By John McMullen, NFL Editor
New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Legacy, the Lombardi Trophy and the weather.
Those are the three storylines to watch when the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks and AFC kingpins Denver Broncos meet in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in the first outdoor, cold weather title game.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning pilots the best offense in the history of the NFL, while Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman spearheads the NFL's No. 1 defense, the first time since Super Bowl XXV (Buffalo and the New York Giants) in which the team that scored the most points in the NFL's regular season will do battle with the club that allowed the fewest for the Lombardi Trophy.
The contest also marks the first time the No. 1 seed from each conference has matched up in the title game since Super Bowl XLIV between New Orleans and Indianapolis after the 2009 season.
"It doesn't happen like this too often when both No. 1 seeds make it," Sherman said. "It's a testament to the hard work of both teams and I'm sure it's going to be a fantastic game."
Sort of like the irresistible force getting ready to go against the immovable object. Denver led the NFL with a league record 606 points scored while Seattle allowed an NFL-low 231 points. The Broncos also topped the NFL by gaining 457.3 yards per game and the Seahawks allowed just 273.6 ypg, the fewest in the league.
"We wouldn't have it any other way," continued Sherman. "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's the Super Bowl, so it's going to be tough," countered Denver Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas. "Nothing is going to come easy. This is for all the marbles, so I'm pretty sure it will be a tough game all around."
The Seahawks and Broncos both advanced to Super Bowl XLVIII with home wins on Championship Sunday less than two weeks ago. Seattle defeated San Francisco 23-17 in the NFC Championship Game and Denver knocked off Tom Brady and the New England Patriots 26-16, in the AFC title tilt.
On the NFC side, the Seahawks erased a 10-point deficit and then held on to top their NFC West rivals in the seventh consecutive NFC conference title game decided by seven points or fewer.
Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown to spark the offense and Seattle's vaunted defense forced three turnovers, including an interception in the end zone off a brilliant pass breakup by Sherman with 22 seconds remaining to seal the win.
"That's the way we've played the whole season," said Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who had a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against the Niners. "These guys are relentless. All we do is practice turnovers on defense and we wanted to be in that situation where the game was on our backs."
Offensively Seattle is spearheaded by Lynch, the only NFL player to rush for at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of the past three seasons. He also has four 100-yard rushing performances in six career postseason games, including both playoff contests in 2014.
Meanwhile, second-year quarterback Russell Wilson has won 27 games -- including the playoffs -- in his first two seasons as a starter and is on the verge of joining Kurt Warner, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger as the only signal callers to win a Super Bowl in their rookie or sophomore campaigns.
"To get to the Super Bowl, we're excited about it," said Wilson. "But at the end of the day, we haven't done anything yet. We won the NFC West, which was one of our goals. We won the NFC Championship Game, which isn't easy. But only one team gets the prize. That's what we're focused on and we're moving on to play the Denver Broncos."
The defense is where the Seahawks bread is buttered. During the regular season, Seattle not only led the NFL in points allowed (231), total defense (273.6 ypg) but also in pass defense (172.0 ypg), takeaways (39), interceptions (28) and turnover differential (plus-20).
Sherman led the league with eight interceptions and his 20 pick since entering the NFL in 2011 are the most during that span, while his running mate in the defensive backfield, All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, is the only player on the last line of defense in the past decade to record at least 100 tackles, five interceptions and two forced fumbles in a single season.
"As a competitor, you always want to play the best," Thomas said when talking about the Super Bowl matchup. "We're here to play. We love football. We know what's at stake. We know this chance is rare. I'm excited about this."
The Broncos will be making their seventh Super Bowl appearance, one shy of the NFL record held by Dallas and Pittsburgh.
Manning completed 32-of-43 passes for 400 yards with two touchdowns and a 118.4 passer rating in the AFC Championship Game win over the Pats, marking only the fifth time in NFL postseason history a quarterback threw for at least 400 yards without an interception in a game.
The Broncos scored on six consecutive drives (two touchdowns, four field goals) in the contest, the longest such streak ever recorded in an AFC or NFC Championship Game.
"It's an exciting feeling," said Manning, who is set to take home his record fifth MVP award the day before the Super Bowl, said. "You take a moment to realize that we've done something special here and you certainly want to win one more game."
Manning, who was named the MVP of Super Bowl XLI while with Indianapolis, is on the precipice of becoming just the sixth player in NFL history to win multiple Super Bowl MVP awards.
"Peyton Manning is a Hall of Fame quarterback," said Wilson. "I have a ton of respect for him. I love him to death. He's a great person and obviously a great football player."
During the regular season, Denver became the first team in NFL history to score 600 points in a single season. The Broncos also are the only team in NFL lore to have five players each score at least 10 touchdowns in the same season: wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (14), running back Knowshon Moreno (13), Julius Thomas (12) and wide receivers Eric Decker (11) and Wes Welker (10).
The offense also averaged 340.3 passing yards per game behind Manning, who set NFL single-season passing records with 5,477 yards and 55 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. "On any given play, a number of guys could get the ball. That puts pressure on a defense."
A Broncos "D" with the star power of Von Miller for all 16 games and an in- his-prime Champ Bailey would still have likely been overshadowed by Manning and Co. this season. The current group hasn't even gotten noticed in New York after allowing 356 yards per game (19th in the NFL) and 24.9 points per game (22nd).
Denver is 2-4 all-time in Super Bowls but won its past two appearances, Super Bowls (XXXII, XXXIII). Seattle lost its only previous try in the big game, a 21-10 setback to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
QUARTERBACKS: Manning is certainly the linchpin of the best offense in NFL history but if you're looking for an apt description of the game's most explosive unit, try sharing the wealth.
"I think with this group, we speak of, 'To be an outstanding team, you have to be selfless, not selfish,'" Denver coach John Fox said. "I think that speaks to the character of those guys in that room. They don't get all pouty, or whatever you might want to put on it, about things like that. They just care about winning. I appreciate that attitude and I appreciate that mindset from those guys."
The success of the Denver offense is directly tied to Manning's high-level of performance, along with a stunning group of playmakers. The Broncos played with stunning efficiency this season, scoring 71 offensive touchdowns on 202 possessions, a 35.1 percentage, eight points higher than any other team. No matter where you look the Denver offense is superlative. It's red-zone efficiency of 76.1 percent (51-of-67) led the NFL.
"Yeah, it's impressive," New England safety Steve Gregory said when talking about Denver's weapons. "You know, Decker, Thomas -- the two Thomases -- and then Wes."
It all begins and ends with Manning, perhaps the best signal caller to ever play the game and certainly the most astute of this generation, a player who simply outworks his competition off the field in the preparation aspect.
Manning is akin to having an offensive coordinator under center with the ability to get out of bad plays and into good ones in the blink of an eye. He performs at such a high level that each and every season is always Super Bowl title or bust for him and his teams, a measuring stick which actually speaks to his greatness.
"He's been remarkable," Fox said. "It's unprecedented what he did."
What he did was have the best statistical season in NFL history, breaking multiple NFL passing records, most notably the single-season marks for touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477), while piloting an offense which led the league in scoring (37.9 points per game) and totaled the most points (606) ever.
Yet, the tag of coming up small in big games has haunted Manning since his college days at the University of Tennessee, where former Florida coach Steve Spurrier used to pile on Manning and the Volunteers by saying "you can't spell Citrus without UT," a reference to the Vols inability to get to the more high- profile Sugar Bowl, often settling for the Citrus Bowl.
Of course, a heck of a lot of other players have suited up with Manning over the years and the supporting cast hasn't exactly been a constant in Manning's postseason career. Those kinds of things are all white nose to the everything is black-and-white crowd, however, the same group which wants to sacrifice Manning to the god of underachievers every time he loses a playoff game, something he has done 11 different times in his NFL career.
Most quarterbacks understand the job description and for the most part accept the fact they will be getting more credit than they deserve after a win and more blame than they should receive after a setback. That's the nature of being the face of the franchise and playing perhaps the most important position in all of sports.
That said Manning has more than held up his end of the bargain so far and clearly outplayed his long-time nemesis Brady in the AFC Championship Game, something even his harshest detractors would have a hard time disputing. Heck, he even made losing more palatable for some of the Patriots.
"Losing is never easy," New England edge rusher Rob Ninkovich said. "But when you have somebody as talented as (Manning), who puts in as much work and effort, and has done it for so long, it's a little bit easier to swallow."
A second Super Bowl crown is likely the only thing that will silence some of the Peyton hatin' crew, who tend to move the goal posts when Manning wins the AFC Championship Game. The conference title tilt ceases to be a big game and the Super Bowl becomes the be all, end all.
"The Super Bowl is always special, no matter where it is played," said Manning. "For a lot of our players, it is their first time playing in one. Two teams that have worked hard and have really laid it on the line all season long to be here. This is why you work hard all offseason for this opportunity. There is no question it is a big deal and it is very special to be playing in this game."
Wilson hasn't played all that well in recent weeks but it's hard to overlook what might be the best two-year resume in NFL history. His 24 wins as a starter over two seasons (27 if you count the postseason) are the most among signal callers since the 1970 merger as are his 15 home wins (17 when including the playoffs).
A dual-threat who can hurt you with his arm and legs Wilson is at his best when extending plays with his mobility, possessing the innate ability to keep his eyes downfield instead of dropping them like most QBs. That said, he remains an unfinished product and is basically just a high-low, two-read QB from the pocket, instead of the A-B-C-D progression machine that is his counterpart in this game.
Wilson is one of only four players to pass for at least 20 touchdowns in each of their first two seasons, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino, Manning and Andy Dalton, and is also just fourth since 1970 to record a passer rating greater than 100.0 during their second season. His 100.6 career passer rating ranks first in Seahawks history and his 101.2 2013 season broke his own team record set in his rookie campaign (100.0).
"At the end of the day, it comes down to just executing your plays and being focused," Wilson said. "We want to win a Super Bowl and we want to be the first ones to win it in our organization and that's kind of our mindset. We believed that we could get, we're here and now it's time to go out there and just play 1 and 0."
RUNNING BACKS: The running game in Denver is generated off the passing game and it can gash you with veteran Knowshon Moreno, who cracked the 1,000-yard rushing mark and finished with 13 total TDs, or rookie Montee Ball, who averaged 4.7 yards per carry in the regular season.
"As long as we were winning and doing what we have to do to come out with big victories -- different people having the ball in their hand -- it doesn't matter," Moreno said. "They're making plays. You're happy for them. That is just the character of a lot of guys on this team."
Since taking over as Denver's starting running back in Week 12 of the 2012 season, the unheralded Moreno ranks seventh in the NFL with 1,548 rushing yards and fifth in the league with 13 rushing scores.
Moreno isn't a gamebreaker, as evidenced by the fact his longest run on the season was just 31 yards, and the Broncos planned to use Ronnie Hillman as the starter early in the season until fumbling issues put him in the doghouse. To be truthful, if Moreno, who is dealing with a rib injury, didn't have Manning checking into runs when he sees soft fronts, he wouldn't be nearly as effective but for this team in this situation, he's been extremely productive.
"I feel good. It is what it is," Moreno said of his injury. "You have to just stay on top of it. For a lot of people, not a lot of injuries would keep you out of a game like this. I feel good though."
Ball brings a nice change of pace and is far more explosive than Moreno but like most rookies pass protection can be an issue and with Denver that's job No. 1.
A strong running game opens up play-action for Wilson, who, like most young quarterbacks, is best when making the high-low read and getting the ball out quickly. Lynch is the bell cow, a bruising, move-the-chains type who can quickly turn arm tackles into turnstiles.
"If they get the running game going, they can really get going," Broncos LB Danny Trevathan said when discussing the Seahawks. "They play within their scheme. They play with the people that they have. They use them to their strengths. We've got to be prepared for this. This is a powerhouse. They can get going anytime. We've got to prepare for everything."
Lynch set a career-high with 14 total touchdowns this season and leads the NFL with 39 total touchdowns since 2011.
"With such a strong back, a sleek-footed back, a quick back and somebody his size -- you have to gang tackle," Broncos safety David Bruton said when talking about Lynch. "You can't just leave it up to one guy. We have to try to get 11 hats to the ball all the time."
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: Broncos wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Decker combined for the most receiving yards (2,718) in the NFL among offensive tandems in 2013. Thomas ranked fourth in the league with 1,430 yards while Decker's 1,288 yards ranked 12th. The duo, who last year became the youngest receiving tandem in NFL history to post 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns each in the same year, joining Cris Carter and Randy Moss (Minnesota 1998-99) as just the second duo in league history with 1,000 yards and 10 TDs each in consecutive seasons.
Thomas is especially dangerous, ranking first in the NFL with 35 receptions of 25 yards or more since the beginning of last season.
"I think every game presents different challenges, whether it is certain coverages," Decker said. "This, again, is going to be a huge challenge. We faced (Seattle) in the preseason and they're tough. And we know we've got our work cut out for us. But again, we're excited for that challenge and just to have the opportunity to be playing in the Super Bowl."
Add in Welker, who owns two of the top four single-season receiving totals in NFL history in addition to being one of two players in league annals to top the 100-catch mark five times, from the slot, and it becomes a who to you cover situation for any defense.
The fact that Denver also has a top-tier receiving threat at tight end in Julius Thomas makes it almost unfair. A former basketball player at Portland State tied for fifth in the NFL with 12 receiving touchdowns this season -- a total that represents the most in team history by a tight end. Thomas, who battled multiple injuries while combining for just one catch during his first two NFL seasons, finished the 2013 campaign with 65 receptions for 788 yards (12.1 avg.) to earn his first career Pro Bowl selection.
"I'm just really excited for the guy that he got healthy and did all the hard work it takes," Fox said. Then he came in and learned a pretty intricate system from a pretty demanding quarterback and has done an outstanding job."
Percy Harvin adds a big-play threat to an underrated and capable Seahawks group. When healthy Harvin is a "Where's Waldo-type" of player with the ability to line up all over the field and hurt the opposition from his natural slot position, outside the numbers or even from the backfield.
"That's a dangerous man right there," the veteran Bailey said. "He can change the game if you allow him to. I remember playing him when he was in Minnesota, and he's one of the most explosive guys coming off the ball."
Golden Tate posted career-highs in both receptions (64) and yards (898) in 2013 and is a dual-threat as a returner, amassing 585 punt return yards. Doug Baldwin had 50 catches in the regular season and has been Wilson's top outside the numbers threat in the playoffs, while Jermaine Kearse is a solid third- option in the downfield passing game.
"Our mentality is that we want to run the ball obviously, dictate the pace of the game and the ground game and then make our big plays on the outside when we get our opportunities to," Baldwin said. "Offensively, we have to take advantage of our opportunities and score points when we can."
Tight end Zach Miller is one of the few true two-way tight ends left. He has good functional speed to run routes, along with outstanding body control and a good feel on when to sit down in the zone. He's not a mauler as a blocker but he knows how to get his body in position to block linebackers and walls off very well.
"Probably the best thing that I can say about all of our receivers is that they're football players," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "I think that really sums it up because we ask them to do a lot of stuff, whether they're returning kicks, whether they're gunners on special teams, whether they're catching balls for us, whether they're blocking."
OFFENSIVE LINE: The Broncos offensive line has continued to perform at a high level despite losing perhaps the best left tackle in the game, Ryan Clady, and veteran center Dan Koppen. The group is led by a pair of Pro Bowl-level guards in Zane Beadles and Louis Vasquez.
After allowing the fewest sacks in the league this season (20) and producing an NFL-high six games without giving up a quarterback takedown, the Denver offensive line has only upped its proficiency in the postseason, going back- to-back games without allowing a sack.
Vasquez, who was signed by the Broncos in March as an unrestricted free agent from San Diego, earned his first career Pro Bowl selection after playing every offensive snap (1,207) and representing one of just three 16-game starting NFL guards to allow zero sacks on the year.
Manning's ability to read the opposing defense and his lightning-quick release have helped fill-in left tackle Chris Clark, while center Manny Ramirez and right tackle Orlando Franklin have been solid for the most part.
The Seattle line is considered one of the Seahawks' biggest weaknesses although left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger are certainly well above average players at their respective positions.
The same can't be said about the rest of the group which includes guards JR Sweezy and either James Carpenter, Paul McQuistan or Michael Bowie, as well as right tackle Breno Giacomini.
"I don't play much left guard; I'm kind of a skill player myself," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll joked when asked about the uncertainty at that position. "You'll wait and see as we turn it out. Guys have been competing at it, we like the way it went last week (Carpenter), so it's more likely to be like that than it was a couple of weeks ago (Bowie)."
DEFENSIVE LINE: Carroll was intent on improving the pass rush and he was able to do it with a committee approach on the line. Seven or eight players can get significant reps depending on the game plan with free agent defensive ends Michael Bennett (8 1/2 sacks) and Cliff Avril (8.0 sacks) spearheading the improved rush, along with interior rusher Clinton McDonald (5.5).
Red Bryant, one of the better base left ends in the game and veteran Chris Clemons, who had 4 1/2 sacks, start things at end with the underrated Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel holding down the fort inside. Since 2011, Mebane ranks second in the NFC among interior lineman with 157 tackles.
"Michael has had a fantastic season," Carroll said when talking about Bennett, who was signed after breaking out in Tampa. "He's given us all kinds of versatility. We didn't realize how unique of a player he was. So we've really just tried to move him to the spots we thought we could take advantage of his savvy, awareness and all of that."
Von Miller, a ferocious pass rusher and Denver's best defensive player, was suspended for the first six games of the regular season and then went down with a torn ACL late. The Broncos then suffered another big blow when defensive end Derek Wolfe, who has not played since Nov. 24 due to the seizure-like symptoms he experienced before a Week 13 matchup at Kansas City, was placed on IR during the postseason.
They have persevered, though.
In his first season in Denver Shaun Phillips, a South Jersey native, has been a godsend off the edge in Miller's absence and led the Broncos with 10 sacks. The veteran has now totaled at least seven sacks in eight of his 10 NFL seasons, providing a very consistent if not spectacular rush off the edge.
"If you look at our defense, we've been plugging, chugging all year," Phillips said. "And a lot of us guys weren't even on the team last year so it's just learning the defense and understanding the philosophy and understanding where people fit at and where people don't."
Phillips' counterpart on the left side, second-year man Malik Jackson is a prototypical base left end who is quick off the ball and can flatten inside but has an inconsistent motor. Free agent pickup Terrance Knighton is the team's best pure run stuffer with solid quickness, agility, and balance inside. He's also a decent bull pusher but doesn't have the hand quickness to explode off pass blocks.
"He's been tremendous," Fox said when discussing Knighton. "He's a guy that we were familiar with coming out in the draft out of Temple as well as Jack Del Rio, our defensive coordinator, coached Terrance (in Jacksonville). Our strength staff had been with him (with the Jags). So we had some pretty good insights on what kind of person and player he was. He's been nothing but A- plus for us since he's been a Bronco."
Rookie first-round pick Sylvester Williams is the other interior player, a raw but occasionally disruptive force thanks to his top-tier athleticism. Veteran end Robert Ayers will also get some reps and tends to turn it up in the postseason where he has three career sacks, second in franchise playoff history behind only Simon Fletcher and Rulon Jones, who each had six.
LINEBACKERS: Second-year Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner is the captain of the defense. He left Utah State as the university's all-time tackler with 446 during and hasn't missed a beat in the NFL, finishing second in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting in 2012 after amassing 140 tackles before following that up with a team-high 119 tackles this time around despite missing two games due to a high ankle sprain. A smart and instinctive player, Wagner really reads and diagnoses well against the run.
"Bobby has really played well since the second half of the season," said Carroll. "I think he has just jumped on board of all of the command of the defense and the calls and the adjustments that he has to make, and he's really playing fast."
Wagner's flanked by the athletic K.J. Wright and either pass-rusher Bruce Irvin or coverage guy Malcolm Smith, who sealed the NFC Championship Game with the interception off the Sherman PBU.
"(Wright is) a fantastic coverage guy. He has great instincts, he's got great sense, he studies really hard, he's got tremendous range because he is so long, he runs really well, he's a fast guy too, and he's got a good attitude about challenging," Carroll said when queried about Wright before adding that Smith "has tremendous skills and he's really fast, like a defensive back or running back, and he's a natural athlete as well."
For Denver Trevathan was one of just seven players in the NFL this season to post 120 tackles and three interceptions. Meanwhile, his 124 tackles in 2013 were the most by a Broncos since D.J. Williams posted 170 defensive stops in 2007.
"He's a terrific young player," Fox said of Trevathan. "He has worked very hard. He's had a terrific year. I thought he did really well as a rookie and I think he's definitely grown up and played very well."
Trevathan and SAM backer Nate Irving, a teammate of Seattle QB Russell Wilson at North Carolina State, will flank pedestrian veteran MLB veteran Paris Lenon, who has edged ahead of the more athletic but inconsistent Wesley Woodyard on the depth chart.
Irving is an athletic and instinctive player who has a quick first step but can get caught up in the trash if he doesn't succeed on his first instinct while Lenon has seen it all over a 14-year career that has seen stops in eight different NFL cities.
"The guy has a lot starts under his belt," Fox said when discussing the 36- year-old University of Richmond product. "He brought some experience. He was new to us this year so like all new players, it takes you a minute to figure out their strengths and weaknesses. We think he's slid into a role that has helped us be productive on defense."
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Seattle's defense is led by the best secondary in the NFL, with three of the four starters earning Pro Bowl or All-Pro recognition over the past three seasons. Sherman matched his career-high with eight interceptions and became first Seahawks player to lead NFL in interceptions since 1993, while Thomas set a career high with 100 tackles and tied his career high with five interceptions.
"They don't want our big corners to press, they don't want us mess up the timing," Thomas said when discussing the Broncos' high-powered offense. "So they're getting in condensed formations, hanger formations, bunch formations, but we know that. We understand how teams want to attack us and that's the beauty of it."
The other Pro Bowl-type in the defensive backfield is massive strong safety Kam Chancellor, who is regarded as one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the NFL, amassing 278 tackles since 2011.
"Kam is on it," Carroll said. "Kam is really on his game. He's really on it, his preparation is really dialed in, he's getting everything out of every rep in practice and all the meeting times and he's extremely confident right now."
The runt of the litter so to speak is CB Byron Maxwell, who took over for the suspended Brandon Browner, starting the last five games. If anything Maxwell has better coverage skills over Browner but he is not as physical and far more likely to bail out into coverage at the line of scrimmage.
"(He is) a natural football player, a real savvy, tough guy," Carroll said when talking about Maxwell. "He's been given a real package technically. We were just lucky to get him and we appreciate him a little bit more than some other teams I guess, because of what we saw in him."
CBs Walter Thurmond and Jeremy Lane also contribute to a Seattle secondary which allowed just 16 touchdown passes on the season and ranked first in opposing quarterback passer rating, harassing them to a 63.4 mark.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is Denver's top cover corner and is tied with Green Bay's Tramon Williams for the most pass breakups in the NFL since 2008 with 98. That tells you DRC is around the football a lot and he has returned five interceptions for touchdowns during his career. As good as Rodgers-Cromartie is in coverage, though, he's a major liability in run support and that's why he has bounced around from Arizona to Philadelphia to Denver. The bottom line is DRC can be taken out of the game by physical play.
The Broncos suffered another tough setback against the San Diego Chargers in the divisional round when starting their other starting cornerback, Chris Harris, suffered a torn ACL. His replacement, Bailey, is a future Hall of Fame corner who still carries a certain cachet about him but film doesn't lie and at this stage of his career, the 35-year-old, who will be playing in his first Super Bowl, is a rapidly descending player who needs plenty of help from the scheme in order to survive.
Bailey was forced back into the starting lineup by Harris' injury, along with the ineffectiveness of fellow veteran Quentin Jammer.
Nickel back Tony Carter is undersized and battling an arm injury and could have plenty of problems dealing with the explosive and fresh-legged Harvin if Percy's hip is OK.
"I think we're doing a good job of just communicating with each other," Carter said of the Broncos' secondary. "We all trust and believe in whoever is out there. And the coaches do a great job of putting us in a position to succeed. We all trust and believe in each other. The secondary is like brothers -- the whole defense is. We complement each other."
Strong safety Duke Ihenacho totaled 12 tackles and three passes breakups against Baltimore in Week 1 during his first career start and he has been steady, in unspectacular ever since. A undrafted college free agent out of San Jose State, the second-year player is rangy and relatively active in run support.
"We think we're a pretty good defense," Ihenacho said. "Obviously it didn't show that much earlier in the year, but we're starting to click and we've been hitting on all cylinders for the last few weeks."
His running mate 32-year-old veteran Paterson, N.J. native Mike Adams, who is a liability physically perhaps but can make up for a lost step or two with veteran savvy.
"It can get overwhelming because that is where I won my first high school title (at Passiac Tech High School in New Jersey)," Adams said of coming home. "Now, I'm going home where all my family can see and watch. It's been 10 years, 10 long years just to get to this point. Now we're finally here and now we've just got to finish."
PLACEKICKERS: Denver kicker Matt Prater was flu-ridden before coming to New Jersey but is expected to be fine for the game. The veteran kicker is coming off a spectacular 2013 regular season in which he converted 25 of his 26 field attempts and kicked an NFL record 64-yard field goal against Tennessee as time expired in the first half on Dec. 8, earning both Pro Bowl recognition and second-team All-Pro honors for the first time in his career.
Prater ranked second in the NFL with a franchise-record 150 points and led the league in both field goal accuracy (96.2) and touchbacks. The Central Florida product also took advantage of the Broncos' high-octane offense to set a new record for extra points in a single season with 75.
The good times have continued in the postseason where Prater has made five of his six field goal tries and each of his PATs, including a 4-for-4 performance in the AFC Championship Game this past Sunday.
Prater's record kick of 64 yards bested the previous mark of 63 set by New Orleans' Tom Dempsey 43 years ago and equaled by former Bronco Jason Elam in 1998, as well as Sebastian Janikowski (2011) and David Akers (2012).
Since being claimed off waivers before the 2011 regular season, Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka has become one of the most reliable kickers under 50 yards in the league, as he ranks tied for second in the NFL with a .938 field goal percentage.
He is 33-for-35 this season with a long of 53 yards and recorded his first-two game-winning field goals of his career this season (a 45-yarder at Houston and a chip-shot yarder versus Tampa Bay). Hauschka ranked fourth in the NFL in points (143) and his career-high .943 field goal percentage was second in the NFL
PUNTER: Punting is in the Broncos' Britton Colquitt's DNA. He and his brother, Kansas City's Dustin Colquitt, are the first brothers to punt in the NFL at the same time since 1941. And they're just the latest practitioners of the family business. The Colquitt family has produced four different NFL punters, including Britton and Dustin's father, Craig, as well as uncle Jimmy. Craig Colquitt won two Super Bowl rings as the Steelers' punter and Jimmy Colquitt played two games for the Seahawks in 1985.
Britton, though, often doesn't get to display his talents because the Broncos' offense is so prolific. He only punted it 65 times in the regular season and just once in two postseason contests. When called upon Colquitt is rock solid, averaging 44.5 yards per punt with 23 placed inside the 20 versus just three touchbacks.
Seattle punter Jon Ryan is an excellent directional guy with serious hang- time, Of his 74 punts, opponents fair-caught 30 of them, and returned the remaining ones for just punts 82 yards, ranking as the second-least return yards in the NFL this season and sixth overall in NFL history for a 16-game season.
LONG-SNAPPER: Don't underestimate Denver's Aaron Brewer's steadiness as a long snapper when it comes to Prater's and Colquitt's success. Brewer, an undrafted free agent out of San Diego State, has been a steady hand since taking over the duties in 2012.
Similarly, Seattle's Clint Gresham helped Hauschka and Ryan achieve a stunning level of consistency.
RETURN GAME: The Broncos' Trindon Holliday is as explosive as it gets as a returner but concerns over ball security has forced Denver to go with the sure-handed Decker as the punt returner in the postseason. Since being acquired by Denver in October of 2012, Holliday has returned six punts or kickoffs for touchdowns and trails only Rick Upchurch on the Broncos' career return touchdowns list.
Holliday is already one of just 15 players in NFL history with at least three punt return touchdowns and at least three kickoff return scores and has recorded six special-teams return scores in 33 career games played, ranking first since the 1970 NFL merger with a return score every 5.5 games played.
With the 5-foot-5 Holliday, it's all speed. If he hits the seam, it's over but at 160 pounds soaking hit, he's not making many extra yards after contact.
Decker doesn't have Holliday's speed -- few do -- but he makes Fox much more comfortable and he should continue to do so in the crazy winds of the Meadowlands. The receiver has averaged a healthy 22 yards on three attempts in the postseason and would have had a TD if not tripping himself in the open field against San Diego.
Harvin, on the other hand, is one of the best kickoff returners ever with the lower body strength to break tackles and the sprinter-like speed to outrun most.
Tate will handle punts and is like a poor man's Harvin in that he has the ability to break tackles but doesn't quite have that extra gear to make the opposition hold its breath.
SPECIAL TEAMS DEFENSE: Bruton is the Broncos best special-teams player and among the tops in all of the NFL, a versatile player who covers kicks and serves as the personal protector on punts.
"David's a guy who can hold up in protection and be able to be a factor in coverage that they have to account for," Broncos special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said of the Notre Dame product.
Bruton, though, hasn't had enough help this season. One of Denver's few weaknesses has been its coverage units. The Broncos ranked dead last in the entire NFL while covering kicks, allowing 29.3 yards per return, and are only slightly better when returning punts, ranking 23rd by allowing 9.8 yards a return.
Seattle has the standout punt return coverage as the unit came oh-so close to breaking an NFL record. The Seahawks entered Week 17 allowing only 25 punt return yards in the first 15 games, but St. Louis Rams returners posted 57 yards in the final game to end the season, and Seattle's chance at the record.
Since 2010, the Seahawks' special teams units have tied for the league-lead in blocked kicks with 13 (aided by Bryant's five blocked kicks since 2011) and rank tied for second in takeaways (11). They have also recorded 10 touchdowns/safeties scored to lead the NFL.
COACHING: Fox, who guided Carolina to Super Bowl XXXVIII, is the sixth head coach to lead two different franchises to the Super Bowl. He inherited a Denver team that had slogged to 4-12 under Josh McDaniels and interim stand-in Eric Studesville in 2010, and quickly turned it into a respectable commodity that won an unlikely AFC West Division title and eliminated the favored Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional playoffs despite having the underwhelming duo of Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow at quarterback.
"It would be very exciting (to win in New York)," said Fox, a defensive coordinator with the Giants when they lost to Baltimore in Super Bowl XXXV. "It would be exciting to win anywhere. This is the epitome of the profession, to be named world champs. It is very passionate. People are passionate just about being here. It would mean a lot. It would mean a tremendous amount to win it here."
Fox's defensive chief, Del Rio, was 3-1 as the interim boss this season when Fox was out with heart issues, and won 68 games as the head coach in Jacksonville from 2003 to 2011. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase was a hot commodity for teams looking for new head coaches but ignored any overtures while focusing on the postseason.
Carroll, a former head coach with the Jets in 1994, returns to the New York area after remaking himself on the college level at Southern California before turning the Seahawks into a championship contender. He's an energetic mentor who preaches aggressive defense.
"We're not going to take this challenge lightly," said Carroll. "We're going to go after this thing and we're not going into this game any other way but thinking we're going to win it. These guys don't know any other way."
Both Seattle coordinators, Bevell and DC Dan Quinn, received multiple head- coaching interviews around the league but their success with Seattle hurt them as organizations did not have the wherewithal to wait until after the Super Bowl.
SUPER BOWL BANTER
-The Broncos lead the all-time series with the Seahawks 34-19, but the Seahawks won the lone playoff matchup between the two, 31-7 in 1983, when they both were in the AFC.
-With a Super Bowl victory, Carroll can join Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer as the only coaches to win a college football national championship and a Super Bowl in their careers.
-Each player on the winning team in Super Bowl XLVIII will receive $92,000. Each losing player gets $46,000
-A 30-second commercial for Super Bowl XLVIII will cost $4 million. In the first Super Bowl, it was $42k.
-The face value ticket prices for Super Bowl XLVIII range from $500 to $2,600. Super Bowl I prices were tiered at $6, $8 and $12.
-The coldest outdoor Super Bowl on record was Super Bowl VI in New Orleans before the Superdome opened. It was 39 degrees at kickoff.
-Super Bowl XLVIII will be distributed to more than 185 countries and broadcast in 30 different languages.
-The 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame class will be announced the day before the Super Bowl with former Seattle Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones, ex-Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks, former Giants star DE Michael Strahan and former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy as the most likely inductees.
The knock on one of the greatest QBs of all-time is the fact that most believe the colder it gets, the tougher it is for Manning to throw the football, a laughable criticism because it's such an obvious dart to throw and could be hurled at any signal caller.
Manning, however, is 8-11 in his career -- including 0-4 in the postseason -- when the temperature is below 40 degrees at kickoff.
Some simply believe Wilson and the Seahawks are better equipped to handle the elements because Seattle is a team which generally doesn't rely on airing it out even in pristine conditions. Meanwhile, while vertically challenged, Wilson possesses very large hands, measured at 10 1/4 inches, an attribute scouts are very big on these days because in theory, a larger hand allows you to handle the football properly in any conditions.
It's indisputable that shaky conditions do favor the running game and defense over all else. And it's Seattle which possesses Lynch and the game's No. 1- rated defensive unit.
Three days out, however the weather forecast for North Jersey keeps getting better and better, calling for a high of 48 degrees and a low of 25 with little wind, certainly not South Beach-type weather but also a long way off from the worst-case scenario.
Stamp that legacy -- Manning and the Broncos win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Broncos 24, Seahawks 20
01/30 12:48:26 ET
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