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Get Ready for The Big Apple’s Greatest Show on Turf: Super Bowl XLVIII Preview

Few events draw a television audience of over 150 million. It’s the game American football fans wait for every year. On Sunday 2nd February 2014, in the world’s biggest media market of New York, the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks will go helmet-to-helmet for the forty-eighth Super Bowl.

Both teams finished the regular season as first seeds in their conference with 13-3 records. There are several elite matchups between the NFL’s number-one ranked offence and its number-one ranked defence to look forward to, though the frigid climate may be a significant factor. Excitement is building for the decisive showdown. Whoever wins the personal battles is likely to lift the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy.

 

 

Road to the East Coast

Denver and Seattle have been the best teams in the NFL this year and deserve their trips to the Super Bowl.

For the Broncos, the engine of success came in the form of Peyton Manning, a future Hall of Fame 37-year-old quarterback who had multiple neck surgeries in 2011 and was released by the Indianapolis Colts in favour of #1 draft pick Andrew Luck. Manning broke multiple records, including most touchdown passes in a season (55), most passing yards in a season (5477) and most four-touchdown passing games in a season (9). Last night, he was announced NFL MVP for the fifth time in his illustrious career, making him the first player to win the award for two different teams. No other player in the history of the game has more than three.

His seven-touchdown performance on opening night against Baltimore, the reigning champions, signalled to the rest of the league that Manning was looking to add to his ring collection. In Week 5, he overcame Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys 51-48, before breaking the Kansas City Chiefs’ unbeaten streak home and away.

Even when defences gave Manning’s arm few options, the feet of running back Knowshon Moreno and the right leg of kicker Matt Prater proved reliable. The latter’s strength and consistency set the NFL records for longest field goal converted (64 yards) and most extra points in a single season (75).

Their season has not been perfect. But despite some hiccups against the Colts, in Manning’s Indianapolis return, the Patriots, who came back from 24-0 down at half-time, and the Chargers, the only visiting team to win at Mile High, the Broncos offence kept churning out impressive numbers. At least 27 points were scored in every game but one, reaching the 50-point mark on three occasions and averaging 457.3 yards with five players finishing the regular season with ten TDs or more.

The Broncos offence kept churning out impressive numbers: at least 27 points were scored in every game but one, reaching the 50-point mark on three occasions and averaging 457.3 yards with five players finishing the regular season with ten TDs or more.

Injuries to key players have also tested the Broncos’ depth chart. After Elvis Dumervil left Denver for Baltimore in the off-season, they lost 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller to an ACL tear in December. Yet they started the season 6-0 without him as Danny Trevathan ably stepped up and assisted on the weak side with three forced fumbles and three interceptions. Going into the title game, Head Coach John Fox is wary of his team’s niggles: Prater’s illness, Moreno’s ribs and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein’s knee list them as questionable for Sunday. Although, what the Broncos need now more than ever is to protect Manning and his sore ankle. Without him, chances of victory plummet.

 

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For the Seahawks, it was the dynamic combination of ‘Beast Mode’ and the ‘Legion of Boom’ that got them to their second Bowl in young franchise history. The first epithet typifies the size, strength and speed of veteran running back Marshawn Lynch, who recorded 15 TDs in his third straight 1,000-yard rushing season (and just signed a commercial deal with his favourite candy Skittles). The second refers to the intimidating squadron of the Seahawks secondary. The defence is spearheaded by tough-talking cornerback and league-leader in interceptions Richard Sherman (8) and includes safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor who amassed five and three INTs respectively.

Together they held six teams to score in single figures, including a shutout over the New York Giants in Week 15. That too was in a cold MetLife Stadium against a QB named Manning.

Together they held six teams to score in single figures, including a shutout over the New York Giants in Week 15. That too was in a cold MetLife Stadium against a QB named Manning.

Going into Week 16, the Seahawks were hot at home. But not even four interceptions could stop Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals snapping their 14-game win streak at CenturyLink Field. Like the Broncos, the ‘hawks also left Indianapolis with an L, though they avenged their regular season loss to Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game.

With wide receiver Sidney Rice blowing out his knee and Percy Harvin returning from a concussion and a hip injury, young quarterback Russell Wilson has had to resort to Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin as his primary targets. Unfortunately for Head Coach Pete Carroll, not even medicinal marijuana will bring Rice and Harvin back in time.

 

Key matchups

The Sheriff vs. DangeRuss

Peyton Manning does not conquer defences with foot speed or arm strength. He is arguably the most intelligent QB to have played the game. His ability to think quickly on the spot and adjust the play at the line of scrimmage with audibles (“Omaha! Omaha!”) picks teams apart. His hurry-up offence moves the chains along the field and tires teams out. His O-Line must fend the off the pass rush that notched up 44 sacks in the regular season and his receivers need to be physical with their markers. Manning is vying to become the first player to win a Super Bowl with two different teams. Denying reports of an imminent retirement, he may not be done with the records.

 

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Russell Wilson, last season’s Rookie of the Year, followed in Manning’s footsteps by becoming only the third player in history to throw for 50 touchdowns or more in his first two years (Dan Marino being the other). A former baseball player for the Colorado Rockies reserve team, the 25-year-old’s strength is his athleticism. He is able to escape pressure in the pocket and extend plays with his agility and foot speed, though his unreliable receiving corps has left him 26th in the league in passing yards. To quell the reliance on Lynch’s legs, Wilson must seek out his wideouts often and keep the Broncos’ D guessing. 

DT vs. L.O.B.

Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas has flourished this year. A first-round 2010 draft pick from Georgia Tech, the 26-year-old’s stats have been exponentiated with the switch at QB from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning in 2012. With 14 TDs, 1,430 receiving yards and 66 first downs, Manning always has a reliable pair of hands at the end of his passes. Thomas has a knack for making himself open and hauling in tough grabs especially on crucial third down situations. And defences cannot afford to stack him up with double coverage when 10+ TD options Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas are available.

But DT and his teammates are yet to face a secondary as tough as Seattle’s ‘Legion of Boom’. Self-proclaimed best corner in the game Sherman and his acolytes came up with three turnovers in the fourth quarter alone against the Niners to clinch the NFC, including a big interception in the final minutes. Three of them were chosen for the 2014 Pro Bowl. They have allowed the fewest average points (14.4) and yards (273.6) per game in the NFL.

 

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Pot Roast vs. Beast Mode

340 lbs and named after a slow-cooked meat dish, Terrance Knighton is the Broncos’ defensive tackle. Denver’s defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio snapped him up from Jacksonville, his former team, reportedly in the first minutes of free agency. Knighton bulldozes through offensive lines and is able to bring the best of QBs down. He showed that against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, sacking Tom Brady on 4th-and-3 late on. The postseason has seen a vast improvement in the Broncos rush defence: the San Diego Chargers and the Patriots were held to 65 and 64 yards respectively. Denver has allowed just 3.7 yards per run between the tackles this season, tied for second best in the league. With Knighton on the field, that number falls to 2.9 yards. Without him, it jumps to 4.7. Against Seattle, Knighton must plug the gap left by Von Miller’s injury and stop Marshawn Lynch.

It makes sense for Seattle to opt for the run game in the cold, potentially wet conditions of New Jersey. Lynch jukes defences with his explosive cuts and his strong frame gains extra yards after contact. But he runs inside between the tackles four out of five times, which would seem to favour the refined Broncos D. So the question is whether Lynch can break through and collect enough first downs to keep the clock ticking. That would keep the Broncos O off the field longer and give Manning less time to inflict damage, while opening up the unpredictability of play-action passes or bootleg run plays from Wilson.

 

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Man vs. Weather

Though fears of a super-mega-Polar-Vortex-winter-storm have been allayed, New York will be a bit nippy. Temperatures are forecast to be around freezing in the first Super Bowl to be played outdoors in a cold-weather environment. Each seat will even come with special cushions, lip balm, ear muffs, mittens, a hat, a scarf, hand-warmers, a quarterback-style hand pocket, a cup holder and a radio to listen to the game. (Look out for the diehards without a shirt on their backs: Coloradoans are used to the cold while Seattleites set the Guinness World Record for being the loudest in an outdoor sports stadium.)

Peyton’s brother Eli, who is a two-time Super Bowl winner accustomed to the MetLife Stadium as Giants quarterback, has been advising him on how to cope with the conditions. Peyton himself has a career record of 8-11 and 23 interceptions when playing in temperatures below 4 degrees Celsius. Wilson is largely unproven in such circumstances thus far and could spring a surprise with his running ability. Slip-ups will prove costly for the special teams units, who may be kicking and catching in poor visibility.

Peyton has a career record of 8-11 and 23 interceptions when playing in temperatures below 4 degrees Celsius.

 

The Big Show in The Big Apple

The Super Bowl is not just about a game of football however. Musicians and advertisers also devise their own game plans and prepare for their precious time in the limelight during the interval.

Its Half-Time Show has brought nip-slips and bird-flips alike. This year, the Red Hot Chilly Chilli Peppers will join Bruno Mars in a live performance to melt the faces and hearts of over 80,000 spectators. Meanwhile, the six-figure viewership at home will be devouring an estimated 1.25 billion chicken wings and 48 million pizzas too, according to the US National Chicken Council.

A score of ads has already permeated the internet as companies aim to exploit overseas markets along with the expensive exposure of airtime at half-time. (30-second spots cost around $4 million, excluding production costs and endorsement fees.) Last year, Oreo was quick to act on the mid-game blackout, while Doritos dipped in with a random goat and there was a serious political message from Clint Eastwood. Many will not be aired on UK television due to the lack of media rights, but you can catch sneak peeks of this year’s commercials featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, bodybuilders and Don Cheadle with a llama.

 

Win Or Go Home

These teams come from two of the smallest markets in the NFL. Yet the players seem unfazed by the grandeur of New York and are gearing up for the biggest event in the US sporting calendar.

Thermometers may say it is freezing but things are hotting up. The Seahawks are searching for their maiden title in their short past while the Broncos want to repeat what John Elway, now their Executive VP, did in 1997 and 1998. Both Wilson and Manning can make history.

The Lombardi awaits.

 

John Mastrini

@honzamastrini

Super Bowl XLVIII kicks off at 11:30pm GMT on Sunday 2nd February 2014 and will be televised on Channel 4 and Sky Sports 1.

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21-year-old Ameri-Czech student of Politics & Economics at the University of Nottingham. Sports Editor @impactmagazine. FFC worshipper. European.

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