WASHINGTON - Because there are no games to recap this week (no, I don't deem the Pro Bowl as a game worth a recap), I figured we could try something a little new.
Instead, we'll touch on a few of the big storylines sure to dominate Super Bowl week in New Jersey. Given this game pits the top seeds from each conference (for just the second time in 20 years) and the league's best defense against an offense that ranks historically as the greatest of all-time, there is plenty to discuss.
So let's get right to what makes the Denver Broncos vs. the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII so compelling: Richard Sherman.
His antics in the aftermath of Seattle's big win over division-rival San Francisco in the NFC title game got way too much play. Sherman is a loudmouth. Sherman could use a plateful of humble pie. But he is absolutely not a thug by any definition of the word. He's an educated man who has used his success on the playing field to generate opportunities for himself off it.
Coincidentally (or not), Sherman's jersey sales have soared this month. Mission accomplished.
Peyton Manning has put together what is easily the greatest single season for a quarterback in NFL history. His 5,477 passing yards and 55 TDs are league records, and his 115.1 passer rating is the second highest of his career. Chances are, he'll cruise to his league-record 5th MVP award.
However, the big problem with Manning is his playoff performance. I don't put much stock in assigning win/loss records to individual players, but Manning is a big reason his teams are just 11-11 in the postseason and 4-7 in games below freezing temperatures.
Yes, he had an amazing performance in the AFC title game, but he also played that game in 60 degrees and sunshine. If he plays at a high level Sunday night, he'll cement his legacy as the greatest of all-time. If not...well, he is who we thought he was.
Comeback for the ages
Manning and his coach John Fox each overcame major health scares to get to where they are. Manning's amazing 2013 season has faded the memory of his well-documented neck injury that was nothing short of career-threatening.
Meanwhile, Fox has returned to the Denver sideline after undergoing emergency heart surgery in the middle of the season. Both men overcoming those obstacles are great achievements in their own right, but if they can shake that off to become champions...that's a script too good for Hollywood.
The Battle of Good vs. Evil
As a result of the overhype of Sherman's comments, the Seahawks won't enjoy any extras on their bandwagon on Sunday. The roles of heroes and villains are clearly defined in this game, with many of the reasons having little to do with football.
Seattle is viewed as overly physical, if not outright dirty. Meanwhile, Denver comes in with the perception of being the team with more finesse that likes to pass the ball with precision. That, of course, makes the Broncos more aesthetically pleasing to the casual viewer, while the undecideds flock away from the brash Sherman's team.
Throw in the fact that Manning is playing in his brother's house, the crowd should be decidedly Pro-Denver.
In case you haven't heard, this is an outdoor Super Bowl. In the cold. The physical team with the running back aptly named "Beast Mode" and the defense labeled "Legion of Boom" tend to have the advantage in such a scenario.
The early forecast calls for temperatures to reach a high of 39 degrees with a low of 27 (average for the area) with little threat of precipitation, so that shouldn't tilt the scales too far in Seattle's favor.
This one pertains more to the local narrative surrounding this game. The Bailey/Portis trade still lives in infamy here, and if Champ picks up a ring to cap off a Hall-of-Fame-worthy 15-year career that's the dagger to Skins fans everywhere.
I maintain that while Denver "won" that trade, it's not as lopsided as some make it sound. Clinton Portis is the second-leading rusher in Redskins history and was the best player on a pair of playoff teams. It's certainly not as impressive as Bailey's longtime status as the best cover corner in football, but it's not like CP was T.J. Duckett either.
But I digress.
Bailey's age, 35, and high cap number, $10 million in 2014, almost certainly ensures he's done after this season (or at least in Denver). But he only played five games for the Broncos this season, so this isn't exactly a Ray Lewis-type deal. However, he's respected enough for the "Win One For Champ" mantra to at least look somewhat relevant.
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