By: Chris Dagonas
It all kicks off on Sunday (weather permitting)! Broncos! Seahawks! Manning! Wilson! The bright lights of East Rutherford, New Jersey!
This year’s Super Bowl, an event that is normally thickly drenched in media hype, comes with even more media hype than usual. There are several reasons for this: Richard Sherman’s post-NFC Championship rant, the threat of a Polar Vortex shutting down the Eastern Seaboard from Halifax to Raleigh, Peyton Manning’s incredible post-neck surgery success, and more. We writers have no shortage of topics to discuss and deliberate over this year.
I touched on Sherman’s interview last week, but the fact is that he is a fantastic cornerback, among a great secondary. If any player can challenge Manning, it’s Sherman. He is young, fearless, athletic, and just plain tough to play against. He will likely match up against the Broncos’ Demariyus Thomas, which will effectively remove the latter as an option for much of the game. The Broncos are known to run short routes, and will try to create separation by using variations of the controversial “pick” play from the AFC Championship. You may remember it as the one that knocked Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib from the game, and the one that caused Patriots coach Bill Belichick to publicly turn on his once-favoured receiver, Wes Welker.
This is the first ever Super Bowl to be played outdoors in a cold-weather environment. Cold weather hardly begins to describe the feeling of being outside at night this week. It’s like getting thrown into an ice bucket. When I start my 2000 Toyota Corolla in the morning, it sounds like it’s coughing and wheezing before finally kicking in. That will change the game plans more than a little bit, but not nearly as much as many seem to think. As an example, the Green Bay Packers are a cold-weather team that have had two outstanding quarterbacks in the past ten years and have never shied away from the pass.
Lastly, Peyton Manning’s remarkable play since arriving in Denver is sure to be a top story. He has not missed a snap since returning from neck surgery, and has managed seasons of 68.6 and 68.3 completion percentages, as well as 37 and 55 touchdowns. His 5,477 passing yards this season are his career best, coming at the age of 37 and, to reiterate, after neck surgery. He is obviously the most important player in this game, and his performance, more so than any other individual player, will dictate the outcome.
Which brings us to our first prop bet:
PROP BET NUMBER 1: Over/Under 39.5 Peyton Manning Pass Attempts
While it may be considered good strategy to surprise your opponent by playing away from strength from time to time, I don’t expect the Broncos to veer away from their pass-heavy attack. The Seahawks just finished making Frank Gore look more like Al Gore, and none of the Broncos’ runners are close to the talent level of the 49ers running back. Look for the Broncos offense to stick to the air, despite all the talent in Seattle’s secondary. In the AFC Championship, Manning attempted 43 passes. He completed 32 of those, as he tore up the New England secondary repeatedly. Seattle is a different animal, however. They play better against the pass than the run, and when on offense the Seahawks chew up tons of time with the run. Manning will definitely drop back to pass a lot, but I don’t see him hitting 40 attempts on Sunday.
I mentioned the Seahawks run-based offense above, so I won’t dwell too much on it. Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch is one of the toughest runners in the league, and he runs behind a bruising offensive line. We all know the Seahawks will hand the ball to him early and often. So rather than try to quantify how many carries he receives, I was thinking:
PROP BET NUMBER 2: Over/Under 0.5 Marshawn Lynch 20+ Yard Touchdown Runs
The Seahawks offense is run, run, run based. I drafted Russell Wilson in this year’s fantasy football pool, and was surprised/disgusted to see how often he would have less than 200 passing yards. He simply doesn’t have to throw the ball, and there are so many weapons to use in creative ways on the Seahawks. Primary Weapon: Marshawn Lynch. Skittles do a body good, apparently. We all know this run from a few years ago, but how about this one from last week? Beast Mode has a tendency to do his most damage in the biggest situations, and there is no bigger situation in football than the Super Bowl. I would love to see Lynch tear off a pinballesque, aggressive touchdown run. Just try and stop him, Denver. I’ll take the over, and eagerly anticipate the moment when I see a Lynch-ian touchdown run forming.
PROP BET NUMBER 3: Over/Under 1.5 Seattle Defensive Interceptions
If Manning is throwing 35-40 times into the Black Hole of the Seahawks defense, one can expect that at least one of those passes gets picked. No big deal. But, if more than one interception is thrown, that’s a sign that the Seahawks defense is successfully harassing Manning. If the Seahawks have a late lead, Manning will be forced into deeper, riskier throws, and that is a recipe for disaster. If any team on the planet can make life difficult for the super-human Peyton Manning, it would be the Seahawks. The All-Universe secondary combined with an efficient pass rush can force Manning into some bad throws, or take him to the ground, which could be practically deadly at his age. I’ll take the over, but two picks are not necessarily a death knell for the Broncos. Three or more, on the other hand, would virtually assure a Seahawks victory.
PROP BET NUMBER 4: Over/Under 2.5 Denver Defensive Sacks
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is mobile and elusive, and is very hard to take down. That being said, he does occasionally hold on to the ball longer than he should, always looking to make a play downfield rather than make the smart choice and throw the ball away. This is a curse of many young quarterbacks, as we saw from Colin Kaepernick last week against the Seahawks. Over the regular season, Wilson was sacked an average of 2.75 times per game, so this is a tough one to predict. Seattle’s quarterback also relishes pressure, as it allows him to shimmy and shake and create offense with his legs. If the Broncos are able to attack Wilson and force him to move laterally, rather than up the field, they will have the upper hand. Shaun Phillips will provide the pressure, and Von Miller will act as Wilson’s watchdog. I’ll take the over on this one.
As to who will actually win the game, I am torn between my brain and my heart. My heart, that sentimental old softie, wants to see Peyton Manning win a second Super Bowl and complete the proverbial ride into the sunset. My brain, on the other hand, tells me that defensive teams hold big advantages in cold-weather games, and there isn’t much more of a defensive team than Seattle, and there will probably never be a Super Bowl this cold again for 20 years. I’m going with Seattle to dispatch of the Broncos, with a score somewhere around 24-21 in favour of the birds.
With that taken care of I thought I’d devote some space to prop bets of the more entertaining variety. These are the kinds of bets you can make with people you may be watching the game with who don’t know anything about football. (Whatcha doing Sunday, Reynolds?) [Ed. Note: Busy, bro.]
PROP BET NUMBER 5: Over/Under 3.5 In-game Allusions to Richard Sherman’s Infamous Interview
Definitely one, the first time the Seahawks defense takes the field. Another one, probably the first time a pass interference or holding call goes against him. A third late in the game when the Broncos have the ball. But would the TV crew dare beat the same dead horse a fourth time? Only time will tell, but in the name of all that is pure and holy about sports broadcasting, I’m rooting for the under.
PROP BET NUMBER 6: Over/Under 13 Minutes the Ball is ACTUALLY in Play:
Not surprisingly to anyone who actually watches the game, a large portion of football games involve a clock running down with no action happening. Huddles, replays, kneeling to run down the clock, and recovering after a play all take up about 80% of the average football game. I’ll take the under here.
PROP BET NUMBER 7: Over/Under 1.5 Shirtless Red Hot Chili Peppers
Flea is a lock. I don’t care if this Super Bowl was taking place in Nunavut, Flea don’t wear shirts for nothing! Anthony and Chad are both toss-ups, but I’m thinking that at some point during the 30-minute performance, we see some torso from at least one of those two. Over is the safe bet.
On the other hand, buttoned-down Bruno Mars is unlikely to show off anything more illicit than that outrageous hair. I like some risky picks, but this one is outrageous, even for me. I’ll go out on a limb; NO WAY is Bruno Mars getting shirtless!
PROP BET NUMBER 8: Coin Toss: Heads/Tails
I think I might have a gambling problem. Buuuuuuut, tails never fails!
Enjoy the Super Bowl!