By Christian S. Kohl
Both Denver and Seattle advanced this week after defeating the Patriots and Niners, respectively. The two will square off on Groundhog Day this year with the championship on the line. The question is: who will end up with the title?
Each team is exceptional in its own way. The Seattle offense features the youth and speed of Wilson with the brutal power of Marshawn Lynch. Denver presents a laundry list of weapons which may be impossible to stop. The only defense with a prayer is the pounding Seahawks D, which features multiple elite players, including some who aren't capturing headlines for recent comments. Meanwhile, the Denver defense is missing Von Miller along with a few other relevant pieces. They can be beaten over the top, and if Seattle gets its way, be beaten into the ground, on the ground, by Lynch.
Very simply, this game pits the best defense against the best offense. Hometown affiliations aside, the casual fan will concede the best team in each conference has made it to the Super Bowl. The only disappointing thing about a game this physical is it only offers us one contest of these two elite squads.
The game will be won or lost with the Denver offense and Seattle defense on the field. Their counterparts will likely play well—expect Wilson to offer a high level of play and Lynch to batter. The Broncos D can and will make plays but cannot shut an offense down. It comes down to Manning vs Sherman. Manning vs Earl Thomas. Manning vs every one of their elite playmakers.
For the Seattle D, it begins and ends with pressure. Manning has played virtually the entire season with little or no threat of pressure. If he continues to have all day to throw in the pocket, then Denver effectively cannot be stopped. Their run game is too strong, and Peyton's ability to change plays at the line to an optimal one becomes virtually indefensible, as New England experienced last week.
However, ferocious defensive pressure could change the entire dynamic. Rushed throws, pressures, sacks, and possibly a turnover or two could give Seattle the edge they need. A fourth quarter lead for the Seahawks would ideally suit them for a win. Lynch in shutdown situations is as good as anyone, and could keep Manning off the field. They lack the explosive playmakers to mount a big comeback against the Broncos, however.
Great defenses win championships. But Peyton Manning this year has been more valuable single-handedly than any elite defense. Look for the Broncos to command the game, even if it's close, and emerge as the winner. This has been Manning's year, and only a series of very unfortunate events will deny him. This is as good a look as he'll ever get again for a ring, and it will take a nearly flawless effort from Seattle to emerge victorious. Enjoy the final contest of the year: it's Denver's game to lose.
Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.
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