The Denver Broncos offense wasn’t just good this season – it was historic.
Denver set an NFL record by scoring 603 points, while quarterback Peyton Manning’s 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns were the most in league history.
Manning can also add his name to the record books with a win on Sunday by becoming the first starting quarterback to lead two different teams to a Super Bowl championship.
Standing in the way of Manning and the Broncos this weekend happens to be the Seattle Seahawks, who led the NFL in defense during the regular season.
You have to go back 23 years for the last time the Super Bowl featured the NFL’s top-ranked offense versus the top-ranked defense, when the New York Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV.
On that day, the better defense won. But Scott Norwood’s missed field goal in the final seconds would’ve given the edge to the Bills had it not gone just wide to the right of the upright.
If Sunday’s contest were to come down to a game-winning field goal yet again, the Broncos should feel confident as Matt Prater made the highest percentage of field goals of any kicker this season.
Also working in Denver’s favor will be the weather.
For all the talk about what a mistake it was to play the Super Bowl outdoors in New Jersey in the middle of the winter, precipitation or cold weather likely won’t be a concern at all.
It might not be 80 degrees at MetLife Stadium like it will be in Miami on Sunday, though cloudy skies and a temperature expected to be in the 30’s by game time will have no effect whatsoever on Denver’s ability to throw the football.
And if the Broncos are going to win this game, they’re going to need to throw the football.
Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is Manning’s primary target, although Denver has a variety of weapons to work with.
Thomas, along with tight end Julius Thomas, and receivers Eric Decker and Wes Welker, all finished the year with more than 10 touchdown receptions.
The Seahawks have a terrific defensive backfield – featuring arguably the best cornerback in the league, Richard Sherman – which may make things a lot more difficult for the Broncos. But given two weeks to prepare, it’s likely Manning will have a solid plan to counter Seattle’s press coverage.
Seattle might be able to take away the deep game, yet Manning and company should feel plenty comfortable with shorter passes and going over the middle.
Running back Knowshon Moreno, a New Jersey native, finished fifth this season in yards from scrimmage, and is more than capable to carry the workload if Denver needs a more balanced approach on offense.
The Seahawks are strong up front, however Moreno will be able to chip away and get a few yards when necessary behind a solid offensive line.
Denver’s offensive line was particularly good at protecting Manning, as he was sacked fewer times than any other starting quarterback in the league.
The Broncos have all the tools needed on offense to win this game. While their defense isn’t as strong, it’s good enough to stop Seattle.
The Seahawks are a run-heavy team and the Broncos allowed the fourth-fewest yards per run this year.
Marshawn Lynch ranked second during the regular season in carries and sixth in rushing yards. But when it comes to yards per attempt, he actually trails Moreno by the slightest of margins.
In other words, Lynch is good, yet somewhat overrated.
That doesn’t mean Seattle can’t hurt you in other ways though.
The Broncos do have a tendency to give up the occasional big passing play and Russell Wilson is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL -- and Wilson will finally have the dynamic Percy Harvin at his disposal.
Harvin is healthy, for now, and could throw a wrench into things defensively for the Broncos. Harvin lines up at multiple positions and his versatility makes him difficult to prepare for.
One area where Harvin can really excel this weekend is returning kicks. Denver ranked last in yards allowed per kickoff return and his speed can lead to six points in a heartbeat.
Unfortunately, given Harvin’s history with concussions and other ailments, he’s always just as close to leaving the game as he is to winning it.
The Seahawks have other threats in Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, so Broncos cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will have their work cut out for them.
With all the talk of just how good Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” secondary is, and retirement rumors circulating for both Bailey and Rodgers-Cromartie, there’s extra motivation to step their game up.
Then again, winning their first Super Bowl ring should be motivation enough for the two of them.
No Super Bowl has ever gone to overtime, but with two teams as evenly matched as the Broncos and Seahawks, it certainly seems like there’s a realistic chance this game could be the first.
Whether it takes 60 minutes or additional time is needed at the end of regulation, Denver’s offense is built to handle whatever defensive schemes are thrown at them.
Manning and his teammates have accomplished so much this season, and it only seems fitting that they end the year by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy as an exclamation point.