Seattle (15-3) vs. Denver (15-3)
Sunday, February 2, 2014, 6:30 p.m. ET, East Rutherford, NJ
Game-time Weather Report:
After all of the talk of cold and snow, it will actually be a decent forecast for the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium. Mostly cloudy skies are expected at kickoff, with game-time temps in the lower 40s. Temps will dip back to the 30s during the game, but no rain or snow is expected.
Matchup & Team Overview
Obviously, criticizing Russell Wilson is difficult right now. He’s gotten his team to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons, and in his second season, he has the Seahawks on the verge of their first-ever Super Bowl championship after an impressive wire-to-wire NFC title. But it’s also true that he may be the Seahawks’ biggest weakness on a well-built, complete roster right now.
Consider the stats. In two playoff games, he’s only 25/43 passing for 318 yards with a TD and a lost fumble. Two weeks ago against the 49ers, he was better than he was against the Saints the week previous, but ultimately, he really made only two plays – a 51-yard bomb to Doug Baldwin on which Wilson extended the play with his elite athleticism, and a 35-yard TD to Jermaine Kearse on a fourth-down play, an absolutely perfect throw. Still, those plays were all the Seahawks needed to get past the Niners in the NFC Championship Game, and Wilson had his first 200-yard passing game since December 15.
All that said, Seattle would certainly like Wilson to be better in this game. He’s off to a good start simply by getting WR Percy Harvin back – three weeks ago against New Orleans, Wilson was 3/4 for 21 yards when throwing to Harvin before his concussion, and 6/14 for 82 yards to everyone else. Harvin becomes an intriguing player in this game against a Denver secondary that is missing CB Chris Harris (ACL). In addition to getting Harvin back, expect the Seahawks to get Wilson on the move early. Wilson still looks most comfortable outside the pocket, and it helps him with defined, quick reads. He’s struggled of late when going through his progressions, so Seattle should simply eliminate them when possible.
Getting Wilson on the move will also help to open run lanes for Marshawn Lynch, who unsurprisingly has been an absolute monster in the playoffs, going over 100 yards rushing in each of the Seahawks’ first two playoff games, scoring 3 TDs total in the process. It’s also worth noting that the Broncos lead all teams in the playoffs by allowing only 64.5 YPG rushing. Their offense has helped them get out to bigger leads, and then the defense under coordinator Jack Del Rio can pin its ears back. Additionally, Lynch specifically cited Bronco DT Terrance Knighton as someone who is playing well of late and is anchoring this run defense. Seattle must get Lynch going to help out Wilson.
Defensively, the Broncos would be wise to employ zone pressure and coverage concepts when possible, and try to get to Wilson by rushing only four or five men. Wilson especially struggles to recognize zone coverage, and his best throws come when he clearly has a defined one-on-one read. The Broncos have 6 sacks in two postseason games, but they’ve yet to force a turnover. If the Seahawks can take care of the ball and make a big play or two, they’ll be in this one until the end with a great shot to win it all.
Calling this game a “fascinating” matchup seems blatantly obvious. First and foremost, it’s the Super Bowl, so fascination is simply a part of the equation. Second of all, it’s in a cold-weather city (more on that later). Third of all, it’s the NFL’s best defense against perhaps the best offense in the history of the league. But it’s also not just that – it’s the way the Seahawks play that makes them the most fascinating possible matchup for Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
The Seahawks’ primary coverage, Cover-3 (with S Earl Thomas playing single high), is particularly susceptible to one of Peyton’s favorite pass plays, four verticals. Playing three deep? No worry. Peyton will send four receivers downfield and find the open man. The Broncos can also bunch their receivers and send them on shallow patterns to attack S Kam Chancellor and the Seattle LBs underneath. The Broncos have such a diversity of talent and plays with which they can attack Seattle, and the Seahawks must be on their toes at all times.
The Broncos’ diversity makes it hard to simply suggest a guy like Demaryius Thomas is going to get shut down. Now, a lot will be made (and it has already) of the Thomas/Richard Sherman matchup, but the fact is they may not cross paths all that much. Sherman confirmed this week that he is comfortable playing exclusively LCB, and plans on keeping to his side during the Super Bowl. By nature of the Broncos’ formations, Demaryius is usually lined up against the opposition’s RCB, in this case the very underrated Byron Maxwell. It’s a difficult matchup either way, but don’t be shocked if Sherman sees more of Eric Decker or even Julius Thomas than Demaryius.
But as much attention as will be paid to Peyton attacking this very good secondary, the matchup in the trenches is perhaps even more fascinating. The Seahawks have the perfect personnel for getting pressure on Peyton where he’s most susceptible – up the middle. If Peyton can’t get comfortable in the pocket, then one battle is already won. The Seahawks love using a pass-rush package with three DEs and the talented DT Clinton McDonald in obvious passing situations. Not only does this give them a very intriguing four-man rush package, but the speed up front also allows DC Dan Quinn to use stunts and zone blitzes. It’s not easy to confuse Peyton, but disguised coverages the way the Seahawks can use them is a good start.
So, as important as this four-man package is, does it mean we could see it in early downs? And if so, can the Broncos run on the Seahawks? While Seattle’s run defense is nasty (look at what it did to Frank Gore last week), it may be a little more susceptible this week, thanks to the focus it’ll have to put on stopping Peyton. The Broncos have had a lethal RB rotation of Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball of late, so they can keep both guys fresh.
And as always, we won’t hear the end of Peyton’s struggles in cold weather until he puts a stop to them. But as of now, there’s a chance we’ll see 40-degree temperatures in East Rutherford on gameday, with slight wind. The weather may not be as big a factor as initially thought.
Players to Watch:
These players aren’t necessarily worth starting or are even viable reaches, but for a variety of reasons, they are players to watch closely this week.
These players are generally in your lineups each and every week.
Peyton Manning (QB, Den) – Peyton propelled the Broncos to a Super Bowl by completely outplaying Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game two weeks ago. Against the Patriots’ overmatched defense, Peyton went 32/43 for 400 yards and 2 TDs. Obviously, he’ll have a lot more trouble doing the same on a neutral field against the best defense in football, the Seahawks, in the Super Bowl. But Peyton is so mentally sharp that he’ll be able to pick out the few weaknesses the Seahawks do have. If you didn’t use Peyton yet in your one-and-done leagues, he’s obviously the better play than the struggling Russell Wilson, even in this difficult matchup. He’s got a chance to cap off the greatest individual season in NFL history with a championship.
Marshawn Lynch (RB, Sea) – Lynch is a beast. He’s gone over 100 yards in each of the Seahawks’ two preseason games, and he’s scored 3 TDs in those games as well. It’s a really interesting matchup against Denver, which has managed to stop teams from running on them in the playoffs simply by building leads, and then filling in the gaps. We doubt Seattle will get away from the run, and utilizing QB Russell Wilson on the ground will help open cutback lanes for Lynch in this one. The point is, there’s nothing scary about this matchup on paper, and Lynch gets it done in tough matchups anyway.
Knowshon Moreno (RB, Den) – Reports surfaced this week that the Broncos don’t plan on being able to re-sign Moreno, an impending free agent, this off-season. So it would behoove Moreno to put on a hell of a show in what could be his final game in a Bronco uniform. Last week against the Patriots, Moreno carried 14 times for 59 yards and added 2/22 receiving, a solid performance overall. But it also reflected the way the Broncos prefer to play now – Moreno had 16 touches to rookie Montee Ball’s 15. In our opinion, Moreno may be a better pick for success against the Seahawk defense because he’s a better receiver and third-down option, but it’s not exactly the easiest matchup in the world. Moreno is a hard guy to sit because he can still go nuts the way he did in the Broncos’ divisional round win over the Chargers, but this Seahawk defense is the nastiest he’s seen all year.
Demaryius Thomas (WR, Den) – Demaryius has dominated in the playoffs. He posted 7/134/1 in the AFC title game against New England, taking advantage of CB Aqib Talib leaving with an injury. That now gives him 15/188/2 in two playoff outings, and his chemistry with Peyton Manning is operating at an all-time high. Now, a lot will be made this weekend about the Thomas/Richard Sherman matchup, but it’s possible you’ll be able to count on one hand the times the two are actually matched up. Thomas typically draws the defense’s RCB, in this case Byron Maxwell, while Sherman plays almost exclusively LCB. Maxwell is no pushover, and frankly has been spectacular of late. But Thomas is one of the top receivers in football, and the way he’s playing now, he’ll get his shot to make plays.
Eric Decker (WR, Den) – While the Broncos appear more likely to re-sign Decker than they do RB Knowshon Moreno, it’s also possible that Decker is playing his final game in a Bronco uniform. If so, he’ll get to do it on the biggest stage with the toughest matchup – he’s got a good shot of seeing a ton of CB Richard Sherman in this one (so will TE Julius Thomas). Decker rebounded from a poor performance in the AFC Divisional Round with 5/73 against the Patriots two weeks ago, but he still has “only” 7/105 in two playoff games, as both Thomases and Wes Welker have been seeing more targets. If Decker lines up on Sherman’s side for most of this one, that trend should continue. Expect the Broncos to run bunch formations to try to get Decker free. He’s still difficult to sit at this stage of the season.
Julius Thomas (TE, Den) – It can be argued that Julius – and not Demaryius – has been the most important Thomas for the Broncos in the playoffs. With 8/85 against the Patriots two weeks ago, Julius now has 14/161/0 on 18 targets during the playoffs. A matchup nightmare for corners, safeties, and linebackers, Julius moves around the formation, and Peyton Manning is so good at highlighting when he has a good draw. Of course, he could meet his match this week if he sees a lot of Seattle CB Richard Sherman, which is entirely possible. In fact, it’s not ridiculous to suggest that Sherman and Earl Thomas’ work on Julius could dictate this entire game. The Broncos want to avoid Thomas having to block, so expect him spread out for most of the game. He’s a fantasy stud, but he’ll be a focus of the Seahawks’ defense.
These players are not sure-thing weekly starters, but they could be looking better or worse than usual.
Looking better than usual:
Looking neither better nor worse than usual:
Russell Wilson (QB, Sea) – Wilson’s struggles, especially when it comes to fantasy numbers, have been well documented of late. Not only has he thrown for only 318 yards and 1 TD in two playoff games, but he also has only 8/16 rushing over that span as well. However, in the Super Bowl he gets to go up against a Bronco defense that isn’t overly talented, despite how well it has played in the playoffs. Look for Seattle to try to get Wilson on the move and define his reads against a banged-up Denver secondary. And the return of Percy Harvin helps things out, for sure. While Seattle can win with Wilson as a complementary player, obviously it would be in the Seahawks’ best interest if he’s more than that. He just hasn’t played particularly well.
Wes Welker (WR, Den) – It seems almost quiet how much Welker has contributed in the playoffs, with 10/76/1 receiving in two games. He’s clearly a complementary piece, but he’s a damn important one against the Seahawks. The Seahawks’ Cover 3 defense can be beaten with quick slants and rub routes, and expect Welker to be a key player on those patterns. While he sometimes looks like the #4 passing target in this offense, it’s the greatest offense in the history of the NFL. And Welker will be a key part of QB Peyton Manning avoiding pressure with his option routes. The Seahawks play tight coverage across the formation, but Welker can slip into the area where they’re most vulnerable – the middle. He also wants to atone for his bad drop that cost the Patriots the Super Bowl a couple of seasons ago.
Doug Baldwin (WR, Sea) – It’s probably fair to suggest that Baldwin and the returning Percy Harvin essentially play the same position, but it’s also hard for the Seahawks to bench Baldwin, considering he’s been their most productive receiver. He had a late-season swoon that coincided with Russell Wilson playing poorly, but Baldwin put up 6/106 on 7 targets against the 49ers in the NFC title game. Throwing to everyone else, Wilson was 10/18 for 109 yards, so it shows you how important Baldwin was. He led the Seahawks in receiving in each of their first two playoff games, and even with Harvin back, we’d be surprised if Baldwin takes a total backseat.
Golden Tate (WR, Sea) – Aside from an 8/129/1 game in Week Seventeen that seemed to come out of nowhere, Tate has been MIA for over a month. In two playoff games, he has only 5/44 receiving, as Doug Baldwin has led the team in receiving in each game. Now, with Percy Harvin back in action, it’s possible Tate becomes even less of a focus for the Seattle offense than he has been. The hope here, if you’re using Tate? That Harvin helps to take some focus off him, and he gets single coverage on some defined reads for QB Russell Wilson. We wouldn’t expect the world from Tate in the Super Bowl, but like Jermaine Kearse, he could be on the receiving end of a big play.
Looking worse than usual:
Montee Ball (RB, Den) – Ball is a more gifted natural runner than Knowshon Moreno, and the Broncos have made an effort to get him involved significantly over the last couple of months. In the AFC title game, Ball carried 12 times for 43 yards and added 3/13 as a receiver, touching the ball 15 times to Moreno’s 16. But Ball is still inferior to Moreno in the passing game, and it seems likely that Moreno would see the majority of the Broncos’ work on third downs, especially if the Seahawks can force them into third-and-long situations. We love Ball for the future (especially if the Broncos don’t re-sign Moreno), and he could always get some goal-line work, but this isn’t a great matchup for him.
These players may have roles on their NFL teams, but they shouldn’t be in a fantasy lineup.
Zach Miller (TE, Sea) – In two playoff games, Miller has totaled 4 catches for 36 yards. He’s always a threat to score because the Seahawks utilize him in the red zone, but he simply isn’t going to produce worthwhile fantasy numbers if he doesn’t score. He’s a guy you can’t really use for fantasy this week, unless you have no choice (i.e. you’ve already burned Julius Thomas). If you do have to use him, hope he gets free for a scoring opportunity near the goal line.
Reach Play Starters:
Percy Harvin (WR, Sea) – Harvin, who has played a grand total of 20 snaps this year, is a key to the Super Bowl. His unique skillset makes him a difficult matchup across the formation for the Broncos, who are without CB Chris Harris (ACL). And while Seattle QB Russell Wilson hasn’t looked comfortable as a passer for a few weeks now, he did love throwing to Harvin in the brief time they had together in the NFC Divisional Round (Wilson was 3/4 throwing to Harvin and 6/14 throwing to everyone else in that game). What Seattle’s grand plan for Harvin is can only be guessed at, but he’ll certainly help out Wilson when Wilson gets outside the pocket. It’s the Super Bowl, so it’s hard to consider anyone a “player to watch,” so Harvin is an interesting reach if you’re still playing this week.
Injuries to watch:
None of note.
Seahawk WR Percy Harvin (concussion) has been cleared and is expected to play.
Broncos 24 Seahawks 20