Ben Sieck | Sports Editor
Peyton Manning is the greatest regular season quarterback in NFL history. At this point, it’s borderline inarguable.
Manning holds the regular season records for passing touchdowns in a season and passing yards in a season, and he’s gaining fast on Brett Favre’s career marks in the same categories.
After Sunday’s win in the AFC Championship game, Manning is distancing himself from whispers he is an underwhelming playoff quarterback.
Manning’s playoff stats are only slightly worse than his regular season stats, something easily attributable to improved competition. What is more glaring for Manning is his team’s winning percentage. Manning has won nearly 70 percent of his regular season games, but has only won 50 percent of his playoff games.
However, a win on Feb. 2 would cement his name in any “best quarterback ever” debate.
Two Super Bowl rings and the gaudy stats to match would make an average playoff record seem inconsequential.
However, the Denver Broncos haven’t won yet. Standing in Manning and the Broncos’ way are the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks.
Super Bowl XLVII will pit the best offense in football against the best defense in football.
This Broncos team set the NFL record for most points scored in a season, and the Seahawks have the best defensive unit in the NFL by a wide margin, according to football analytics website FootballOutsiders.com.
As I look at these two teams, the old adage of the unstoppable force (Denver’s offense) meeting the immovable object (Seattle’s defense) comes to mind.
Both teams dominated their conferences all season, and this matchup of No. 1 seeds seemed inevitable all year long.
Football Outsiders ranks Seattle as the best overall team, and while it does boast the top-ranked defense in the NFL, the Seahawks also had a top 10 offensive unit and ranked fifth in special teams.
Similarly, Denver was hailed for its dominant offense all season, but the Broncos also had the ninth ranked defense, according to Football Outsiders. However, despite Matt Prater’s record-setting leg, the Broncos’ special teams ranked 28th.
Special teams is often valued as less important than offensive or defensive ratings, but a gap that big between the two teams could radically affect how the Super Bowl plays out.
Things like a clean punt team and good downfield pursuit on kickoffs can alter the landscape in which those defensive and offensive units operate.
No matter how good an offense or a defense is, bad field position can often times be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
On offense the Broncos have the advantage, but it’s not as decisive as one might think.
The Broncos’ pass-heavy offense topped Football Outsiders’ rankings in the regular season, but Denver’s run game was also effective and finished in the top 10.
The Seahawks were not the record-setting unit the Broncos were, but they did possess a balanced attack. Seattle had the fourth-most rushing yards in the regular season, and finished as the eighth-best passing team when adjusted for strength of schedule.
Denver topped the league with nearly 38 points per game, but the Seahawks were far from slouches on offense. Seattle scored more than 26 per game, good for eighth in the NFL.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is certainly no Peyton Manning, and his receiving core pales in comparison to Denver’s, but he is more than capable of giving Denver’s banged-up defense fits.
Denver may have had a top-10 defense, but losing All-Pro linebacker Von Miller and defensive back Chris Harris are serious blows. If receiver Percy Harvin is healthy enough to be a factor in next Sunday’s game, Seattle could finally showcase the explosive offense it dreamt of this offseason.
Denver may have questions on defense, but Seattle only has answers.
In addition to boasting the best overall defense, Seattle’s pass defense ranks number one as well.
Nicknamed “the Legion of Boom,” Seattle’s secondary is not something to be trifled with. Safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman are arguably the best players in the NFL at their positions. Safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Byron Maxwell round out a unit that lacks any real weakness.
The battle between the Broncos’ stable of receivers and the Seahawks ball-hawking defensive backs will be the most fascinating part of the Super Bowl.
Manning has proven himself an ageless wonder all season, and will deservedly take home this year’s MVP award.
Still, after watching Manning launch the the occassional wobbler against a depleted New England secondary, I can’t help but wonder if those passes that landed in the hands of Broncos receivers on Sunday wouldn’t have a different result against a dominant Seattle secondary.
I don’t foresee Sherman calling Manning a sorry quarterback, but as Michael Crabtree and the 49ers found out, Seattle’s secondary is capable of changing the game at a moment’s notice.
Manning has had a remarkable career in the NFL, but if he finishes his career with only one ring, questions about his playoff performance will hound him forever. It would be a storybook ending for Manning to win a Super Bowl in the twilight of his career, but unfortunately for Denver, I don’t see it playing out like that this year.
Seattle possesses all the tools to reign in Manning and the Broncos’ potent attack, and the offense to do more than enough damage to win.
Immoveable object 34, unstoppable force 21.