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during the 2014 NFC Championship at CenturyLink Field on January 19, 2014 in Seattle, Washington.
The Denver Broncos have been the AFC’s best team all season, and they would be worthy Super Bowl champions.
However, they have a problem in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Simply put, the Seattle Seahawks are a terrible matchup for Denver.
The Seahawks have the NFL’s best defense. Their secondary has rare star power, with cornerback Richard Sherman, free safety Earl Thomas and strong safety Kam Chancellor all standouts. No team has allowed fewer passing yards than Seattle.
Now, make no mistake: the Broncos have a wonderful passing offense, with star quarterback Peyton Manning in fine form and no shortage of skilled targets at Manning’s disposal.
But Seattle can cope with Denver’s passing game.
For starters, the Seahawks are capable of limiting Pro Bowl Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, a key part of the Denver offense. The Seahawks are outstanding against opposing tight ends. They neutralized 49ers tight end Vernon Davis in three 2013 matchups, holding him to five total catches for 40 yards. They also held Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to just four catches for 50 yards in two meetings.
A bigger challenge for the Seahawks will be stopping wideout Demaryius Thomas. And frankly, Seattle probably can’t completely take him out of the game. Thomas is too skilled, and Manning is going to keep feeding him the ball. Thomas is the best wide receiver playing in this Super Bowl, and he’s going to show it on the world stage.
Nevertheless, the Seahawks are capable of limiting some of his opportunities. The obvious fix is to have Sherman (6-3, 195) match up with Thomas (6-3, 229). It remains to be seen how Seattle will cover Thomas, but Sherman would figure to draw him at times.
Talk about a matchup to watch.
And here’s another matchup not to overlook: the fight upfront between the Seahawks’ defensive line and the Broncos’ offensive line.
The Seahawks’ pass rush could be the key to Super Bowl XLVIII. The Seahawks have a quartet of skilled edge rushers, with Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin all capable of having an impact in the biggest game of the season. The Seahawks can also muster a nice push up the middle, with defensive tackle Brandon Mebane a player to watch. Per Pro Football Focus, Mebane notched 26 hurries this season.
To be fair, Manning hasn’t been sacked in the postseason, so it’s hard to forecast a banner day for the Seattle pass rushers. Still, the Seahawks’ ability to generate pressure makes them a potentially tough matchup for Denver. Manning is not mobile, and if the Seahawks can consistently collapse the pocket, the Broncos’ offense will be adversely affected.
In the end, Super Bowl XLVIII will come down to comfort. Which team can do what it planned to do? The feeling here is the Seahawks can make the Broncos uncomfortable on offense. This is not to say Seattle will completely shut down Denver, but it is to say that the Seahawks can consistently get in the Broncos’ grill, so to speak.
If that happens, the Seahawks will be in good shape on Sunday. Then, it’s up to the Seahawks’ offense to do its part, and there’s reason to believe can happen, especially with star wide receiver Percy Harvin returning to the lineup for the season’s biggest games.
The Broncos can win Super Bowl XLVIII, but they have so many hurdles to overcome. The Seahawks are a special team, and they are going to show it whether it is wet or dry at MetLife Stadium on Sunday night.