The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will take the field for Super Bowl XLVIII Sunday evening as the top teams left in the NFL playoffs. Each finished the 2013 regular season with the best record in their respective conferences – 13 wins and three losses.
As a result of that outcome, the Broncos and Seahawks each earned number one conference seeds and then took care of business in the playoffs, winning a pair of home games to reach Super Sunday.
Now the NFL and football fans around the country are looking forward to an entertaining and hard-hitting championship game at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, the first time the Super Bowl will be played in an open-air stadium in the northeastern United States.
A big story line will be Denver's record-setting offense versus Seattle's NFL No. 1-ranked defense. Seattle's defensive backfield is known as the 'Legion of Boom,' for the aggressive style of play it has used over the past two seasons. It definitely has the attention of Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker.
"You know, they do a great job of really getting to the football. They have a lot of athletic guys with great instincts and when you combine those two things, they're tough and you've got to go out there and be precise on your routes and get open and when you get the ball, get what you can and go down," Welker told reporters at Super Bowl Media Day Tuesday.
The Seahawk defenders know they'll be facing a great passer who can get his team into the end zone.
“They’re an unbelievable, record-setting offense with a Hall of Fame quarterback. . . . It’s as tough a game as you can get in the Super Bowl," Sherman told media last Sunday night in New Jersey.
The entire Seattle defense has a swagger about it, much like the college teams Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll led at the University of Southern California. Carroll left USC to take over the Seahawks in 2010 and has taken Seattle to the NFC playoffs three of the last four seasons.
Carroll himself has coached in a Super Bowl before. He was the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers when they beat the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX at the end of the 1995 season.
His Denver counterpart, John Fox, is now one of a handful of NFL head coaches to lead two different franchises to the Super Bowl. Fox was head coach of the Carolina Panthers when they lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston.
He joins former Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula, former Philadelphia Eagles and St. Louis Rams head coach Dick Vermeil, Dan Reeves of the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons, Mike Holmgren of the Green Bay Packers and Seahawks, and Bill Parcells, formerly with the New York Giants and New England Patriots, in that club.
Fox also was the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants when they lost to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV at the end of the 2000 season.
There was an early indication that the Broncos might go far this season when quarterback Peyton Manning threw an NFL single-game-record seven touchdown passes in Denver's season-opening win over the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens back in September. They quickly ripped off five wins in a row after that before losing to the Colts, Manning's former team, in Indianapolis.
Speaking of the Colts, they also defeated the Seahawks in Week 5. One similar stat in both Colts victories: Seattle and Denver were flagged more often for penalties than Indianapolis.
Part of the early-season success was due to Manning working new free agent receiver Wes Welker into the mix with returning veteran receivers Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas and Erik Decker. They worked hard as a group, prior to and in training camp, as Manning sought to reach his third Super Bowl.
Equally impressive, Seattle had an early-season, four-game winning streak of its own. That was followed by a seven-game win streak. The Seahawk offense, led by second-year quarterback Russell Wilson, utilized the talents of running back Marshawn Lynch and receivers Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Zach Miller.
Those Seahawk offensive weapons will go up against Denver's defense, which has been effective all season despite injuries and suspensions. Their best performance was two weeks ago against New England in the AFC Championship game, when the Broncos held Tom Brady and the Patriots to just 16 points - 11 under their 2013 season average.
One area that always gets overlooked in the lead up to the Super Bowl: special teams - punting, kickoffs and field goals. Both teams have good kickers - the Broncos' Matt Prater, who owns the NFL record with a 64-yard field goal this season and Steven Hauschka of the Seahawks, who has made 33 of 35 field goal attempts on the season.
What might make the difference between two talented teams? Perhaps now that China's lunar new year of the horse has arrived, it could be the 'Year of the Broncos' by game's end Sunday night. Fox will televise Super Bowl XLVIII, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time.