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Five matchups to watch in Super Bowl XLVIII

Posted Feb 1, 2014

The Seahawks have moved into the final hours of their two-week wait to play the biggest game of their collective lives against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – A look at the Seahawks’ Super Bowl XLVIII matchup against the Denver Broncos, including five matchups that could impact the outcome:

When: Sunday, 3:30 p.m. PT, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

How they got here: Seahawks finished 13-3 in the regular season to win the NFC West and clinch the conference’s top seed in the postseason, where they beat the New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers to win the NFC Championship; Broncos finished 13-3 in the regular season to win the AFC West and clinch the conference’s top seed in the postseason, where they beat the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots to win the AFC Championship.

TV: FOX (Q/13), with Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver and Erin Andrews

Radio: 710 ESPN and 97.3 KIRO FM, with Steve Raible, Warren Moon and Jen Mueller

Matchup microscope

Seahawks FS Earl Thomas vs. the Broncos’ bevy of 60-plus catch, 10-plus TD receivers: With the omni-passing Peyton Manning distributing the ball to Demaryius Thomas (92 receptions, 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns during the regular season), Eric Decker (87 for 1,288 and 11), Wes Welker (73 for 778 and 10), Julius Thomas (65 for 788 and 12) and Knowshon Moreno (60 for 540 and three), the Broncos’ future Hall of Fame quarterback is going to complete his share of throws. And after facing the Seahawks twice this season, Saints QB Drew Brees said this week the best way to approach the best secondary in the NFL is to attack the middle and stay away from the perimeter – especially All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. So if Manning does work the middle with his tight end (Julius Thomas), slot receiver (Welker) and running back (Moreno), Thomas will have to prevent those shorter passes from becoming longer gain by making the tackles. After a regular season where Thomas had five interceptions and 100 tackles, earning him All-Pro and Pro Bowl recognition, the Seahawks’ speedy, savvy centerfielder will need to continue coming up big in this biggest game.

One to watch

Seahawks C Max Unger vs. Broncos NT Terrance Knighton: His teammates refer to the 335-pound Knighton as “Pot Roast.” But rather than needling him to see if he’s done, “Pot Roast” likes to needle his opponents and uses Google to “guide out his personal life,” is the way Knighton put it this week. “Just everything, from his favorite food to his favorite color, where he grew up at, how many siblings he has. I want to know everything about him, and I’ll probably talk a little smack Sunday.” It’s a mind game with the game that DT John Randle played very well during his Hall of Fame career, which ended with a three-season stint with the Seahawks (2001-03). But Knighton will discover quickly that the best he’s likely to get out of Unger, the Hawaiian-born, All-Pro center, is a laugh. Which brings us to …

Fun to watch

Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch vs. the Broncos’ run defense: The interior of the Seahawks’ line – Unger and guards James Carpenter and J.R. Sweezy – can’t allow “Pot Roast” to turn himself into their main-course concern, because linebackers Danny Trevathan, Wesley Woodyard and Nate Irving will then be able to clog the lanes that Lynch needs to get to the second level. And that’s where the Seahawks’ Beast Mode back is at his tackle-breaking best. As productive as Lynch was in the regular season (1,257 yards and 12 TDs), he’s been even better in two postseason games (a playoff-leading 249 yards and three TDs). But then the postseason has been Lynch’s domain since he joined the Seahawks in 2010. He has four 100-yard rushing performances in six playoff games, including two this season; and four of his six TDs have been 25-plus yards. No one else in NFL history has more than two. The media-shy Lynch has been wrestling with the demands of almost-daily interview sessions this week, and now he needs to take out his frustration on the Broncos – who allowed an average of only 64.5 rushing yards in their first two postseason games. 

One tough task

The Broncos’ kickoff coverage unit vs. Percy Harvin: In the biggest game of the season, the Seahawks will have one of the best kickoff returners in league history as Harvin returns from missing the NFC Championship game against the 49ers because of the concussion he got in the divisional game against the Saints – and also all but a handful of plays in one regular-season game after he had hip surgery Aug. 1. His only kickoff return this season was a 58-yarder against the Vikings, the team that traded him to the Seahawks in March. The Broncos allowed a league-high average of 29.3 yards on kickoff returns during the regular season, including a 108-yarder. They did not have a kickoff returned in two postseason games at Invesco Field, but the altitude at MetLife Stadium is not a Mile High so the air a lot heavier.

Don’t overlook

Russell Wilson vs. the moment: The Seahawks’ “too short” quarterback has come up so big in so many ways during his first two seasons, starting with tying Manning’s NFL rookie record with 26 touchdown passes last season and underlined by his 27-9 record. A lot has been made of his “struggles” down the stretch. Too much, when you consider Wilson has faced five Top 10 defenses in the past six games – the No. 5 49ers (twice), No. 8 Giants, No. 6 Cardinals and No. 4 Saints. This week, he has been the “other” QB in the Super Bowl conversations because of Manning’s resume, which now includes NFL single-season records for passing yards (5,477) and TD passes (55). The Seahawks’ response to all the QB-comparison questions: In Russell we trust. In this biggest game of the season, Wilson can’t get outside the game that has served him – and his team – so well to this point.  

Worth noting

This is the Broncos’ seventh Super Bowl appearance, but first since now-executive VP John Elway quarterbacked them to back-to-back victories after the 1997 and 1998 seasons. … This is the Seahawks’ second Super Bowl appearance, as they lost Super XL to the Steelers after the 2005 season. … The Seahawks’ defense and Broncos’ offense ranked No. 1 during the regular season, making this the second Super Bowl since 1970 to match the top units in both categories. The Buccaneers’ top-ranked defense beat the Raiders’ top-ranked offense 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII. … The Seahawks allowed the fewest points in the league (231) and the Broncos scored the most points (a league-record 606) during the regular season, making this the fifth Super Bowl since 1970 with that distinction. The defensive team has won three of the previous matchups. … The Broncos scored 24 and 26 points in their playoff wins over the Chargers and Patriots, while the Seahawks held the Saints and 49ers to 15 and 17 points in their playoff wins. ... The Seahawks also led the NFL in takeaways (39), interceptions (28, including a league-leading eight by Sherman) and turnover differential (plus-20) in the regular season. … The Broncos had two fewer takeaways (26) than the Seahawks had interceptions (28). … Manning threw only 10 interceptions, but the Broncos lost a league-high 16 fumbles. … MLB Bobby Wagner (119) led the Seahawks in tackles during the regular season, while SS Kam Chancellor (25) and Wagner (24) are the leading tacklers in the postseason.

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