Posted by Jack Tumen
Rarely are the two best teams during the regular season the last two teams standing at the end of a season. Often times, a wild card team like the Ravens, Packers or Giants has a miraculous run in January to win the Super Bowl. However, this year was a no nonsense year.
There are a thousand factors that play into Sunday’s game, but only a few that stand out to me. People are over-analyzing the Denver offense vs. Seattle defense matchup. Yes, each is the best at what they do in the league and first in every major category as it pertains to them. So given what we know, we can only assume that each unit wins half of its battles against the other. Say each team gets 10 possessions, half of Denver’s drives end with a touchdown or field goal and half of them end with a punt or a turnover. What’s the determining factor in all this? The Seattle offense vs. the Denver defense.
Seattle’s offense is not a pretty thing to watch, but it succeeds in its own respect. Their unit averaged 5.6 yards per play this season, which ranked them top 10 in the league. No surprise, a whopping 40% of their yards came on running plays. And despite attempting the second fewest number of passes per game this season (26.3,) Seattle’s passing offense was one of the most efficient in the NFL. They averaged 8.4 yards per pass attempt during the regular season, which ranked them 2nd in the league, one place above Denver’s historic offense (8.3 YPA.) Russell Wilson was 12th in completion percentage with 63.1% and held the league’s 7th best passer rating at 101.2. On top of that, Seattle’s receivers averaged 13.1 yards per reception, ranking them 3rd in the league. And on Sunday, they’ll have Percy Harvin to add to the mix.
All this pass efficiency stuff does not bode well for a Denver defense that ranked 27th in the NFL this season, allowing 254.4 passing YPG. However, they were stout against the run, allowing 101.6 rushing YPG which tied them for 7th with Seattle’s unit. Danny Trevathan had a breakout sophomore season after being drafted out of Kentucky in the 6th round of the 2012 draft. He finished 11th in the league with 128 combined tackles. We’ll see how many times him and Marshawn Lynch exchange pleasantries on Sunday.
Of course, special teams will play a large role in this game. Denver boasts one of the league’s better return games with Trindon Holliday back to receive kicks. He hasn’t had much of an impact in these playoffs yet, since touchbacks are more common at Mile High Stadium. But you can count on him getting a few opportunities in the cold, dense New Jersey air. Eric Decker took over punt returning duties, but don’t expect him to have an impact there; Seattle’s outstanding coverage team allowed only 82 punt return yards all season. Denver’s kickoff and punt coverage hovered around the league average, but if Percy Harvin is good at anything, it’s making something happen in the return game.
This game is full of ’em. I’ll give you my three most important ones.
Byron Maxwell. This guy was stellar while filling in for Brandon Browner this season. A 3rd year pro, Maxwell intercepted a career high 4 passes. When Peyton Manning isn’t trying Richard Sherman, his next option is probably the guy Maxwell is covering. If he can hold his own against Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, I like the Seahawks’ chances.
Matt Prater and Steven Hauschka. These guys were the two best kickers in the NFL this year. Prater connected on 25 of 26 attempts (96.2%) including an NFL record 64 yarder while Hauschka converted 33 of 35 attempts (94.3%.) With Seattle’s lackluster offense, Hauschka will be called upon early and often to tack on those valuable 3s if they want to keep pace with Denver. For the Broncos, Prater will be the key if Seattle’s defense gets a read on the Denver o; especially when Marshawn Lynch goes into Beast Mode.
Knowshon Moreno. This guy had an awesome year. Although it looks like the Broncos won’t be able to resign him, he’s got one last chance to prove that his breakout 2013 wasn’t a fluke. Moreno was the perfect back for this offense; he gained the “in between” yards, all 1,038 of them. When Peyton wasn’t slingin’ the pigskin, Moreno pounded the rock and had great success taking all of his handoffs from the shotgun formation. If he can make the most of those “in between” yards against the vaunted Seattle D, this game will sway in Denver’s favor.
Prediction: As much as I love what the Seahawks do, I’m just not sure that it’s Russell Wilson’s time yet. His decision making while under duress has bitten him before, and this Broncos defense capitalizes on opponent’s mistakes. Also, there’s no way I’m picking against the greatest quarterback of all time. Seattle will have to wait to claim its first Lombardi trophy, because this one belongs to Peyton.
Broncos 27, Seahawks 17