a secondary that included CB Brandon Browner, who's since been suspended.
3 Marshawn Lynch will face a Broncos run D that boasts a beast of its own: 6' 3", 335-pound tackle Terrance Knighton. That front ranked seventh against the rush (101.6 ypg), allowed the sixth-fewest yards to backs (fewer even than the Seahawks, despite facing more attempts) and allowed only the Chargers' Ryan Mathews to rush for more than 100 yards. They held the likes of LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles (twice) below the century mark.
4 The Broncos converted 88.9% of their fourth down attempts in '13, better than any team that has attempted at least six conversions, save one: the 2000 Colts (90%, and take one guess who the QB was). Denver coach John Fox doesn't roll the dice often, but with his record-setting offense he was rarely tempted. That might not be the case in what figures to be a close game on Sunday. If Fox gambles, the odds will be in his favor.