Xtra Points: The Super Bowl winners are ...
Peyton Manning's 2013 regular season was unlike anything anyone has seen before.
But Peyton Manning didn't go up against any defense this season like the one the Seattle Seahawks will run onto the field Sunday night in the Super Bowl.
That's why I'm picking the two-point-underdog Seattle Seahawks to win outright in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Don't get me wrong: Peyton Manning is incredible in leading his Denver Bronco teammates, but these Seahawks present a unique challenge in pass defense. They have the luxury of not having to do anything exotic because of their personnel.
Love him or loathe him, Richard Sherman probably is the best corner in the game. He's good enough to line up across from an opponent's best receiver and blanket him all game long, meaning the other 10 guys on defense don't have to worry about helping him too much. Seattle safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas are free to do what safeties do best: deliver punishment on ball-carriers in their vicinities.
This also means the Seahawks won't have to try to outsmart Manning with blitzes and zone coverages like most teams have to do because of personnel deficiencies. Such things have a tendency to turn into breakdowns now and then (just ask the Packers secondary), but even when the scheme is executed perfectly, Manning usually beats it anyway with his supreme diagnostic ability.
It's tough to run into a mental block when you're playing press coverage, though, and on Super Bowl Sunday, it'll be up to Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas to beat that coverage and get to the spots their quarterback wants before the Seattle front hits Manning in the mouth. This isn't to say they can't do it, of course, but they haven't really had to show that they can at any point in 2013.
It won't be easy for the Seahawks, though. Seattle's struggles to move the ball on offense do give me some pause, though Marshawn Lynch will probably find some room to run despite Denver's rank as the eighth-best rush defense in the league (thanks in no small part to big early leads built by the team's prolific offense).
At the end of September, for example, Denver played the Philadelphia Eagles, another strong running team like Seattle's. Philadelphia piled up 166 rushing yards that day in a lopsided loss, but if Seattle can slow Denver down, Lynch—with an important third-down conversion here or there from quarterback Russell Wilson—might be all the Seahawks need to tip the game their way.
I'll go 24-20 Seattle, with plenty of Manning frustration along the way, if not an interception or two. Don't take my word for it, though. Eli the ape is with me all the way.
This week's sports haiku
Bo's boys said. “They're better now.”
Tim Seeman is a sports page designer for The Gazette. Email him at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter.