Handicapping the XLVIII Storylines
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ (The Spread) - The biggest game of the year is here and millions of fans all over the world will throw some money on a game that they have no clue about.
As a true handicapper, there are several key things you need to know about this game other than the actual line and the name of the quarterbacks. Let's go over some important factors that could help decide the football game.
Can Peyton Manning perform in cold weather?
Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL and there's no arguing that. One thing that really gets under his craw is his record during games he played when the weather reached 32 degrees or lower. As a quarterback who played his college football at Tennessee and most of his career in a dome in Indianapolis, Manning has probably been spoiled by good weather. So when it gets below freezing or the wind starts swirling, he tends to struggle. The most important stat is that he's 0-3 in the playoffs in freezing weather. But he hasn't played in a playoff game in cold weather since 2005 when the Colts traveled to New England and lost by double digits (33-14). The temperature at kickoff was 25 and Manning threw for 238 yards with no interceptions and one touchdown.
This year, Manning has played in Denver twice this postseason, facing San Diego (24-17 win) and New England (26-16 win). The weather certainly didn't affect Manning in the AFC Championship in Denver since it hovered around 60 degrees. Against San Diego, the weather was windy and in the 40's, though Manning was solid, tossing for 230 yards with two TDs and one pick. The bottom line was that Denver stopped the run (65 yards for San Diego) and run the ball well 133 yards. The same couldn't be said in late November, when the Broncos lost in New England, 34-31 in overtime. The temperature was in the 20's, but the wind chill had it closer to zero. Manning had his worst game of the season, completing 19 of 36 passes for 150 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
The kickoff temperature in New Jersey is expected to be in the mid-thirties, which isn't bad for 6:30pmET. That should decline as the game goes along but if the wind is not a factor, that shouldn't effect Manning as much as it did in November. Manning's arm is not what it once was and the wind would force him to not attempt difficult throws.
Don't be afraid to go against the grain.
The betting public isn't always right. This game started as a pick-em in most places and moved to Denver -2.5. Last year, Baltimore won as a three-point underdog over San Francisco. In fact, underdogs have been the victors in the Super Bowl in three of the last four games. This is a rare meeting of top seeds in the Super Bowl, so both teams have played the underdog role just once this season. Seattle (+2.5) lost but covered on the road against San Francisco on Dec. 8, 19-17. Denver (+1) as mentioned previously, lost in overtime to New England, 34-31 overtime.
If you play trends, both teams are strong against the spread, although one key trend has Denver as 3-7 against the spread in their last 10 playoff games. They are also 4-9 against the spread on fieldturf as the surface at Invesco Field is grass, while the surface at CenturyLink Field in Seattle is fieldturf. The surface at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey is fieldturf.
It's the top offense against top defense.
Does defense always win Super Bowls? Not really as last year's Super Bowl, San Francisco has the top-rated defense, but Baltimore wasn't chopped liver. New England's offense was considered the greatest of all-time in 2008 and they were stopped cold in Super Bowl XLII by the New York Giants, 17-14. Yes, Seattle has an incredible defense, especially against the pass, where they allow 172 yards per game. Denver averages 340 passing yards per game and 117 rushing yards per game.
Let's take a look at this a little more specifically. The top five passing teams are Denver, New Orleans, Detroit, San Diego and Chicago. Seattle faced just one of those teams and that was New Orleans twice. Drew Brees did throw for 309 yards on 24-of-43 in the playoff game with one touchdown that Seattle won, 23-15. In the game played on Dec. 2, the Seahawks held Brees to just 147 yards passing.
But as good as the Seahawks are, they faced very few powerhouse passing offense. They took on St. Louis twice (27th), Arizona twice (13th), the New York Giants (19th), San Francisco three times (30th), Minnesota (23rd), Tennessee (21st), Jacksonville (22nd), Carolina (29th), Houston (15th), Indianapolis (17th), Tampa Bay (32nd) and Atlanta (7th). They faced just two of the top ten passing teams on their schedule.
Now on the other hand, in terms of top pass defenses, Denver faced New England twice (18th), San Diego three times (29th), Tennessee (11th), Kansas City (t-25th), Oakland twice (28th), Baltimore (12th), New York Giants (10th), Houston (3rd), Washington (20th), Indianapolis (13th), Jacksonville (t-25th), Dallas (30th), Philadelphia (32nd). So once again, you get an elite passing team that has faced just two teams in the top ten in pass defenses.
What does that mean? That the game will be about adjustments, and who makes the best. Manning is one of the best of all time in terms of reading defenses and finding the mismatches. If he can't find one against a terrific secondary, he might start out trying to hand the ball off to Knowshon Moreno and rookie Montee Ball. Seattle's run defense isn't weak, but they do allow 3.9 yards per carry. San Francisco did run for 161 yards and 5.8 yards per carry, although that was due to the incredible athleticism of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Manning obviously doesn't have those kind of running skills.
So you might read this and wonder, does anybody really have an edge? Personally, I look back to the 2008 Super Bowl with the Giants winning and compare that result to this game. The Seahawks are not a 12-point underdog and have a better all-around team, but the low-scoring affair in that particular game has me leaning towards the under 47 in this game.