The Super Bowl doesn’t make the players, the players make the Super Bowl. John Elway’s helicopter, Adam Vinatieri’s boot, David Tyree’s helmet catch are immortalized on the biggest stage in professional football. Super Bowl XLVIII will feature the best offense of all time and the most fearsome defense in today’s NFL, a matchup made in football heaven.
Who will win the Super Bowl is anyone’s guess. Experts cannot agree while some are looking to animals for their gambling advice. A manatee in Florida is going with the Denver Broncos while an ape in Utah is all in on the Seahawks.
There is no I in team, but any individual can make a huge impact in the game. Here are 10 players, five Broncos and five Seahawks, that could spell trouble for the opposition. Let's start with the Seattle Seahawks.
Percy Harvin has played in a mere 20 plays for the Seahawks this entire season; this is why the Broncos should be concerned.
If the Broncos defense does not prepare adequately for such a dynamic threat, it is football’s equivalent to mortal sin. Harvin’s roles on the field are plentiful, he lines up out wide, in the backfield and he returns kicks as well. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in speed; Harvin runs a 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds and could easily torch the Broncos secondary deep. Harvin is as elusive as they come, he eclipsed over 1,000 all-purpose yards in his four years with the Vikings.
After sitting out all but one game this year with an injured hip and all of the playoffs but one half with a concussion, Harvin seems to be on track to play in the Super Bowl. With only two receptions for 38 yards in the regular season and playoffs, Harvin is long overdue for a big game.
It should come as no surprise that Richard Sherman made this list. The question raised by the outspoken cornerback of Michael Crabtree being a “mediocre” receiver is debatable; the question of Sherman being the best corner in the game is irrefutable. The 6’3” 195 lb. cornerback has been wreaking havoc on opposing receivers his entire career, Peyton Manning may find it wise to keep the ball from going near his reach.
Sherman was targeted only 58 times in the 2013 regular season and only three times in the playoffs, for good reason.
The Broncos have one of the best run defenses in the NFL, but they haven’t faced a running back like Marshawn Lynch. The deadly combination of speed and power, the 215 lb. back does not go down easily. Denver needs to prepare for Lynch the same way they prepared for Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount, who had a monster game against the Colts before the AFC Championship, where Denver limited him to just 6 yards on five carries.
If the Broncos take an early lead and hang onto the ball, they will force Seattle to throw more than they’d like. Even though defending the pass has been a consistent problem for the Broncos defense in the regular season, it will keep the ball out of the hands of one of the Seahawks best weapons. If the Seahawks take the lead and use Lynch to kill the clock, we might as well crown Seattle with their first Super Bowl.
As if Richard Sherman weren’t a scary enough opponent for Peyton Manning, he’s got Earl Thomas to worry about as well. The way he’s played this season, it’d be safe to mention the smash-mouth safety’s name in the same sentence as Ronnie Lott, Steve Atwater, and any other Hall of Fame safety you can think of.
Manning is known for exposing the opposition’s weakest defensive asset on the field and bullying them into submission, but there may be no such weakness on this Seahawks defense. Thomas likes to do some bullying of his own, leading by example to make the Seahawks defense one of the most fearsome opponents in the league. With his explosive closing speed, Thomas will be involved in every play, stingily willing to sacrifice his body to force turnovers and pave the way to the first Super Bowl for Seattle.
The quarterback position is the most important piece for any team. Russell Wilson gets it done with his arm and legs. It doesn’t really matter how the second-year quarterback approaches a game, he seems to find a way to win, regardless of the presented circumstances. Wilson has been the starting quarterback for every team he has played for ever since he started playing football; he’s got the will and determination necessary for a Super Bowl champion.
With Von Miller ruled out of the Super Bowl with a torn ACL, the Broncos pass rush faces the challenge of containing the elusive Seahawks quarterback. Wilson’s speed, accuracy and never-give-up attitude present the Broncos with their biggest challenge of the season.
Here are the five Broncos that are trouble for Seattle, contributed by Seattle Seahawks Examiner Mark Schiff.
Any list of players the Seahawks have to prepare for starts with Peyton Manning. The brilliance of his 2013 campaign has been well-documented, to the point that there’s very little to add. Instead, lets simply throw out this stat courtesy of Bill Barnwell at Grantland: Seahawks QB Russell Wilson threw for 3,357 yard with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season. Manning had comparable numbers of 2,739 yards, 28 TDs and five picks, if you divide his season in two. Astounding.
Super Bowl XLVIII could be decided by Knowshon vs. Marshawn, not Peyton vs. Russell. The incredibly high level of play of the Broncos pass offense and the Seahawks pass defense could neutralize one another, leaving the play at the running back position as the most important factor in deciding the game.
Moreno has been one of the most underrated players on the Broncos team all season and was flat-out robbed by Frank Gore for a Pro Bowl nod. Seattle’s rush defense is solid, but has looked vulnerable at times, particularly in Week 8, when they surrendered 200 yards to the St. Louis Rams in a game Seattle absolutely stole on a game-ending goal-line stand. The only team to beat them at home in the last two years was the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16 of this season, and the Cardinals ran the ball an astonishing 43 times against just 25 passes. Bronco fans may be looking forward to the battle between Manning and Seattle’s secondary, but the game’s outcome may hinge on the performance of Moreno and Montee Ball.
Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton
The Broncos defense has turned into a MASH unit this year, as almost half of their starters have been lost to injury. That makes the contributions of defensive tackle Terrance Knighton all the more meaningful. Denver’s defense has been on an absolute tear over the past three games, surrendering three points combined in the first three quarters of games against the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, and New England Patriots.
Denver’s pass rush has played a major role in this success and it all starts in the middle with Pot Roast. His fourth-down sack of Tom Brady was a crucial play in Denver’s win over the Patriots, and it looks all the more impressive when you consider the player he beat for the sack was All-Pro guard Logan Mankins. Seattle ‘s guards aren’t nearly as good as New England’s and the Seahawks surrendered an alarming 44 sacks this season. Pot Roast and the rest of the Broncos defensive front, including fellow free agent signee Shaun Phillips, could feast on them.
As great as Peyton Manning has been this season, it’s difficult to imagine him shattering all offensive records without the remarkable play of Denver’s offensive line. The Broncos gave up an NFL-low 20 sacks this season, and allowed just 54 hits on the quarterback. To put that in perspective, the Miami Dolphins gave up an NFL-worst 58 sacks, nearly three times the amount of the Broncos.
Probably the most overlooked of Denver’s free agent acquisitions (an exceptional group that includes the aforementioned Knighton and Phillips, as well as Wes Welker and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), Vasquez has been as sensational as you can be while playing one of football’s most unheralded positions, with Pro Football Focus recently naming him their All-Pro right guard. He’s going to need to have his best game of the season in the Super Bowl, as Seattle’s fearsome and unrelenting pass rush, lead by the versatile Michael Bennett, is a big part of why their secondary has put up such amazing numbers.
It’s difficult to express what Champ Bailey means to Denver Bronco fans, and what he’s meant to the organization since joining the team in a trade from the Washington Redskins. He’s been to the Pro Bowl 12 times, which is tied for the third most by a defensive player in NFL history. His end zone interception of Tom Brady is one of the greatest plays in Broncos postseason history (and lead to Brady’s first-ever playoff loss). In 2006, he had one of the best defensive seasons ever by a player who didn’t win Defensive Player of the Year (the award went to Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphins). Champ was so feared and respected, he was thrown at just 35 times. 10 of those passes were intercepted and only four were completed. In a story with the headline “Bailey not only best this year, maybe best ever,” his then-teammate John Lynch called it “probably the most impressive season I've ever seen by a football player” while Rod Smith, who caught touchdown passes from John Elway in the Super Bowl, gushed, "Honestly, the best football player I've ever played with -- or against."
So yeah, Broncos players and fans love them some Champ. Although he was coy when asked if he’ll retire after the Super Bowl, it’s not hard to imagine him walking away on top, like Elway before him. And like Elway’s famous Helicopter play, Bailey is certain to give it his all in the Super Bowl. Although he sat out most of the regular season with a foot injury, Champ was in on half the snaps against the Chargers and 95 percent of them against the Patriots. His sure tackling and eagerness to help on run plays could help contain Lynch, but his leadership may be his greatest asset to the team. Peyton Manning might be Denver’s best player, but Champ is the beating heart of the Broncos, as well as Broncos Country.