There have been 266 games played and 30 teams eliminated. Now just two teams and one game remain before the 2013 NFL season is history.
Prior to last week’s Conference Championship games we knew Super Bowl XLVIII was going to be a most intriguing matchup. We knew one of two outstanding future Hall of Fame quarterbacks would lead one of the league’s most potent offenses into the Super Bowl.
Either Peyton Manning would lead the record setting offense of the Denver Broncos to the Big Game at the Meadowlands of East Rutherford, N.J. or Tom Brady would guide the New England Patriots, many of whose records from 2007 Manning and the Broncos eclipsed this season.
We also knew the Broncos or Patriots would be facing one of the best defenses in the NFL with an offense led by one of the new breed of mobile quarterback at the outset of a career marked by the new catch phrase that permeates current day offenses, the “read option.” Either Colin Kaepernick or Russell Wilson would lead the San Francisco 49ers or Seattle Seahawks, respectively, to the Super Bowl.
As it turned out the matchup taking place a week from Sunday will have Denver taking on Seattle after the Broncos defeated New England, 26-16, to win the AFC Championship and the Seahawks, holding off a last minute San Francisco drive to win, took the NFC title, 23-17.
For the first time since New Orleans defeated Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV the two No. 1 seeds have made it to the Super Bowl. Ironically, Peyton Manning was the quarterback of that Colts team that lost to the Saints, 31-17, in a game that will long be remembered for the Saints’ onside kick to open the second half despite trailing.
That was also the last time a team that played in the Wild Card round did not make it to the Super Bowl, as is the case this season. In fact, NFL parity has been such that this marks just the second time in the last nine seasons the two Super Bowl teams started the playoffs with byes and did not see action on Wild Card weekend.
Although the continuity of week to week play is interrupted, and in this instance for the second time in a month for both teams, the extra time off does allow for nagging injuries that have mounted over the course of the season to have extra time to heal. In theory, that should make for better play in the Super Bowl with more healthy players available.
This matchup also has the potential for being the most competitively priced Super Bowl in more than a generation.
When the opening lines came out at the various sports books, both here in Nevada and around the world, there was a great difference of opinion. At some books Denver opened as a 1 point favorite. At other books, Seattle was made an opening 1 point favorite. And some books opened the game at pick ‘em.
Yet within 90 minutes or so the prevailing lines had Denver favored by 1½ to 2½ points with isolated reports of Denver favored by a FG for a very short period of time before money pushed the line back under 3.
It’s been over 30 years since a Super Bowl line closed at right around pick ‘em. In Super Bowl XVI Cincinnati closed as 1 point favorites over San Francisco. It was the first Super Bowl appearance for both franchises as the 49ers won the first of four Super Bowls in a nine season span, 26-21.
That Super Bowl was the first of four straight with a closing line of a FG or less. That period also marked the start of a long period of NFC dominance. Starting with that 49ers’ win over the Bengals, the NFC representative won 15 of 16 Super Bowls. Only the Raiders’ 38-9 win over Washington in SB 23 (enough of the Roman numerals!) interrupted that streak.
The NFC’s domination, ironically, was ended by Denver, which won back to back Super Bowls (32 and 33) in John Elway’s final two seasons.
During a stretch of Super Bowls from SB 20 to 36, there were 13 of 17 having closing lines of 7 points or more with eight games having double digit spreads. Five straight Super Bowls (from 28 to 32), had double digit lines with the favored team winning all five and going 3-1-1 ATS.
Since the New York Giants won Super Bowl 42 as 12½ underdogs to deny New England it’s 19-0 perfect season, Super Bowls have been relatively competitively priced with closing lines varying from Green Bay’s win over Pittsburgh in SB 45 to Pittsburgh’s dramatic 27-23 win over Arizona in SB 43 as 6½ point favorites. The other three Super Bowls in this stretch had closing lines of 3, 4½ and 4½.
This also is an intriguing matchup from the perspective of offense vs. defense.
Denver brings the NFL’s top ranked offense into this game. Directed by Manning the Broncos set the all time scoring record of 606 points, an average of 37.9 points per game, 11.8 points per game more than Seattle’s average of 26.1 ppg, which ranked No. 8. Denver also ranked first in total offense (457 yards per game) and in offensive yards per play (6.34).
Seattle had the NFL’s top defense, allowing just 14.4 points per game, an edge of 10½ ppg over Denver’s defensive average of 24.9 ppg (ranking No. 22). The Seahawks also led the NFL in total defense (273 ypg) and in defensive yards per play (4.42).
Yet even within these statistics are some interesting contrasts. Seattle had the league’s fourth best rushing offense, 137 yards per game (Denver averaged 117 ypg, number 15). And Denver was almost the equal of Seattle in defending the run, allowing 102 rushing ypg, just 1 yard more than the Seahawks.
In the passing game Denver had a huge edge on offense (340 vs. 202 ypg) but Denver enjoyed a 172 vs. 254 ypg edge in pass defense.
One key area in which Seattle enjoys a very clear edge is in turnovers. In the regular season Seattle was plus 20 in turnover differential, losing the football just 19 times in 16 games while recovering 39 opponents’ “uh ohs.” Denver was exactly even with 26 giveaways and 26 takeaways.
Seattle is making just its second Super Bowl appearance. In their previous trip to the Super Bowl the Seahawks lost to Pittsburgh 21-10 in SB 40, a game noted for what many consider to have been as poorly officiated a game as can be recalled in post season play with Seattle bearing the brunt of the officials’ disdain.
Denver is back for a seventh time but the first since winning SB 33, a win that improved the franchise’s Super Bowl record at 2-4.
Both teams played well away from home this season. Both teams were 6-2 SU on the road with Seattle also 6-2 ATS and Denver 5-3 ATS. In those road games Denver averaged scoring 36.2 points per game while allowing 27.4. Seattle’s averages were 23.0 and 15.1.
It can be argued Seattle defeated better teams in the playoffs with wins over New Orleans and San Francisco while Denver bested San Diego and New England. Yet each team barely failed to cover in their Divisional round wins while covering in the Conference Championship wins.
The two major factors that could impact the game will be the weather and the officials. This will be the first Super Bowl played outdoors in a northern city, setting the stage for possible inclement weather and almost assuredly cold temperatures.
Both Seattle and Denver are equipped to play in poor conditions although Manning and Broncos are more likely to be adversely affected by poor conditions but also would benefit more from benign conditions.
If the officials call a tight game that would tend to work in favor of Denver and their passing attack. If the officials let the players play Seattle with its very aggressive defense likely benefits more.
In the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl this game will be picked apart and dissected endlessly by “experts” from all walks of life. Very few events undergo the type of scrutiny leading up to the event than does the Super Bowl.
But that’s the allure of the Big Game – our biggest “unofficial” holiday.
In next week’s column will be the prediction for the final game of the 2013 season plus thoughts on the many “props” surrounding the Super Bowl, many of which will be tied into other sporting events of the day.
Let’s enjoy the buildup as we prepare our shopping lists for the many Super Bowl parties that enhance the experience of Super Bowl Sunday.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]