Super Bowl XLVIII kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Eastern this Sunday evening. Fans of the chaos the NFL playoffs so routinely deliver have to be itching for a wild game, because there’s been so little of it leading up to this point. Where’s the fun in that? Well, for all the predictability leading up to the Super Bowl, the actual game could be fantastic.
The teams? They’ve been favorites to make it here since August and were both top seeds headed into the playoffs. Newly crowned five-time MVP winner Peyton Manning and the league’s best offense is squaring off against Richard Sherman and the league’s best defense, a secondary that, even as NFL rules increasingly favor passing and quarterback stats league-wide balloon, is enough to strike fear into the most lethal passing attacks (and the Broncos have one).
The city? No other place in the country is as accustomed to huge spectacles and throngs of tourists as New York – even the Super Bowl coming to town and shutting down 11 blocks in midtown Manhattan is pretty routine stuff. The weather is cooperating: It’s downright balmy for February in the Big Apple, sunny with highs in the 50s and barely a breath of wind. When the league awarded New York the Super Bowl back in 2010, it knew fully well that a championship game played in a blizzard was a distinct (and exciting) possibility. But you couldn’t ask for less intrusive football weather (probably to the NFL’s chagrin).
The lack of chaos even extends to the game’s extracurricular activities – the National Anthem is a notoriously difficult song that has tripped up plenty of famous musicians. But Renee Fleming? She’s probably the most celebrated operatic soprano of the past 25 years, so she’s not missing a note. And as Buzzfeed put it recently, "If she can memorize a five hour opera in Czech, I don’t think remembering the [words] will be an issue."
If this all feels weird, it’s because the Super Bowl, along with the NFL at large, has made a habit of being wildly unpredictable in recent years. The last two Super Bowl winners, the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens, looked finished in November before backing into the playoffs as bottom seeds and shocking everyone by winning their titles.
And ironically, the 2013 season was a wild one for other sports leagues less accustomed to chaos. See: the Boston Red Sox coming from dead last in the American League in 2012 to win the World Series, or a non-SEC team winning college football’s last BCS National Championship after a season that was nothing short of insane. In contrast, the NFL season has been a quite tame affair.
The good news? If the actual Super Bowl is as predictable as everything has been leading up to it, then the football itself is going to be awesome. The Seahawks and the Broncos have been the most fun teams to watch all season, something you certainly couldn’t say about those Ravens or Giants teams before the playoffs. Football folks should be delighted to see what Manning has prepared for the best defense this year, or whether the swagger and speed of the Seahawks defense can finally rattle him. Don’t forget about the other side of the ball, where a suddenly hot Broncos run defense will take on running back Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson, an inconsistent newbie with the potential to be incredibly dangerous.
And predicting who will win? That probably won’t prove as easy as all the other predictions have been so far. Bus as long as we're here: Broncos 24, Seahawks 20.