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Sunday, January 26, 2014
Super Bowl XLVIII hype in full swing

By John Clayton
ESPN.com

In Seattle, the controversy from Richard Sherman's postgame rant about Michael Crabtree and the San Francisco 49ers has started to quiet down.

While in Denver, the buildup of Peyton Manning's return to the Super Bowl is heating up. Following perhaps the best championship weekend in recent NFL history, the hype for Super Bowl XLVIII couldn't be any bigger.

How fitting is it to see Manning, coming off the best season for a quarterback in NFL history, going against the Legion of Boom, perhaps the most talented secondary put together in a couple of decades?

Here are the 10 storylines I'm looking forward to during Super Bowl week.

Richard Sherman
Richard Sherman's sessions with the media during Super Bowl week should be must-see events.

1. Sherman at the podium and on the field: Sherman might be one of the game's best trash talkers, but he's also one of the most intelligent interviews in sports. There's a misconception among some in the public about Sherman due to his Compton, Calif., roots, but he's Stanford-educated and well spoken. So you can expect anything during his interview sessions. Sherman will talk football, politics or life in general. It will be interesting to see if his honest answers get misinterpreted. The anticipation is he will speak positively about the Denver Broncos. A student of the game, Sherman appreciates what Manning has meant to the NFL, but he's also honest enough to say Manning's passes wobble more than they did when he was a younger quarterback. We'll see if Sherman gets trapped into some controversies with the deluge of media expected this week.

2. How will Marshawn Lynch treat media? The NFL fined the Seattle RB $50,000 for avoiding the media for interviews during the regular season. They rescinded the fine but threatened him with a $100,000 fine if he misses future interviews. Lynch is a private person, but he can also be a character. Normally, he sits in the locker room during interview times, listening to rap and trying to avoid talking to reporters. When he started doing interviews late in the season, he tried to give short, three-word responses. The NFL will mandate he do a full interview session Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It should make for a good show or a hefty fine.

3. Champ Bailey finally reaching the Super Bowl: While the Legion of Boom, man-to-man coverage and great safety play has been the early defensive themes of Super Bowl XLVIII, Bailey's first Super Bowl appearance has flown under the radar. For 15 seasons, he's been one of the best cornerbacks in the game and will get Hall of Fame consideration when he retires. He suited up for only five regular-season games in 2013 -- starting three -- because of injuries. Chris Harris' season-ending knee injury has thrust Bailey back into the starting lineup. It will be interesting to see how the vet holds up.

4. Percy Harvin, the X factor: Right before the start of the playoffs, Pete Carroll thought about putting Harvin on the injured reserve list. Harvin underwent hip surgery prior to the start of the season and played in only one regular-season game before his hip started aching again. Harvin held a workout with Russell Wilson that eventually changed Carroll's mind. Teammates marveled at the speed and explosiveness Harvin displayed on the field that day. In the playoff win against New Orleans, Saints defenders roughed him up, with Harvin suffering a concussion that sidelined him for last week's NFC title game. Harvin is back at full speed in practice and could be a big factor in the Super Bowl. He might not be able to play the entire game, but his presence alone will cause major problems for the Broncos.

5. Wilson makes Super Bowl debut: Wilson prepares for games as hard as Manning. To no one's surprise, a teenage Wilson attended one of Manning's passing camps to learn the QB trade. Wilson gets to the office at 6 a.m. each day and invests more than 13 hours of work getting ready for practices and games. He went to last season's Super Bowl just to survey what it would be like if his team made it. Manning is old school and great. Wilson offers the excitement of a Fran Tarkenton. He'll be a star during the interview sessions.

6. Will Broncos' formations impact Seahawks' pass coverage? Stacked formations and crossing routes are the way to attack man coverage, which Seattle primarily employs with its stable of quality corners. The Broncos were successful using that same strategy to beat the New England Patriots. I can't wait to see if the Broncos use pick plays similar to the one Wes Welker used that led to Aqib Talib's injury in the AFC Championship Game. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner will have his teammates on the watch for pick plays in the middle of the field. Seattle has four physical cornerbacks to match up against any of the four wide receivers Manning might target in spread formations and could use linebacker K.J. Wright or safety Kam Chancellor to counter explosive tight end Julius Thomas. The Seahawks' defense is physical and will revel playing man-to-man coverage on Denver's receiving corps.

7. Pot Roast's impact: Terrance Knighton was the defensive star of the Broncos' AFC title victory over the Patriots, as New England's interior line had no answer for the massive tackle. Nicknamed "Pot Roast," the 335-pound Knighton poses a big challenge for Seattle offensive line coach Tom Cable and his zone-blocking scheme. How Cable plans double teams around Knighton could be the key to the Seahawks' running attack.

Thomas
Demaryius Thomas' size and speed should test Seattle's standout secondary, no matter who draws him as an assignment.

8. Will Sherman cover Demaryius Thomas? Thomas is Denver's most dangerous threat in the passing game because of his speed and size. It will be interesting to see if Carroll decides to move Sherman, who usually stays on the left side of the field, over to cover the Pro Bowl receiver. If not, responsibility for stopping Thomas will fall on Byron Maxwell, whom Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn says is as fundamentally sound as any cornerback in his talented secondary.

9. Welker's presence: Welker has been the focus of several major NFL storylines the past few seasons, and the same should hold true over the next week. He made a key drop in the Patriots' 2012 Super Bowl loss. Welker got into a bitter negotiation that led to his departure from New England. The Broncos signed him this past offseason, and he's been a big part of Manning's return to the Super Bowl. In the AFC Championship Game, Welker knocked Talib out with a knee injury on a designed pick play, which Bill Belichick called one of the worst hits he's seen, even though the hit was deemed legal by the NFL. Some wonder if Belichick made the comment to bring national attention to the pick plays used by the Broncos. The Seahawks didn't need to be warned; they already were aware.

10. Peyton's legacy: Manning has a chance to earn his second Super Bowl ring and earn it in the stadium his younger brother, Eli, works in. Winning that ring would vanquish some of the disappointments of 11 playoff trips in which his last game was a loss. He would have as many rings as his brother and be one shy of Tom Brady. But if he loses ...