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Super Bowl XLVIII Pick

January 31st, 2014

Seattle (+2.5) vs. Denver
I knew well before the conference title games were played two weeks ago that the AFC champion was going to have to hope to get San Francisco in the Super Bowl. That’s not because I thought the 49ers would have been an easy opponent. Far from it. I simply looked at the Niners as the NFC squad most likely to make the kinds of mistakes that would allow the AFC champ to take home the Lombardi Trophy. But then, as I watched the actual game between Seattle and San Fran, it became clear to me that I’d been entirely wrong and, moreover, that my thinking had probably been more about maintaining the slim hope of a New England championship than anything else. Because the fact that was readily apparent by the end of conference championship Sunday was that neither AFC team ever had any hope of beating either NFC team.

Nothing that’s happened in the ensuing two weeks has changed my mind.

It’s worth observing that Denver has been a different squad in the postseason than it was in the regular season. This is a team that led the league in scoring by no small margin — 38 points per game (at home, it was 39.5), which is 10 more than the teams that tied for second, New England and Chicago — in the regular season. In Denver’s two playoff games, by contrast, the Broncos scored 24 against the Chargers, who didn’t even belong in the tournament, and and 26 at against the Patriots, who saw their best remaining defensive starter taken out early and who played terribly thereafter.  It’s really hard for me to imagine that those postseason Broncos are going to go into East Rutherford and put up a bunch of points on the Seahawks, who allowed 14.4 points per game all season and who have been consistently dominating on D in the playoffs. (The Seahawks gave up 15 to the Saints and 17 to the Niners, teams that scored 25 and change per game each during the regular season.)

On top of that, I think the Broncos defense is really ill-suited for stopping the Seahawks offense. The Broncos secondary is terrible. And I don’t believe the Denver pass rush can contain Russell Wilson in the pocket. That means I expect to see Wilson running all over the backfield buying time for his receivers to get open. Denver’s interior run D, of course, is very solid, so I don’t expect Marshawn Lynch to be a factor carrying the ball. But I don’t think he needs to be. What I think the Seahawks need form Lynch is to be there to prevent the Broncos from dropping extra bodies into pass coverage, and to pick up blitzes. I suspect he’s up to the task.

So here’s what I envision: At the two-minute warning, it’s Seattle 24, Denver 20 and the Broncos have the ball for one last drive. The Denver offense moves the ball out close to midfield, and then, Peyton Manning drops back and throws his second pick of the game to Richard Sherman, who takes it for six the other way, sealing the Seattle victory, and becomes the first defensive player named Super Bowl MVP since Dexter Jackson in Super Bowl XXXVII.

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