Seattle or Denver will lift the Lombardi trophy at Superbowl 48.
Here are the five key battles that could decide the winner of sport's biggest prize.
Richard Sherman vs Demaryius Thomas
Whilst there will be different matchups between Seahawks defensive backs and Broncos wide receivers, you would imagine that we will see a lot of Sherman vs Thomas. Sherman is – as he proclaimed for the world to hear after the NFC Championship game – (arguably) the best cornerback in the game, and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and defensive co-ordinator Dan Quinn will be hoping to make Thomas a non-factor on Sunday. With 14 touchdowns on the season, Thomas is a threat to score from anywhere, and his ability in yards-after-the-catch plays will be vital as the Broncos look to get the ball in his hands before Sherman can get his hands on him.
Seahawks interior line vs Terrance Knighton
The Seahawks have had a little bit of trouble on the offensive line this season, and whilst Max Unger is one of the top centers in the league, the guards have been turnstile-esque at times this season. Whether it's J.R. Sweezy, James Carpenter, Paul McQuistan, Michael Bowie or Alvin Bailey, they have to try and stop Terrance Knighton, who has been complete wrecking ball for the Broncos this season, but particularly in the last few weeks. The Seahawks' gameplan is based heavily around running the ball with Marshawn Lynch, but Knighton has been a menace against the run in the Broncos' path to the Super Bowl. Knighton also offers some pass rushing ability, and whilst Russell Wilson has the ability to escape the rush and extend plays, the Seahawks need to try and limit Knighton's penetration up the middle.
Peyton Manning vs Dan Quinn
Arguably the greatest quarterback of all time goes in search of a second Super Bowl ring, but will be doing it against the #1 defence in the NFL. The Seahawks rank first in points allowed, yards allowed and turnovers forced, and defensive co-ordinator Dan Quinn will have to try and slow down the Denver offense, which has been so potent this season. Manning is famous for changing plays at the line of scrimmage, but his work pre and post-snap is what makes him so great, and Quinn will need to try and get Manning out of his comfort zone to gain success. Manning certainly doesn't possess the Houdini-like escapability of Wilson, and throwing him off his base may be a good way to get him moving out of the pocket. The ability of Michael Bennett and Brandon Mebane to push the pocket and get into the backfield should be utilised in order to get Manning on the move.
Seahawks linebackers vs Julius Thomas
Julius Thomas is a key part of the Broncos offence from tight end. He offers another receiving option away from the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker, but the Seahawks linebackers have recently shut down the elite tight ends. Jimmy Graham of the Saints had just one catch for eight yards in the divisional round of the playoffs, whilst the 49ers' Vernon Davis had only two catches for 16 yards in the NFC Championship game. The two safeties, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, will also be used in coverage against Thomas, but expect to see Bobby Wagner or even Bruce Irvin used in coverage to stifle Julius Thomas.
Seahawks wide receivers vs Denver secondary
Denver have the 27th ranked pass defence in the NFL, and the Seahawks will need to take their shots down the field. However, the Seahawks receiving corps are relatively average, with Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Zach Miller offering limited upside. All players are capable of contributing, but the presence of Percy Harvin would be a massive boost to Pete Carroll's side. Harvin proved himself to be a difference maker with the Minnesota Vikings, but his trade last year has yet to pay dividends due to recurring injuries – which poses its own problem. Harvin has seen just 39 snaps all season, and the Seahawks will be hoping he can steer clear of any more injuries in the Super Bowl. They managed to see off the Saints and 49ers without Harvin, but having him as a legitimate weapon against the Broncos will give them a much better chance to win.
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