Twas the Sunday before Super Bowl XLVIII and we’ve neither seen nor heard Chris Berman. But do not worry, the NFL hype will soon make us all sick and tired of Richard Sherman.
Potentially one of the best matchups in Super Bowl history — Peyton Manning and Denver’s record-setting offense vs. Seattle’s No. 1-ranked defense led by Sherman and the “Legion of Boom” secondary — is a week away. Before Sherman — the loud, controversial, trash-talking and, oh yeah, tremendously talented cornerback — opens his mouth and swallows the Big Apple with 180 minutes of media access over three days, let’s take this quiet moment to look at X story lines for the big game:
I No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense
Manning and the league’s first 600-point offense faces a defense that ranked No. 1 in numerous categories, including points allowed (14.4) and passer rating (63.4).
Only five times since 1970 has the No. 1 offense met the No. 1 defense in the Super Bowl. The top defense has prevailed four times: Super Bowls XIII (Pittsburgh over Dallas, 35-31), XIX (San Francisco over Miami, 38-16), XXV (Giants over Buffalo, 20-19) and XXXVII (Tampa Bay over Oakland, 48-21).
The top offense won Super Bowl XXIV when the 49ers beat the Broncos 55-10.
II League MVP vs. Cap MVP
With league records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdown passes (55), Manning will extend his record with a fifth league MVP award on Saturday night. But if you are looking for the best value from a salary cap standpoint, look no further than Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
While Manning counts as $17.5 million against the salary cap, Wilson weighs in at a mere $690,000. And that, folks, is how Seattle has the best of both worlds: an elite quarterback and the cap space to stockpile quality and depth at every other position.
III Man vs. Mother Nature
The forecast for the first Super Bowl played outdoors at a cold-weather site is a high of 36, a low of 24 and a 30 percent chance of snow. Sounds like summer around these parts.
Fans at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., will receive a hat, lip balm, ear muffs, mittens, a cup holder, a radio, hand warmers, a seat cushion, a waist-wrap with hand pockets and tissues. No word on whether the fans will have to wipe their own noses.
IV Press coverage vs. pick plays
Last week, Patriots coach Bill Belichick accused former Patriot and current Broncos receiver Wes Welker of intentionally trying to injure New England cornerback Aqib Talib on a pick play in the AFC Championship Game.
The Seahawks better get ready for an even heavier dose of picks from bunched-up receiver sets. That’s offensive coordinator Adam Gase’s best strategy against a defense that has giant defensive backs who thrive on old-school power, press coverage and intimidation.
V “Beast Mode” vs. “Pot Roast”
Two of the better nicknames in Super Bowl history will bang helmets all day.
As good as Wilson is, Seattle’s identity is better defined by the tough between-the-tackle power of Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch. He had 22 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown in the NFC title victory over the 49ers.
Meanwhile, Denver’s defense is anchored well between the tackles, particularly with Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton, a 6-3, 335-pound boulder with twinkle toes. The unheralded free-agent acquisition from Jacksonville last offseason has helped hold Denver’s playoff opponents to an average of 64.5 yards rushing per game. His sack of Tom Brady on fourth-and-2 in the third quarter of the AFC title game also showed that Pot Roast has some burst as well.
VI Can Denver’s offense be balanced?
There aren’t many rookies to keep an eye on in this game, but one is Broncos running back Montee Ball. With 22 carries for 95 yards (4.3 yards per carry) in two postseason games, the Wisconsin product has helped starter Knowshon Moreno keep defenses off-balance enough to enable Manning to dominate while going virtually untouched in the pocket.
In the playoffs, the Broncos are averaging 31 carries and 39.5 pass attempts. Balance like that makes Manning unbeatable.
VII What will Percy do?
Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin is in the Super Bowl, but the Vikings still are significantly ahead when it comes to the perception of the trade that sent Harvin to Seattle.
The Vikings got three picks in return. One became cornerback Xavier Rhodes (No. 25 overall), who appears to be a starter for years to come. The second helped the Vikings trade back into the first round and select Cordarrelle Patterson, who appears more than capable of replacing Harvin as a receiver and kick returner. And the third pick is a third-rounder in this year’s draft.
Harvin, meanwhile, has played in two games all season because of a hip injury and a concussion. He also has done nothing to disprove the knock on him that he’s a supremely gifted athlete whose 184-pound body can’t withstand its crash-dummy style of play. But what better time to start changing perceptions and earning that $11 million a year than on Super Bowl Sunday?
VIII An X-factor in J. Thomas
The beauty of Manning’s greatness is elevating nobodies to somebodies. The latest greatest example is tight end Julius Thomas. The former fourth-round pick out of Portland State had one catch and one start before this season. But this year, after working with Manning after practice on a regular basis, Thomas had 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns.
If the “Legion of Boom” silences Manning’s receivers, look out for the 6-5, 250-pound former nobody to make a name for himself on the game’s biggest stage.
IX What’s the over-under on “Omaha!”?
The Broncos are 2 ½-point favorites. But who bets on just the game anymore?
Here are two of the more unusual things you’re able to place a bet on this week:
• Will the announcers use the word “marijuana” during the game?
• How many times will Manning say “Omaha” during the game? The over-under on Omaha, by the way, is 27 ½.
X Good vs. evil?
Sorry, but we can’t make it through this without another Richard Sherman reference. Sherman said he took offense to the “Good vs. Evil” story line that’s developing, with Manning and the Broncos obviously being the good and the Seahawks being the evil.
According to Sherman, Wilson is too good to be considered part of the evil.
OK, we’ll grant him that. But after viewing Sherman’s on-field behavior following last week’s victory over the 49ers, how many of you wouldn’t mind Super Bowl XLVIII ending with Manning throwing a game-winning, last-second touchdown pass about one millimeter over Sherman’s outstretched arm?