Prognostication is a dicey business. There really are only two possible outcomes. Either your prediction will turn out to be wrong, in which case everyone and their brother won’t hesitate to point it out every time they see you at a party for the next five years, or your prediction will turn out to be right, in which case no one will remember that you made the prediction in the first place and then you’re stuck in the role of telling everyone you said so and nobody likes to be told that.
Still, as someone whose avocation it is to weigh in on all manner of matters athletic, I feel like I should, every so often, put my money where my mouth is, so to speak, and what better sporting event to do so than America’s national holiday, the Super Bowl.
So, with just a couple of hours to spare, here is my prediction for Super Bowl XLVIII—Seattle 27 Denver 23.
Though, as our own Ryan Bradley pointed out this week, Peyton Manning’s legacy is safe no matter what happens tonight, the game will hinge on him. Given time, Manning is perhaps the most deadly accurate passer in the history of the game. But, though, just as questions of his legacy may be overblown, criticism of him as being prone to choking is also overblown, Manning has been known to make some questionable throws when under pressure. Case in point, last year’s interception in overtime against the Ravens. Even this year, during his record-breaking season, he threw two balls up for grabs against the Patriots when they came from 24 points down to beat them in November.
In the AFC Championship, the Patriots were completely unable to get to Manning, pressuring him only once in the entire game and failing to sack him at all. The same thing is unlikely to happen tonight. The Seahawks led the league in the percentage of drop backs on which they were able to get pressure on the opposing quarterback, roughly one-third of the time. If that trend holds tonight, forcing Manning to move in the pocket (which resulted in last year’s pick against the Ravens) or rush his throws, Seattle’s secondary, which, as its own members will even tell you (sorry, couldn’t resist), is the best in the game, I expect he will give the ball up more than once.
Fortunately for Manning, the weather in New Jersey seems to be smiling on him. The league’s front office must be breathing a huge sigh of relief that the temperature at kick off is likely to be somewhere in the mid-40s with no precipitation in sight. If it had been 25 and snowing, their little experiment with playing the Super Bowl in open-air stadiums in cold-weather cities would most likely have come to a halt. (My guess is Bruno Mars is the only other person on the planet happier than Roger Goodell.)
Still, temperatures are also likely to drop as the game progresses, making it harder and harder to catch the ball. In that case, the other statistic to keep an eye on is drops. Though the Broncos receivers, understandably, get a lot more press than their counterparts, Seahawk receivers have dropped passes at only half the rate of Broncos’ receivers this season. This is in keeping with the Seahawks’ overall team mentality. Create turnovers on defense, protect the ball on offense. So, even if you’re not going to throw the ball 50 times per game, make damn sure you catch it when you do throw it.
The Broncos moved the ball at will against the Patriots in the AFC Championship. I just don’t see them being able to do the same thing tonight. Manning being Manning and his offense being what it is, one can expect at least one or two big plays from them. But as the game progresses and the Seahawks are able to exert their will on both sides of the ball, I also expect Manning to get more and more frustrated, increasing the likelihood of a forced throw into traffic. If Richard Sherman talked that much smack after knocking down the pass to Michael Crabtree, I wonder what he’ll have to say if he takes one to the house tonight.
Their only other trip to the Super Bowl the Seahawks earned the ignominious distinction of being the only team in the game’s history to gain more yards, more first downs, and commit fewer turnovers than their opponent and still lose. Tonight, they should be able to erase that memory.
Photo: Jeff Roberson, AP