Regardless of how this weekend’s games turn out, the dynamic of Super Bowl XLVIII has already been determined. A high-octane offense with much to be desired on defense will take the field from the AFC side of the bracket, and the NFC will field a staunch defense with an offense powered by an athletic quarterback that can get it done through the air and on the ground.
Rarely do we come across a championship weekend with such similar teams squaring off against each other in both conferences. The New England Patriots are built in a very similar manner as the Denver Broncos. Tom Brady will lead his offense up and down the field much in the way that Peyton Manning will lead the Broncos’ offensive unit, and the same can be said of the NFC side of the tournament with Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.
Still, there are differences in both games to consider. Brady has a more established ground attack to open up the Patriots’ air attack, but the Broncos have a greater ability to strike on big plays down the field. Comparisons between the two teams are perfectly fair, but these teams aren’t twins.
Defensively, the edge has to be given to the Broncos. While scoring more than any team in the NFL, they’ve been able to hold down opponents relatively well. The problem with scoring quickly, as is often the case in Denver, is the opponent is given more possessions than would normally be the case. This results in Denver’s defense having to stop opponents more often than other teams’ defensive units.
Even so, New England’s defense hasn’t been a pushover, and remain comparable to the Broncos’ group. Denver allows far fewer rush yards per game, but that has as much to do with Denver’s opponents playing catch up all game as it does with the actual run stopping ability of the Broncos.
On the NFC side, San Francisco and Seattle may actually be more similar to each other than the AFC’s top teams. Both teams run a ball control offense that relies on their defenses to set them up in good field position.
In most of the statistics, the Seahawks do edge the 49ers. Seattle moves the ball more each game and restricts opponents better on the other side of the ball. Still, any difference between the two is marginal at best, and whichever team establishes the line of scrimmage will likely be able to walk out of Seattle with a plane ticket to New York for the Super Bowl. It may be a cliché, but with two teams trying to establish physical dominance, it really is all about the trenches.
Sure, this weekend’s pair of games may tell us which two teams are actually heading to New York, but the Super Bowl’s attitude has already been established. It will be a clash of opposing philosophies. In the AFC’s corner, a team that has truly bought into the new age “pass and stop the pass” ideology will go up against a far more established ball control, physical team that believes in beating its opponents into submission.