Cornerback Richard Sherman is drawing too much attention, quarterback Russell Wilson can’t equal Peyton Manning’s greatness, Percy Harvin’s absence has hurt the offense, Marshawn Lynch is too quiet, no one has slowed the Denver Broncos record-breaking offense all season, head coach Pete Carroll hasn’t won the big game before, and they won’t have the raucous CenturyLink Field to cheer them on.
Needless to say, the Seattle Seahawks have heard every reason possible for why they can’t thwart the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium.
And while they are three point underdogs (some books have moved the line to 2.5), the Seahawks have plenty of reasons to believe they can beat Denver and win the first Super Bowl in the team's 37-year history.
Sherman became a lightning rod for negative attention following his on-camera tirade in the aftermath of Seattle’s victory in the NFC title game two weeks ago, but the All-Pro cornerback had plenty of reasons to boast.
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Sherman and safety Earl Thomas make up the NFL’s best pass defense. They have allowed only 172 yards per game and just 16 total passing touchdowns, and generated a league-best 28 interceptions. They have also forced opposing quarterbacks into a 63.4 passer rating, the best mark in the league. Add second-team All-Pro safety Kam Chancellor into the mix, along with 23 combined passes defended from under-rated defensive backs Bryon Maxwell and Brandon Browner, and the Seahawks are the best defense Manning has faced not only all season, but possibly in the last several years.
The Seahawks pass rush numbers weren’t exactly eye-popping this season, but they were eighth in the NFL with 44 total sacks, and defensive end Michael Bennett, linebacker Bobby Wagner, and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald are a formidable trio capable of tearing down Denver’s top-ranked offensive line, which let up a league-minimum 20 sacks in the regular season.
In their two postseason victories, the defense forced four turnovers, and held opponents to a 6-for-23, or 26 percent, third-down conversion rate. The Broncos were third in the NFL, converting 46.3 percent of the time on third down.
Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, better known as DVOA, also had Seattle ranked number one overall by a margin of 11.5 percent from second-ranked Arizona, a number bettered by only two other teams in the last 10 years (Buffalo in 2003, Chicago in 2012), according to Football Outsiders, a website focused on advanced NFL statistics.
Seattle's imposing secondary could force the Broncos to run the ball, which is not part of Denver's game plan. While Manning is among the all-time greats, he may not find his receivers as open as he usually does.
The Broncos are largely a favorite due to their prolific offense, but that hasn’t been an advantage for many teams before. It’s important to note that the team with the higher ranked defense has gone 5-5 in the last 10 years, and the higher ranked offense 4-6.
To match Denver, the Seahawks have some unheralded talent in their passing game. They boast an under-rated duo of Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin, who combined for 1,676 yards and 10 touchdowns in the regular season.
That’s without mentioning top tight end Zach Miller’s 33 receptions for 387 yards and five touchdowns. The Seahawks finished 14th overall in red zone offense, and were actually better away from home in the red zone.
Wilson could find Lynch or Miller underneath for quick passes early to extend drives and keep the Denver defense guessing. Harvin still poses a deep threat that Wilson can use over the top. Harvin's presence adds another dimension to Seattle's offense.
Wilson is also skilled at scrambling when he can't find an open receiver. The Broncos defense could be in for a long night if Wilson makes good decisions.
Lynch has received plenty of criticism for his standoffish ways with the media this week and all season, but there is no denying how important his play could be on Sunday. Leading the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns, Lynch and Wilson powered the NFL’s fourth-ranked rushing attack. In the postseason, Lynch has averaged 124.5 yards and more than a touchdown a game.
How well Lynch matches up against Denver’s eighth-ranked rushing defense, which hasn’t let up more than 65 yards in its last three games, could be the deciding factor for Seattle.
Lynch is a hard-nosed, bruising rusher who is capable of breaking tackles in the open field. Few running backs are better than Lynch at picking up extra yards after receiving contact. The 27-year-old also has a knack for punishing linebackers with clever runs once he gets past the line of scrimmage.
Running the ball has another key, and sometimes overlooked, advantage. Lynch could keep Seattle's defense well rested by running time off the clock with steady carries up the middle.