- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Pre-game thoughts from Super Bowl XLVIII:
Okay, I was only half-right on my pre-playoff Super Bowl prediction. I had the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers making it to MetLife Stadium. In the interest of consistency, I'm going to ride the Broncos over the Seahawks. Forecast: Broncos 28, Seahawks 20.
A few thoughts:
1. Peyton Manning is the best player in the game, and when the best player happens to be a brainiac, all-time great at the quarterback position, it's hard to ignore. Manning hasn't been sacked in the postseason, and I don't think the Seahawks' four-man rush will generate a lot of pressure. If the Seahawks send five or six, Manning will find the soft spot in their coverage.
2. The Seahawks play a fairly simple defensive scheme. They don't try to confuse opponents with exotic looks; Pete Carroll doesn't trick it up because he has the utmost confidence in his players to thrive in their man-to-man scheme. So, basically, it'll be mano y mano -- the Broncos' wide receivers and tight ends versus the Seahawks' cornerbacks and safeties. It's a fascinating matchup because the Broncos are prolific with YAC (yards after catch) and the Seahawks' -- sound tacklers -- lead the league in limiting YAC.
3. I'm curious to see how the Seahawks use cornerback Richard Sherman. During the season, he lined up to the offense's right on 98 percent of the snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Everyone assumes he'll be covering Demaryius Thomas the entire game. If he does, it'll take him out of his comfort zone because Thomas lines up 55 percent of the time on the left. The scouting reports also say Manning is more efficient when he throws to his left. I suspect Manning will be throwing to where Sherman isn't.
4. Manning will be involved an intriguing chess match with the Seahawks' defensive. I suspect the Seahawks, keying in on history's most prolific passing attack, will use a seven-man box, daring Manning to run. Manning will recognize this, obviously, and check into running plays. That's why I see Knowshon Moreno having a big game.
5. In contrast, I think the Broncos have to play an eight-man box against Marshawn Lynch & Co. He's the kingpin of the Seattle offense. I don't think the Broncos' run defense gets enough credit. They allowed only 3.7 yards per carry on runs between the tackles, which bodes well for their chances of stopping Lynch. They have to put the game in Russell Wilson's hands. I like Wilson, but he's gone six straight starts with a QBR under 50. The wild card is wide receiver Percy Harvin. If the Seahawks can get him involved, maybe with a gadget play or two, it could really crease the Denver defense.
6. In the end, there's the destiny factor. This is Manning's year. He dominated the regular season, and I think a Super Bowl championship is meant to be.