JERSEY CITY — Defense wins championships, right? Guess we’ll find out Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
The Super Bowl is supposed to feature the best vs. the best, and that’s certainly what this year’s edition will do when the Broncos battle the Seahawks.
On one sideline, you will have the best offense in the league in the Broncos, who finished No. 1 in points and yards. On the other sideline will stand the Seahawks, who finished No. 1 in points against and yards allowed.
Good vs. good? Try great vs. great.
“For the fans, I think it’s an incredible matchup,” Denver coach John Fox said Sunday night shortly after landing in New Jersey. “I’m not sure exactly when that’s last happened, but I know it hasn’t been that recent.”
Twenty-three years, in fact, since the No. 1 offense faced the No. 1 defense in the Super Bowl — Bill Belichick’s Giants defense defeated the high-flying Bills at the end of the 1990 season.
This game is also the first time since the 2009 season (New Orleans vs. Indianapolis) that the two No. 1 seeds and teams with the most wins in the regular season will meet in the Super Bowl. Seattle and Denver both went 13-3 this season.
But this year’s matchup is even more historic than just No. 1 vs. No. 1. The Broncos scored 37.9 points per game this season, while the Seahawks allowed only 14.4. According to FootballPerspective.com, that 23.5-point difference is not only the largest of any Super Bowl, but the largest in any NFL game since 1950, regular season or postseason.
“It will be a great matchup,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I think it’s an extraordinary opportunity to go against a guy that set all the records in the history of the game.”
That guy, of course, is Peyton Manning, the conductor of the Broncos’ record-setting offense. They were the top story of the NFL season after establishing new marks for points scored (606) and touchdown passes (55 by Manning).
They cracked 50 points three times, and were held under 30 points in just five of 18 games (although two have come in the playoffs).
And Manning should have all of his weapons available Sunday — Demaryius Thomas (1,430 yards, 14 touchdowns), Wes Welker (778 yards, 10 touchdowns), Eric Decker (1,288 yards, 11 touchdowns), Julius Thomas (788 yards, 12 touchdowns), and Knowshon Moreno (1,586 all-purpose yards, 13 touchdowns) are all healthy.
Manning, both Thomases, and guard Louis Vasquez all were voted into the Pro Bowl, while four more offensive players were selected as alternates.
“It’s an extraordinary challenge — historically, as tough as it gets,” Carroll said. “Peyton’s been extraordinary. People can’t even dream to have a year this good.”
The Seahawks defense, though, is equally impressive, especially when considering the offensive explosion that has overtaken the NFL in recent years as the rules have skewed heavily in favor of the offense.
Their 4,378 yards allowed in the regular season were more than 400 fewer than the next-best defense (Carolina, 4,820), and the Seahawks finished No. 1 in pass defense (172 yards per game) and No. 7 in rush defense (101.6 yards per game).
And while Richard Sherman has stolen most of the headlines in the last week, the Seahawks feature standout players on all three levels of the defense.
Their pass rush, led by veterans Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, finished eighth in the NFL with 44 team sacks.
They have a budding young star in second-year linebacker Bobby Wagner, who had five sacks, two interceptions, and 144 tackles this season.
And their secondary is loaded with young talent, with three of the four starters earning selection to the Pro Bowl — free safety Earl Thomas (five interceptions, two forced fumbles, 122 tackles), strong safety Kam Chancellor (three interceptions, one forced fumble, 124 tackles), and Sherman (league-high eight interceptions, 17 passes defended). Even more impressive, all three players are 24 or 25 years old.
“They have a very talented group — a lot of guys that can really run, a lot of guys that have a lot of length, physical guys,” Welker said.
Manning was asked if he asked his brother, Eli, for any tips on the Seahawks defense after the Giants hosted them at MetLife Stadium in Week 15.
The Seahawks won that game, 23-0.
“It wasn’t one of the Giants’ better days, so he said don’t ask him for a whole lot of help,” Manning quipped.
After breaking down film of the Seahawks defense over the past week, Manning has been impressed with their cohesiveness and playmaking ability. And like the Broncos, the Seahawks D enters this game at nearly full strength — only cornerback Brandon Browner, suspended a year for violating the league’s drug policy, will be unavailable.
“They are as good as advertised,” Manning said. “Probably one of the more impressive teams in how well they play together as a unit. You see them communicating out there on the field — safeties talking with each other, linebackers talking to corners. That’s not always true of every single defense. That’s a big part of their success. And then you combine that with just a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball.”
Carroll, whose team arrived Sunday night after a cross-country flight, showed respect for the Broncos offense, but he isn’t shying away from the challenge this week, either.
“We’re up against it,” he said. “But we’ll see how this matchup goes. They have to play us, too.”