JERSEY CITY, N.J. --With Super Bowl XLVIII just two days away, we thought we'd get together with Seahawks.com for a piece that we hope you enjoy.
The two team sites tackle several pertinent storylines concerning matchups, players to watch and keys to victory as the Seahawks and Broncos prepare for Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
DenverBroncos.com editor Gray Caldwell provides the answers for the Broncos, while Seahawks.com writer Tony Drovetto does the honors for the Seahawks.
Tony Drovetto, Seahawks.com
1. What do the Seahawks need to do best to beat the Broncos?
Win on third down.
The Seahawks have converted just 24-of-79 third downs through their past six games. That's roughly 30 percent, and it's not going to be good enough, especially against the Denver Broncos' high-scoring attack. Their lack of success on the all-important down has kept the Seahawks from being able to sustain drives.
You get the feeling that at some point in Sunday's game, quarterback Russell Wilson is going to need to convert a big third-down to sustain a key drive. He did it in the divisional-round against the New Orleans Saints, when he faced third-and-3 late in the fourth quarter and changed the play call at the line of scrimmage, hitting wideout Doug Baldwin on the back shoulder for a 24-yard gain. Running back Marhsawn Lynch ran 31 yards for a touchdown on the very next play. In the NFC Championship game against the 49ers, it was Wilson's 10-yard slant to wide receiver Golden Tate on third-and-8 that kept a fourth-quarter field goal drive alive, extending Seattle's lead to the eventual final score of 23-17.
Another important third-down opportunity is bound to present itself on Sunday against the Broncos, and we'll see if the second-year signal caller can take advantage.
2. What kind of impact will a healthy Percy Harvin have on the Seattle offense and the Super Bowl?
With the ball in his hands, I think we all know what kind of impact a healthy Percy Harvin can provide. We've seen flashes of what the dynamic receiver/runner/returner is capable of in his two games with the Seahawks this season. He's hauled in a pair of acrobatic third-down conversions, bursted up the sideline for a 9-yard carry, and provided a spark in the kick return game, exploding 58 yards the other way on his only attempt.
But it's also Harvin's impact without the ball that can be equally as devastating. His presence in the slot, on the outside, in the backfield, or awaiting the ensuing kickoff can alter the way a defense operates. In limited action this season, Harvin opened up opportunities for his fellow wideouts, as opponents slid extra defenders to his side of the field to defend against his speed. That leaves guys like Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, and Jermaine Kearse alone to try and beat their defender one-on-one. And once Harvin beats you in the return game - like he did with that 58-yarder against the Vikings in Week 11 - you're not likely to kick his way again. Instead, Minnesota pooched kicks to the second and third level of Seattle's return team, setting the Seahawks up with some quality field position.
3. What individual matchup do you think will be key on Sunday?
Instead of an individual, I'm going to go with a duo - Seahawks defensive linemen Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant versus Broncos running backs Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball.
Mebane and Bryant provide more than 630 pounds of beef along the Seahawks defensive line, preventing the run game by plugging holes and maintaining gaps in the opposing team's offensive unit. They've been very effective this season, holding San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore to just 14 yards on 11 carries in the NFC Championship game two weeks ago.
I think Seattle has the corners, linebackers and safeties to match up with Denver's receivers and tight ends on the outside, meaning the Broncos will need big games from Moreno and Ball to effectively move the football and sustain drives. Defending the run game alone won't be the only key to victory for the Seahawks, but it could go a long way.
4. So is Marshawn Lynch really fueled by Skittles?
That's the word from Marshawn Lynch's own mother, Delisa Lynch, who has said she would give her son the tropical candy during Marshawn's youth football games to run faster and play harder. Marshawn carried the tradition over to his college days at the University of California and eventually to the sidelines at CenturyLink Field, where he's greeted with a Skittles shower every time he hits pay dirt.
Gray Caldwell, DenverBroncos.com
1. What do the Broncos need to do best to beat the Seahawks?
Stop the run -- or at least eliminate "Beast Mode" moments.
Run defense is what has helped the Broncos get to this point. In Denver's last loss of the season -- Week 15 against the Chargers -- the group allowed 127 yards to Ryan Mathews. The defense pointed to that performance as a turning point.
"I think guys were playing well in spurts," linebacker Paris Lenon said. "It just hadn't been a complete game."
The defense held a players-only meeting, and since then the unit has allowed an average of just 70 yards per game -- including only 65 against those Chargers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and 64 against a New England Patriots team that had racked up 200-plus yards on the ground in its previous two games.
LeGarrette Blount rushed for 189 yards in Week 17 and 166 in the Divisional Round of the playoffs -- before he managed just 6 yards against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game.
Of course, stopping Marshawn Lynch might be different than stopping just about any other running back. He's had at least one "Beast Mode" moment in both playoff games this year -- a 31-yard touchdown run in the Divisional Round and a 40-yard touchdown run in the NFC Championship Game.
So he may pick up some yards -- the Broncos defense just wants to make sure those chunk plays don't happen.
"Swarm," linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "That's the only thing when you've got a back like him, you've got to swarm tackle. You've got to make sure you've got at least two hats on the football. Just keep hitting him. Make it a long game."
2. Outside of Peyton Manning's superb play, what aspect of the Broncos offense has been most important to their unprecedented success?
In my opinion, it's been tight end Julius Thomas. The former college basketball player struggled with injuries in his first two seasons in the NFL, but his first healthy offseason this year has led to Pro Bowl-level production.
One of five Broncos with at least 10 touchdowns this year, the threat he provides down the middle of the field was evident right away in the NFL Kickoff Game, when he had 97 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
I think the two Patriots games -- though he wasn't the only difference -- show his impact. He didn't play in Week 12, and the Patriots came back from 24 points down to win in overtime. In the AFC Championship Game, Thomas played and caught eight passes for 85 yards in a Broncos win. He was also the player with two huge third-down conversions late in the Divisional Round to help seal that win.
Even if a team focuses on covering Demaryius Thomas outside and Wes Welker in the slot, there's still Eric Decker on the other side, Knowshon Moreno out of the backfield and Julius Thomas inside as well. I think it's the tight end -- and the matchup problems he creates -- that has pushed that group over the top.
"They've defensively done a great job against two very good tight ends they've already played this year in the playoffs (Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis)," Julius Thomas said of Seattle. "As we've talked about all season from on offensive standpoint, we don't know which quarter, which guy it's going to be, but we know we are all going to have our opportunities to make plays. And we've got to make them when they come."
3. Which "under-the-radar" Broncos player do you expect to become a household name by the time the Super Bowl is decided on Feb. 2?
Is Julius Thomas under the radar anymore? Probably not in the world of fantasy football. So I'll give two options on defense -- defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and linebacker Danny Trevathan.
People are getting to know Knighton, perhaps better known as Pot Roast, this week after his fourth-down sack of Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game drew attention. But he's been a huge part of the defense all year long. The free-agent pickup was starting alongside defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson and playing well against both the run and the pass. But Vickerson was lost to injured reserve mid-season, and Knighton was forced to morph into the leader of the defensive line. He embraced that role -- taking rookie defensive tackle Sylvester Williams under his wing and holding that defensive meeting after the loss to the Chargers -- and still found ways to make plays even with offensive lines drawing their focus to him.
Trevathan is the team's leading tackler but has also tacked on nine passes defensed, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and two sacks. He nearly had a defensive touchdown in Week 1, but he dropped the ball in celebration just before the goal line. The linebacker said that was a turning point for him, and he started focusing less on himself and more on the team. He changed the game in Dallas with a diving interception of Tony Romo and has made countless key tackles to help get the defense off the field. His speed and Knighton's size will be key to the Broncos slowing down the Seattle offense on Sunday.
**4. What's up with "Omaha?" Is Peyton Manning just a big fan of Nebraska's largest city?
I saw Richard Sherman addressed that topic last week: "I feel like there is no 'Omaha' code. I feel like he might just be throwing that out there. He throws it out there so much that it has to be talking to one player or something crazy like that. I don't know if we'll ever be able to break the 'Omaha' code."
I'll just let Manning take this one.
"I'm not sure I know how to answer that, but I've had a lot people ask what 'Omaha' means," he said. "'Omaha' is a run play, but it could be a pass play or a play-action pass depending on a couple things – the wind, which way we're going, the quarter and the jerseys that we're wearing. It varies really play to play. There's your answer to that one."
Hope that clears it up.