Super Bowl 48 – Defense Wins Championships
“It’s gonna be cold, cold, cold, cold, cold…”
So if you’ve read my last column, the results were average at best. I missed the New England/Denver spread, but hit the under, over for Julian Edelman catches and under for Peyton Manning TDs. In the NFC game, I hit Seattle -3 but missed everything else for a grand total of 4 right and 4 wrong.
In the interest of changing it up, and the fact that the game is still 2 weeks away, let’s stay away from prop bets and gambling. Not for long, I promise.
Right off the bat, this Super Bowl is unique because the two teams you would’ve picked to be here back in October are actually in the game. It’s very rare that the two best teams overcome the variance and randomness that is the NFL. Other than the Saints/Colts game in 2009-2010, it hasn’t happened since 1993.
You’re going to get inundated with the storyline of “Best Offense vs. Best Defense”, but this is not just a point for the talking heads on ESPN to run into the ground for 2 weeks. This has a lot of nuance to it. By total offensive points scored, the best offense Seattle played all year was the New Orleans Saints, who finished 10th in the league. That game was a Monday night in Seattle after the Seahawks’ bye. A team coming off a bye with the best home field advantage in primetime against a horrible road team who, despite having ten days to prepare, were coming off two tough games and just didn’t have it in them that night.
Other than that, Seattle got to play the Panthers (18th), Niners (11th), Jaguars (32nd), Texans (31st), Colts (T-14th), Titans (19th), Cardinals (16th), Rams (21st), Bucs (30th), Falcons (20th), Vikings (T-14th) and Giants (28th). Yes, this is a great defense that was also aided by playing some truly inept offenses. They lost at Indianapolis and at San Francisco and home to Arizona. You could argue the best team Seattle beat away from the Link was either Carolina or Arizona, two teams that also rely on their defense to create opportunities for the offense. I don’t discount their two impressive playoff wins against two very good teams, but both games came down to the final play. Up until last weekend, I would’ve flat out said Seattle can’t play from behind.
As far as Denver, they won 13 games this year. They shattered every record you can think of, not the least of which was scoring 606 total points. I think you can see where this is going. Now, the best defense Denver played was by far the Chiefs, twice. The Chiefs finished tied for 5th in points allowed. They also had one of the easiest schedules this season, benefitting from their 2-14 record in 2012 and were mostly healthy until the end of the year. Despite being a “top 5 defense” by the numbers, they still gave up 5 points more PER GAME than Seattle.
The rest of Denver’s schedule in order of total defensive rank by points: Ravens (12th), Giants (18th), Raiders (29th), Eagles (17th), Cowboys (26th), Jaguars (28th), Colts (9th), Redskins (T-30th), Chargers (11th – mainly good against the run, bottom 5 in pass defense), Patriots (a very fraudulent 10th), Titans (16th) and Texans (T-24th). Average them all together, and Denver opponents gave up 24.1 points a game. Seattle allowed 14.4.
If there is a fraudulent element in this game, which is it? Did Denver’s offense and Seattle’s defense just play a bunch of tomato cans all year? Was it just a strange year for the league in general and these just happened to be the two best teams by default? I think it’s all of the above. And I think there are other elements in play here.
Much has been made of Peyton Manning’s ability to play in less-than-optimal weather. More than half of Manning’s career has been in a dome, getting to play 8 games in Indianapolis, along with a game in Houston’s dome, and the weather-friendly teams of Jacksonville and Tennessee, for 14 seasons. It may just be that all QBs struggle on the road. But it stands to reason that if the weather reports hold and East Rutherford is cold, rainy, or even snowy on February 2nd, it favors the outdoor team with a great defense and great run game over the QB with a bad history in bad weather who relies on his passing attack.
If Seattle can hold off an early onslaught from Peyton Manning, they could take the lead and not give it up. Richard Sherman is the best cornerback in the game, and has the talent to make Demaryius Thomas invisible. Once you get beyond Sherman, you’re looking at Walter Thurmond, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas in the secondary. If you’re looking at the between-the-numbers matchup, it’s Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin there to make life miserable for any Tight End or slot receiver coming across the middle. Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas are all very injury prone. The San Francisco-Seattle game was reminiscent of a Demolition Derby using human bodies as monster trucks. Peyton Manning can audible and yell Omaha all he wants, but if this turns into a physical game, as most postseason games do, again, it favors Seattle.
You can spin the numbers another way and say that Denver has the best offense in league history, and you can’t stop the whole team. You can say it’s Peyton Manning’s year and this is when he finally proves all the doubters wrong and beats what I think is the most complete team in the league.
There are multiple theories in play. It’s a passing league now. It starts and ends with the Quarterback. But recent history has shown, Defense Wins Championships. Going back to 2009, every Super Bowl but one has featured a game-changing or game-ending defensive or special teams play, and the team to make that play goes on to win.
James Harrison’s halftime 100-yard interception touchdown in Super Bowl 43. Tracy Porter picking off – that’s right – Peyton Manning to win Super Bowl 44. Nick Collins’ early pick-six to put the Packers up 14-0, enough to hold off a late Steelers rally in Super Bowl 45. Chase Blackburn taking advantage of a hobbled Rob Gronkowski and picking off Tom Brady to squash any momentum the Patriots had in the 4th Quarter of Super Bowl 46. Jacoby Jones’ 2nd half opening kickoff return for a TD, which again, put Baltimore up just enough to hold off a late Niners rally. Year after year, great offenses are stymied by someone on defense or special teams stepping up and making a play. I’m not discounting the all the offensive points put up, but the fantasy football style game of the regular season just doesn’t fly this late in the year.
In the end, I’m expecting the tradition to continue. Someone on Seattle’s defense or special teams will make the difference. Could be a Sherman pick, could be a sack from Bobby Wagner, or… I wonder how Percy Harvin is feeling these days.
The Pick: Seattle 27, Denver 24.