If styles make fights, as they used to say in the heyday of world championship boxing, Sunday night’s Super Bowl (3.25am, Monday, UAE) between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks would be billed as the “Fight of the Century”.
Call it the Irresistible Force vs the Immovable Object as Peyton Manning and the NFL’s top-ranked Denver offence go toe-to-toe against Richard Sherman and the No 1-rated Seattle defence in East Rutherford, New Jersey, and the winter setting at MetLife Stadium.
Manning, in the argument as professional football’s greatest quarterback, set league records for most passing yards and most touchdown passes in a season for the 13-3 Broncos, who averaged 38 points a game.
Sherman, the trash-talking cornerback who led the NFL in interceptions, is the face of a supremely effective Seattle defence that limited opponents to a mere 14 points a game in the Seahawks’ 13-3 campaign.
The points margin is the widest in 48 Super Bowls and fuels speculation on whether either team can impose their will.
Profiles of those impressive opposing units set up a fascinating study of strength against strength in a game where Denver are rated slight favourites.
Gunning to become the first starting quarterback to win Super Bowl titles with two different teams, following an NFL title with the Indianapolis Colts, Manning has a brilliant quartet of receivers to throw to.
The cerebral quarterback, renowned for figuring out the best options against a defence in the moments before the snap, has been an equal-opportunity thrower. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas have each caught at least 60 passes and registered at least 10 touchdowns.
As daunting as those combinations are, they are up against the most formidable part of Seattle’s stifling defence.
Sherman and fellow Pro Bowlers Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor at safety, along with cornerback Byron Maxwell, often dare quarterbacks to throw their way with tight man-to-man coverage confident in their own ball-hawking skills.
A classic drop-back quarterback, Manning uses his quick mind and quick release to stay a beat ahead of pass-rushers.
After Denver led the regular season in fewest sacks allowed, he has not been sacked once this post-season.
“It’s really about his timing,” said Pete Carroll, the Seahawks coach. “He’s so quick with the football, and his decision-making is so precise, that the ball’s just not in his hands long enough to get there, for the most part. We can’t give into that. We have to rush the passer.”
Weather conditions and officiating could impact the tantalising clash. While seasonable temperatures have been forecast, the strength of winds that often swirl around the stadium built on swamplands is a wild card. Gusting winds could impair Manning, whose arm strength is not of the highest order, drawing Sherman to comment on the wobbly “ducks” that the Broncos’ quarterback sometimes throws.
When Seattle have the ball, second-year quarterback Russell Wilson manages a ball-control attack but is capable of producing a big play as a scrambler, and he is tied for the most wins ever by an NFL quarterback in his first two seasons.
The go-to man is bruising running back Marshawn Lynch, who after an uncomfortable week fidgeting and ducking from the glare of media attention will finally get to do what comes naturally for him – run with the ball. Lynch’s power runs set up throws by Russell to a solid crew of receivers including Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and big-play threat Percy Harvin.
It is the No 1 offence against the No 1 scoring defence, a match up that throws the possibility of a tight match and a Super Bowl first – the first overtime at the NFL’s showpiece game.
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