Thursday, January 30, 2014

Reverse of 77: I pick the Broncos over Seahawks in the Super Bowl

Turn the clock back to the Broncos first Super Bowl appearance at the end of the 1977 season.  Denver, led by the best defense in the league, a terrific home field advantage, and just enough offense to be dangerous beat two perennial power house teams at home in the playoffs (the Steelers and defending Super Bowl champ Raiders) before meeting Dallas in the Super Bowl.  That veteran Cowboy team handled the upstart Broncos easily, 27-10.

The Seattle Seahawks this year remind me of that 77 Broncos team.  With the best home field advantage in the NFL and the #1 defense, Seattle beat what I felt was a superior San Francisco team in the NFC title game in a highly emotional game.  Just like the Broncos beat a better Oakland team to win the AFC in 1977.  The clock struck midnight for the Cinderella Broncos in Super Bowl XII, just as I feel it will for the Seahawks in this year's Super Bowl.  I believe the Broncos will win.

Now I admit I am a Broncos homer, a lifetime fan and long time season ticket holder.  On this blog I correctly picked the Broncos playoff wins over San Diego and New England.  Super Bowl 48 won't be a slam dunk for the Broncos, I'll give some reasons to fear the Seahawks below, but I think in the end the Broncos experience in the big game at the quarterback position will win out.

Why I like the Broncos to win on Sunday:

Peyton Manning.  He's had the best season of his career, he's healthy, and he has one Super Bowl championship under his belt.  By contrast Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is only in his 2nd year making his first appearance in the Super Bowl.  Wilson struggled with his passing in his last four games, only passing over 200 yards once.  Manning is coming off a 400 yard passing game vs New England in the AFC Championship.

Other Super Bowl Experience.  Broncos head coach John Fox lost a Super Bowl when he was coaching Carolina, and he was New York's defensive coordinator for the Giants 2001 Super Bowl team.  In addition to Manning, the Broncos have Wes Welker, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, and exec John Elway who have played in the big game before.  Seattle's head coach, Pete Carroll, has never been to a Super Bowl as a coach or a spectator, and little used receiver Ricardo Lockette is the only Seahawk with any Super Bowl experience.  The history of the Super Bowl is full of losing teams that made their first appearance in the game (like those 77 Broncos).

Denver's rushing defense.  Seattle's biggest threat is running back Marshawn Lynch, who has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the Seahawks two playoff wins.  The Broncos enter the Super Bowl playing their best rush defense of the season, holding the Chargers and Patriots to under 70 yards rushing in each game.

Today's NFL.  An old axiom is "good defense always beats good offense".  That no longer applies in today's pass happy NFL, where teams with good offenses have had success in the Super Bowl.  Three of the past four Super Bowl winners have scored over 30 points in the game.  

Why Seattle has a chance:

Turnovers.  Seattle's defense is opportunistic, and Peyton Manning has thrown crucial interceptions in playoff losses in the past (like his game clinching interception to Tracy Porter in Super Bowl 44, and his overtime interception in last year's Baltimore playoff game which led to the Ravens victory that day.

The preseason game.  The Seahawks beat the Broncos in this season's preseason matchup, winning 40-10.  The preseason doesn't mean much, you may ask?  Well that day Seattle physically dominated Denver, even when the starters for both teams saw action in the first half.  Over the years I've seen physical teams like the Seahawks beat finesse teams like the Broncos in playoff games more often than not.

Percy Harvin.  Seattle wide receiver Percy Harvin has missed most of the season due to injuries.  He is reportedly healthy now and will be a key player for the Seahawks on Sunday.  The last time the Broncos faced Harvin, when he played for Minnesota, he had 156 receiving yards, 2 td's, and also carried the ball 5 times out of the backfield.  The multipurpose Harvin is also a threat on punt and kick returns.  

Russell Wilson's mobility.  Bronco fans are sure to remember the scrambling ability of Tim Tebow from the quarterback position.  Seattle's Russell Wilson has that ability to make plays with his feet, too, and with a much more accurate arm than Tebow has.

Yes, the Seattle matchup won't be easy for Denver.  I expect Sunday's game to be close through three quarters, with the Broncos pulling away at the end to win by 10 to 20 points.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My pick: Broncos over Patriots in AFC Championship game

This morning I have a feeling of excitement I've only had five other times in my life - the anticipation of attending an AFC Championship game in Denver.  I will get to my prediction on today's game in a bit.  First a brief look back at those other AFC Championship games:

January 1, 1978: Denver 20 Oakland 17
Whatever happens today, it will not top this game in terms of what it meant to the Broncos franchise and to the city.  A first time playoff team, the Broncos had beaten the powerhouse Pittsburgh Steelers the week before and faced another tall test in the defending Super Bowl champion Raiders.  "The Broncos are going to the Super Bowl!!!!" was long time Bronco announcer Bob Martin's call as the final seconds ticked off the clock.  This game was the best sporting event I ever attended in Denver.

January 17, 1988: Denver 38 Cleveland 33
A rematch of the historic "Drive" game of the year before, this high scoring affair had its own drama at the end when Cleveland's Earnest Byner fumbled as it appeared he was going in for the tying touchdown in the final seconds of the game.  I was in the South Stands and had a clear view of the fumble - the transition from impeding doom to exhileration among the bronco fans in the stadium was something I'll always remember.

January 14, 1990: Denver 37 Cleveland 21
The only easy victory of the AFC Championship games played in Denver, this game did not have the drama of the previous Broncos/Browns title matchups.

January 17, 1999 Denver 23 NY Jets 10
The Jets were ahead 10-0 in this game in the 3rd quarter before the Broncos stormed back with 23 straight points to win going away.  On a very windy day in the last playoff game played at the old Mile High Stadium, this one was tense for more than one half of the game before John Elway and Terrell Davis got it in gear in the second half.  Current Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was the Jets defensive coordinator that day.

January 22, 2006: Pittsburgh 34 Denver 17
The only AFC Championship loss at home for the Broncos, this game was the reverse of the 1990 game.  Pittsburgh raced out to a 24-3 lead in the first half and the Steelers were never challenged.  Many Bronco fans rate the 1996 season Jacksonville playoff loss as the worst home loss in franchise history.  I disagree - I think it was this game.  In 1996 I doubt the Broncos would have won the Super Bowl as they would have faced a Green Bay team at its peak under Brett Favre.  If the Broncos had beat Pittsburgh I am confident they would have won the Super Bowl against an overmatched Seattle team as the Steelers did two weeks later.

On to today's game.  I'm confident the Broncos will win.  The weather will be good (high in the 60's with little wind) - perfect for Peyton Manning and the Broncos pass oriented attack.  Manning has all his weapons for this game (they didn't have Julius Thomas for the first New England game, and Welker missed some games at the end of the season).  Losing Chris Harris is no doubt a blow to the Broncos defense but they've had all week to come up with a plan to compensate for that, not an in game decision like what happened against the Chargers.  Tom Brady historically has not played well in Denver.

I'd feel very differently if the game was in New England (before the season I predicted an AFC Championship game loss for the Broncos assuming the game would be at the Patriots' home field).  Of the previous 5 afc title games in Denver I was most confident the Broncos would beat the 6th seeded Steelers and their rookie quarterback in 2006, and least confident they'd beat the Raiders in 1978.  Both of those games did not turn out like I expected, so a Patriots win today would not be a total surprise to me.  But my gut tells me the Broncos are headed to the Super Bowl later this afternoon.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Expect Peyton's revenge on Sunday

Peyton Manning's team had the division title all but wrapped up when they faced another AFC playoff contender in a December regular season home game.  Manning's high powered offense was sure to beat this marginal AFC playoff hopeful right?  Wrong!  This AFC team upset Manning's team that day, in one of the biggest surprises of the NFL season.

The San Diego Chargers defeating Peyton Manning's Broncos last month in Denver?  No, the season I am referring to was 2003, when the Denver Broncos beat Manning's Colts in Indianapolis in the second to last game of the season.  The Broncos won that day with a strong running game (136 yards from Quintin Griffin and a defensive scheme that confused Manning, holding Peyton to 146 passing yards and no td's.

That 2003 Denver upset was very similar to this season's Chargers win in Denver.  San Diego kept the ball away from Manning with a strong running game, just like the 2003 Broncos did from Peyton's Colts.

Was the 2003 Bronco win a preview of what would happen when the two teams met in the playoffs two weeks later, again on Peyton's home field?  No!  Manning's Colts easily won the playoff rematch, 41-10.  Whatever Denver did on defense the first game did not work in the rematch.

I expect the same type of result tomorrow.  Peyton Manning, with two weeks to prepare for the Chargers, will have a much better day than he did in the regular season Charger game.  Fans seem to think that because San Diego played Denver so tough in the December regular season game, that they can duplicate the result in the playoffs.  I think Peyton gets his revenge against the Chargers and the Broncos win on Sunday, just like Peyton's Colts got their revenge against the 2003 Broncos in the playoffs.