We're down to the final game of the season and it's the matchup many anticipated, with the top two seeds in Denver and Seattle advancing to Super Bowl XLVIII.
Between now and kickoff we're sure to hear plenty about Peyton Manning and his legacy, Richard Sherman and his mouth and how the weather will impact the game, since it's being played outdoors at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. As of Tuesday, Jan. 21, the weather there was as low as 11 degrees with 13 inches of snow and winds at 24 miles per hour.
That sounds like fun.
The worse the weather is, the more that should favor the Seahawks, who come into this game with the NFL's top-ranked defense and No. 1 pass defense. The Broncos have the No. 1 offense and passing attack, so bad elements will only hinder their aerial attack. Of course, it could be a beautiful day Feb. 2 at kickoff, so let's wait and see what develops.
What we do know is it should be exciting to see Manning and Co. try to dissect the Seahawks defense with their "Legion of Boom" secondary and if he'll take shots at Sherman. Most likely, Manning will find the mismatches in Seattle's secondary -- away from guys like Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor -- so don't be surprised if someone like Jacob Tamme sees more targets than usual in a mismatch.
Also, Marshawn Lynch -- the leader of Seattle's offense -- will have to deal with a Denver run defense that hasn't allowed a touchdown in four consecutive games, and Ryan Mathews in Week 15 is the lone running back to rush for 100 yards against the Broncos this season. While Sherman is the defensive star garnering most of the attention for Seattle, don't overlook the impact Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton is making for Denver's defense.
It's going to be a great Super Bowl, and I predict the Broncos will win, 27-24. The weather could slow down the Broncos, but I still expect Manning to get his second Super Bowl ring. As usual, here are some Start ‘Em and Sit ‘Em suggestions for the big game for those of you planning for somwething on Super Sunday.
Russell Wilson (at DEN): Wilson has been a horrible Fantasy quarterback to close the season. He hasn't been over 17 Fantasy points since Week 14, and in two playoff games against New Orleans and San Francisco he has combined for just 318 passing yards and one touchdown and eight carries for 16 yards and a fumble. But the Broncos have given up production to quarterbacks of late with Terrelle Pryor, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady all scoring at least 21 Fantasy points in the past three games. And if the Broncos go ahead in this game and Seattle is chasing points, then Wilson will have to make plays to keep the Seahawks alive. That was the case in the NFC Championship Game against the 49ers, when he had 103 passing yards and a touchdown in the second half for 10 Fantasy points, which is the most production he's had in the postseason thus far through two games. Manning is obviously the best quarterback in this game, but depending on your Playoff Challenge roster, don't be afraid of Wilson.
Knowshon Moreno (vs. SEA): Moreno is dealing with bruised ribs, but he's excepted to play in the Super Bowl barring a setback. While the matchup appears tough, Moreno should have the chance to score at least seven Fantasy points based on his production this season. He had at least seven points in 14 of his past 15 games overall, including both playoff matchups. He will definitely get the ball as a receiver with five or more catches in three of his past six games. And the Seahawks have given up production to running backs of late with Khiry Robinson and Anthony Dixon scoring touchdowns in each of the two playoff games the past two weeks. Since Week 14, Seattle has allowed three running backs -- Frank Gore, Rashard Mendenhall and Robinson -- to score at least eight Fantasy points. Look for Denver to spread out Seattle's defense and give Moreno some potential running room. We wouldn't shy away from him in the Playoff Challenge just because of Seattle's elite defense.
Wes Welker (vs. SEA): We'll find out if Manning is willing to challenge Sherman or Byron Maxwell, who have been the best cover corners for the Seahawks down the stretch. They line up on the outside and will likely match up with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Manning likely will look toward Welker against slot corner Walter Thurmond, who isn't an easy target, but the Broncos might have more success with Welker than anyone else. Last year with the Patriots, Welker went into Seattle and had 10 catches for 138 yards and a touchdown. He struggled against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game -- unless you consider taking out Aqib Talib (knee) a success -- with just four catches for 38 yards on five targets, but he did score in the previous playoff game against the Chargers with six catches for 38 yards. The Seahawks have allowed a receiver to score in consecutive games with Marques Colston and Anquan Boldin, and I like Welker the best of Denver's receivers in the Super Bowl in terms of potential success.
Eric Decker (vs. SEA): Decker and Thomas have the chance to see the most attention from Seattle's best corners in Sherman and Maxwell, and that should be a tough matchup for both. Thomas is too good to consider benching no matter the opponent, but Decker has struggled enough of late to show us he might have another bad game. In two playoff games thus far, he's combined for seven catches for 105 yards, and he had a ball bounce off his chest in the end zone in the Divisional round against San Diego that led to an interception. If the Broncos keep Thomas on the right side then he'll likely see a lot of Sherman, meaning Decker will get Maxwell. That's no easy task, as Maxwell was targeted four times in the NFC Championship Game in coverage against Michael Crabtree and Boldin, and he held them to one catch for 22 yards. And if the Broncos move Decker to the right side, well then Sherman should have a significant edge. We'll see how the Broncos get creative with their passing attack, but Decker is prone to these disappearing acts since he went four games in the regular season without a touchdown. In ranking Denver's receivers this week, he's third behind Welker and Thomas, and I have no problem sitting him in any Playoff Challenge.
Doug Baldwin (at DEN): Baldwin was a hero for the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game with six catches for a season-high 106 yards, and he also added a 69-yard kickoff return. He did that despite playing through a significant hip injury suffered in the second quarter. The injury could come at the right time for Seattle with Percy Harvin (concussion) expected to return for the Super Bowl, and Harvin could slide into Baldwin's role should he be out. But even if Baldwin plays, his role will be reduced if Harvin is able to suit up as expected, so use caution when setting your lineup in any Playoff Challenge leagues. It was great to see Baldwin shine like he did against the 49ers, but Harvin's presence should douse any potential momentum. Besides, Baldwin has struggled on the road this season with only one game with double digits in Fantasy points. The good news was it came at the Giants in MetLife Stadium in Week 15 when he had six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown, but it was a game where Harvin didn't play.
Julius Thomas (vs. SEA): Thomas is among the best Fantasy tight ends -- he's No. 2 on my draft list for 2014 -- but that hasn't mattered to the Seahawks in the postseason. So far they have faced Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis in consecutive games and held them to a combined three catches for 24 yards, which is incredible. Now, Seattle has allowed six touchdowns to tight ends this season with three reaching double digits in Fantasy points. And the Broncos are going to spread out this Seattle defense to allow Thomas plenty of room to operate in single coverage. He also will likely get close to the nine targets by himself that Graham (six) and Davis (three) combined for against Seattle, since he has 18 targets in the two playoff games and hasn't had fewer than five targets in eight consecutive games. But this Seattle defense will make it tough on Thomas, who has gone three games in a row without a touchdown. He's easily the best tight end left for any Playoff Challenge leagues, but don't be surprised if he's held to single digits in Fantasy points for the sixth time in his past seven games based on the matchup.
My Playoff Challenge Team
Here's the progression of my Playoff Challenge teams starting with the Wild Card round:
QB: Andy Dalton, Bengals (49 units) 15 points
RB: Donald Brown, Colts (48 units) 21 points
RB: LeSean McCoy, Eagles (64 units) 14 points
WR: Anquan Boldin, 49ers (36 units) 3 points
WR: T.Y. Hilton, Colts (30 units) 34 points
TE: Vernon Davis, 49ers (38 units) 9 points
K: Alex Henery, Eagles (15 units) 6 points
DST: Eagles (20 units) 8 points
Then the Divisional round:
QB: Peyton Manning, Broncos (76 units) 19 points
RB: Donald Brown, Colts (48 units) 6 points
RB: Montee Ball, Broncos (21 units) 5 points
WR: Anquan Boldin, 49ers (36 units) 13 points
WR: T.Y. Hilton, Colts (30 units) 10 points
TE: Vernon Davis, 49ers (38 units) 6 points
K: Phil Dawson, 49ers (24 units) 11 points
DST: Broncos (27 units) 10 points
Then the Championship round:
QB: Peyton Manning, Broncos (76 units) 28 points
RB: Stevan Ridley, Patriots (33 units) 1 point
RB: Montee Ball, Broncos (21 units) 5 points
WR: Anquan Boldin, 49ers (36 units) 11 points
WR: Wes Welker, Broncos (41 units) 3 points
TE: Vernon Davis, 49ers (38 units) 1 point
K: Phil Dawson, 49ers (24 units) 5 points
DST: Broncos (27 units) 6 points
And now the Super Bowl:
QB: Peyton Manning, Broncos 76 units
RB: Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks 65 units
RB: Montee Ball, Broncos 21 units
WR: Empty (Player was eliminated)
WR: Wes Welker, Broncos 41 units
TE: Jacob Tamme, Broncos 6 units
K: Empty Player was eliminated
DST: Broncos 27 units
I only had two transactions remaining for the Super Bowl after losing Ridley, Boldin, Davis and Dawson. So it came down to finding the two players who made the most sense for the Super Bowl while leaving two empty spots. One was easy because of the kicker, which could come back to haunt me, but I'll take my chances with an empty spot there. The other decision was leaving the receiver or tight end open, and the units made the choice for me.
Since I went with Ball for the past two games I decided to add either Lynch or Moreno to get a stud running back, and I went with Lynch based on his incredible performance during the playoffs thus far. Through two games against New Orleans and San Francisco he has 50 carries for 249 yards and three touchdowns, and even the tough Broncos defense shouldn't slow him down too much. Since I already had Welker, I felt OK with my receiving corps since I'm concerned about Demaryius Thomas and Decker and don't have much faith in Seattle's receiving corps.
Using Lynch left me low on units, so I sacrificed at tight end and went with Tamme. As I stated above, don't be surprised if he makes a crucial play or two, and he had two catches for 24 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots last week. I'll need a lot to happen to catch up in the CBSSports.com Fantasy Staff buddy group since I'm currently at No. 117 out of the 1,293 entries. I have 250 points, and I'm 83 points behind the leader. At this point, I'm playing for pride, but good luck to everyone else in different leagues who still have the chance to win.