Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Stubborn OXen Super Bowl Predictions

This year more than any, the OXen haven't seemed to agree on a whole lot.  That's probably not going to change for the big game.  Austen has been touting the Seahawks since Day 1, and since getting bludgeoned with bad luck in the first round of the playoffs, Stally has picked with his heart, a heart which has no place for the outspoken, arrogant CB on Seattle, Richard Sherman.

Here's a look at who the two are taking:

Stally's Prediction
Denver 30, Seattle 24

Denver will win because ... they have Peyton Manning.  It's pretty simple really.  He set a record for passing touchdowns in the regular season and his surgical offense averaged a borderline-disgusting 37.9 points/game in those 16 games.  Things have slowed down a little in the postseason with scores of 24 and 26, but it's been the defense that's really picked it up to maintain Denver's dominance.

Without All-Pro LB Von Miller, I believed, like many, that the defense was done for.  That hasn't been the case as it held Philip Rives and the Chargers to 17 points and Tom Brady and the Patriots to 16 in the two playoff games.   The run defense was eighth-best during the regular season, but the pass was 27th.  Some might point out that that's to be expected since the opponent is always passing to keep up on the scoreboard, but that can't be used to discredit the tough front-seven, which has held the last three opponents to 65 yards or less on the ground.  Seattle's strength is in its ground game, and if that gets stopped, I question if the pass attack is really strong enough to carry the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.

The key to a Denver win will be ... maintaining its offensive rhythm.  Seattle had the stingiest regular season defense in the league, and if it can knock Peyton out of sync with his receivers, that could cost the Broncos the Super Bowl.

The weather is not expected to be frigid, nor is it going to be windy or precipitating, so I think any claims about Denver struggling due to the weather is overblown, especially since it's quite similar to their weather at home.  If the offense struggles, it will be due to Seattle's Legion of Doom and not be related to the weather.

Peyton needs to make sure he starts the game off by finding players like Wes Welker and Julius Thomas, who present mismatches while Seattle's top pass defenders lock down the X and Y wide receivers, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker (especially Thomas, who will see Sherman all night).  Welker also needs to avoid his infamous case of the dropsies that he seems to get on the big stage, as one open drop is enough to derail an entire drive and a blown drive might be the difference between winning and losing.

Seattle could win because ... they're the most well-rounded team in the NFL.  Russell Wilson's versatility at quarterback creates more options through which to attack the opponent than Denver's recent pocket-passing opponents like Brady and Rivers.  The defense has spoken for itself ( ... thanks, Richard Sherman).  If it can slow down Manning's attack, it will be up to Seahawks offense to figure out how to run the ball with Marshawn Lynch and Wilson to shorten the game on the explosive Broncos and steal the Super Bowl in a mild upset.

Austen's Prediction
Seattle 34, Denver 23

Seattle will win because ... they have been the best team in the league all year long. Top to bottom, there are no flaws in this Seattle roster. They can beat you in so many ways both on offense and defense, it is very hard to game plan around them. There are star caliber players on every level of this team, so you cannot spend too much time game planning around one player or unit because there is no chink in the armor to exploit. 

The Seahawks may be labeled a defensive team, but that is only due to the fact that they sport the best defense in at least a decade, and depending on how they play this game they could go down as a top three defense in the history of the NFL (the 1985 Bears and the 2000 Ravens units will be hard for any team to surpass). This offense does not get the credit it deserves. Russell Wilson is the only quarterback in NFL history to start his career with two straight seasons with over 100 quarterback rating. Let's put that into context: Peyton Manning had two seasons with over 100 quarterback rating in his entire career in Indianapolis. Yes stats are sometimes misleading, but that still shows you how ridiculously good Wilson has been, and that is missing Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice for basically the entire 2013 season. 

Speaking of Harvin, he very well could be the difference in this game. His health has always been a question, but his performance on the field has not. If he is in fact healthy enough to play even 50% of the offensive snaps, he could completely change the dynamic of this offense. His explosive capability will take at least some of the heat off of Lynch and keep the Broncos defense on their toes. 

Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Brandon Mebane, and Bobby Wagner are all one of the best at their respective positions. If you are counting, that's seven out of eleven starters are elite NFL players, and technically speaking Bennett and Avril only combined for five starts on the entire year because Seattle uses their run stuffing defensive ends in their base formation. Then you have guys like Byron Maxwell (who stepped in for ex-Pro Bowler Brandon Browner) and Bruce Irvin who came on late at the end of the season to put together some spectacular football. I could go through the entire defensive depth chart and break down how good each of these guys are, even the third stringers, but I think the point is made. 

The Broncos are not a gun slinging team, despite the gaudy numbers they put up. They are are rhythm based offense that generates big gains through the receivers making plays after the catch. The two keys to stopping this is hitting the receivers at the line of scrimage using press coverage, which the Seahawks are better than anyone in the league at doing, and then making sure not to miss tackles. Not whiffing on tackles seems easy enough, but when you are playing against this receiving corps, one missed tackle is the difference between a two yard catch and an 80 yard touchdown. When the Chargers beat the Broncos at home, it was almost entirely due to frustrating those Broncos receivers by not letting them get a single yard after the catch. 

The key to a Seattle win will be ... the Seahawks receivers getting open in time. You can talk all you want about Percy Harvin, but I do not care who it is on this roster, someone is going to have to make a lot of plays to keep up with Peyton Manning. We all know they will lean on their running game to generate most of their offense, but the Broncos defense know that as well and will do everything they possibly can to limit Marshawn Lynch (good luck). The Seahawks' receivers are going to see a lot of single coverage thanks to Beast Mode, so they are going to have to win those matchups in order for Russell Wilson to have success. The offensive line has not been great most of the year, so Wilson is going to have to pray his receivers come up big for him or else he will have to rely too heavily on making plays with his feet, which we all know thanks to RG3 that this strategy can have dire consequences.

Denver could win because ... the NFL is a passing league. Every year, the league makes life harder and harder on defensive players. Constantly there are rule changes that force defenders to play differently and gives the offense a huge advantage. This is why the league has become so quarterback driven over the last decade or so. Peyton Manning is one of the all time best and he will use every rule to his advantage. When Manning yells about a pass interference call, he usually gets what he wants. We will see if he gets his way against the most penalized team in the league (the Seahawks).

That's what I call my Negative Nancy response. There are numerous ways in which the Broncos can win this game so here are the other reasons they could come away with the Lombardi Trophy:
  • The Seahawks focus too much on the Broncos' wide receivers and Knowshon Moreno and Monte Ball have a great day against a run defense that was outstanding for most of the season, but was exposed a bit in the middle of the year. 
  • The Broncos defense continues their dominance and does not allow Lynch to break a long one all day. 
  • Or Peyton Manning plays like he has all year and does not let the big game or the Seahawks big defensive backs get in his head.
This is going to be one heck of a game. Enjoy everyone!

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