Super Bowl XLVIII has classic potential

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There’s little doubt Super Bowl XLVIII is a classic matchup on paper, or for more modern times, on a computer screen.

Pick a statistical category, almost any category, and either the Denver Broncos offense or Seattle Seahawks defense leads it.

Those teams not only led them, they were far and away better than anyone else during the regular season. Which are some of the reasons they made it this far after being the No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences.

So it’s only fitting that the top offense will go against the top defense when the Broncos (15-3) and Seahawks (15-3) meet to decide who’s the best of the best in Super Bowl XLVIII at 5:30 p.m. in MetLife Stadium.

After two weeks of nonstop talk, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell couldn’t resist adding some hype of his own during his annual league address Friday, saying the game has the “makings of a classic.”

Indeed.

The Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning, who was named the league’s MVP for a fifth time Saturday night, led the NFL in total yards, passing yards, first downs and points.

They’ll match up with a Seahawks defense led by two-time All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who helped his team lead the league in fewest total yards and passing yards, scoring defense and takeaways in the regular season.

It’s only the fifth time since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger the teams that led the league in scoring offense and scoring defense — the Broncos scored 37.9 points per game and Seahawks allowed 14.4 points per game — have met in the Super Bowl.

“I think a lot has been made of that and rightfully so,” said Broncos coach John Fox, who guided the Carolina Panthers into the Super Bowl 10 years ago. “Both sides have been fairly historic in what they’ve accomplished.

“I’m talking about Seattle’s defense and our offense,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a team game. I remind everybody there’s three phases of the game. My experience, in whether it’s been one of these games or any big spot, is who executes the best.”

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who is coaching in the Super Bowl for the first time, agreed that there is more to it than just Fox’s high-powered offense and his stingy defense.

“I really couldn’t agree more,” he said. “It’s obvious there’s an attraction to the defense and the offense; it’s a logical matchup to look for. It will be interesting to see if that is the story. ... Is it our defense vs. their offense?

“There are so many aspects to this,” Carroll added. “It’ll be wonderful to see what the storyline is afterwards. Our offensive guys are thinking about it and I’m sure his defensive guys are thinking about it, too. They want to be part of this whole factor.”

Of course, they’ll have a chance — along with the special teams from both sides — to play spoilers and steal the spotlight.

But it’s difficult to not think about the game’s marquee matchup: Manning and a deep receiving corps of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas going against a physical Seahawks secondary that features three Pro Bowlers in Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.

Manning, who had the most productive season for a quarterback in NFL history in setting single-season records with 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns, won’t exactly shy away from the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” secondary.

“On the teams I played on, I’ve always had some real good receivers, and we felt we had to try to get them the ball,” Manning said. “That was the best way for us to win. This team is no different.

“I think Seattle’s secondary has excellent cover corners, and you have to know who’s guarding your receiver on each play and what route that receiver is running. Their safeties are excellent as well.”

The Seahawks’ physical play has been a big topic for the past two weeks as well, but they don’t plan on backing down against the Broncos’ big receivers.

“Our physicality will always be there; that’s what we focus on,” said Sherman, who had a league-high eight interceptions among his team’s 39 takeaways.

“Whether they bring their physicality or not is on them. It’s the last game, so I’m sure everybody is going to put everything they have on the table.”