BY CAILIN BURKE
With the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos both being the top seeds in their respected conferences, saying Super Bowl XLVIII would be a Wilson vs. Manning game, may not be the greatest surprise, or the classic underdog story we all love. As predictable as this is, these two teams face to face would make a more memorable Super Bowl in the end. The non-football watcher, would probably say, “The 49ers were just in the Super Bowl last year, let’s see someone different.” Same goes for the Patriots. Tom Brady already has multiple Super Bowl victories so it’d be a little more exciting to see someone else hoisting up the Lombardi trophy. Personal bias aside, I do actually have some facts to back up my prediction. It’s not my inner Giants fan rooting for Eli’s big bro and not wanting the Patriots, a Giant’s rival to be in it. The season’s stats so far show the Broncos and Seahawks have the better teams and should therefore make it to the Super Bowl.
Let’s look at the Broncos vs. Patriots first.
Rushing Game: The Patriots mainly give touches to LeGarrette Blount and Steven Ridley who both finished the season with 7 touchdowns, with 772 yards for Blount and 773 yards for Ridley on the ground. With Blount’s 166 yard game and 4 touchdowns (the Patriot record for rushing touchdowns in one game) against the Colts in their 43-22 win this weekend, he’ll get the majority of the ground work for Sunday’s game.
As for the Broncos, with running back Knowshon Moreno getting the brunt of the work with occasional touches by Wisconsin rookie Montee Ball, both have the power to make significant plays. With 1,120 yards for Moreno in the regular and post seasons, his consistency this season will add to the big plays Manning is sure to make.
The consensus?: The Patriots will take the edge on rushing yards with Blount and Ridley’s combined efforts.
Passing Game: Tom Brady has two major targets in Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, while Peyton Manning has Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, and Julius Thomas. Manning’s options all land within the top 44 NFL players for total receiving yards on the season. The Patriots no longer have Gronkowski due to his ACL and MCL injury in Week 14, and with two less dependable receivers than the Broncos, that may be the game changer.
Basically, the less viable targets, the less passing yards. Plus, it’s Peyton Manning we’re talking about. With the most passing yards in the NFL this season and his 115.1 QB rating, it’d be a safe bet to say he’s going to have yet another huge game on the passing front.
Consensus: Broncos take the passing game with Manning and his many targets.
Defense: The Patriots defense essentially sealed the win in their divisional game against the Colts. With three sacks on quarterback Andrew Luck and four interceptions (two of them by Pats cornerback Alfonzo Dennard), the Patriots defense led by Jamie Collins will have even more confidence going into this weekend’s game.
However with Bronco’s cornerback Chris Harris Jr. out with a torn ACL after last weekend’s win against the Chargers, they’ll need to find a replacement to fill his large shoes. Head coach John Fox hasn’t made a decision yet, but I’ll bet that Champ Bailey will be in the cornerback position for the majority of the game. He won’t be at his 100% best because of his left foot injury that has been continuously giving him trouble, but will be a decent replacement.
Consensus: The Patriots defense will be strong, forcing at least one turnover and breaking through the Bronco’s offensive line to get to Manning. The Broncos offense, however, will keep them in check and ultimately diminish the Patriots defensive efforts. Broncos have this one.
Special Teams: I’ll keep this one short. The Bronco’s Trindon Holliday is likely to give Peyton Manning and company consistently good field position. Ideally for the Broncos, he may even return a punt for a touchdown as well.
Consensus: The Broncos special teams will help ensure a Denver win.
Aside from these predictions, what is sure is that it will be a very close game. Yes, the Patriots defense has been playing better than usual as seen by their recent win, and the Broncos have some injuries plaguing their defense, but Peyton has all four of his receivers healthy. Manning and these four will make all the difference.
Now for the Seahawks vs. 49ers.
Rushing Game: Marshawn Lynch will dominate the field as usual. With 1,403 yards in the regular and post season combined, he’ll probably add more than a hundred yards to that number this Sunday.
Although Frank Gore will most likely give the 49ers a touchdown or two, he won’t be able to keep up with the 100+ yard game Lynch is going to have. I predict he won’t break over the 100 yard mark at all.
Consensus: The rushing game with the help of Lynch will help ensure another victory for Seattle.
Passing Game: Although Russell Wilson had a disappointing divisional round and beat the New Orleans Saints thanks to the Seahawk’s rushing game, we should see a better week from him. Golden Tate will get the majority of Wilson’s completions, but Doug Baldwin will also be there making several key catches. I don’t expect an amazing, extraordinary game from Wilson, but just enough to win the game.
The 49ers have Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis, both who are bound to make several big catches and get into the end zone. Crabtree will be there to make a few solid catches as well in crucial 3rd down situations. Kaepernick, on the other hand, has had less than stellar games versus the Seahawks this season with 15 completions on his 29 attempts in their Week 14 meeting. However this time around, we should see him make some big plays in the air and on the ground, possibly getting into the end zone himself.
Consensus: The 49ers win this category as I see Boldin and Davis collecting more receiving yards than Tate and Baldwin of the Seahawks.
Defense: This category gets a bit more difficult to predict since we’ll be seeing two of the NFL’s best defenses going face to face. I’ll keep it simple and give the edge to the Seahawks as their regular season defensive stats speak loudly enough. (Number 1 in the NFL for: Average of points allowed per game, average yards allowed, average passing yards allowed, turnovers, and interceptions)
Consensus: The Seahawks will force several turnovers with their defense consisting of cornerback Richard Sherman and star safety Earl Thomas.
Special Teams: The Seahawks have had a consistently excellent special teams unit. With kicker Steven Hauscka’s 94.3% field goal completion rate, their special teams should positively impact the outcome of the game.
In the Seahawks and 49ers last meeting, San Francisco’s Phil Dawson kicked a field goal to win the game, and he will again prove useful in tacking on 3 extra points here and there to keep the 49ers in it.
Consensus: Special teams will both make beneficial contributions but the Seahawks should make a few more field goals to keep the win safely in their grasp.
With the almost deafening noise volume at the Seahawk’s CenturyLink field, the 49ers will have to try their best to keep their sanity, but ultimately will fall short if only by a few points.
Okay yes, I personally want a Seahawks vs. Broncos Super Bowl, but with the Bronco’s offense under the helm of Peyton Manning, and the Seahawk’s having the number one defense in the NFL, it is more than likely to end up that way.