I have gone back and forth over the last two weeks on who I would select for Super Bowl XLVIII. It is the classic matchup between the most explosive offense in pro football against the top ranked defense in pro football.
My heart is with Peyton Manning. I have known Peyton since he was a very young child and there was no doubt even back then he was going to be a football player, but even in my wildest imagination would I have thought that he would be amongst the greatest to ever play the position and the game.
Manning is just not a Louisiana product, but he has done something in sports very few people have done.
He is name-brand and it is all because of what he has done on the field as arguably the best regular season quarterback in the history of the league.
Throwing for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns in 2013 is just a remarkable feat today.
Peyton is also coming back from a neck injury many thought would end his football career and he has accomplished those numbers at 37 years old.
This will be his third Super Bowl, but he knows as well as anyone how hard it is to play on Super Bowl Sunday.
He may never get this chance again and with a team that is built to highlight his own best features because of his accuracy skills and timing.
A win today would put him at another level because he would become the first quarterback in NFL history to win a Super Bowl with two different teams.
But he is up against a defense that is unique in modern pro football history.
In the modern era there always has been a team and a quarterback that has gotten the best of the top defenses over the past 35 years in a respective season.
The rules today give the offenses a great advantage to take full mileage of throwing the ball downfield and it is a different era of pro football, but how the Seahawks play defense is throwback style.
Most people think the 1985 Chicago Bears defensive unit was the best in modern times, but even that great Bears defense was lit up by the aerial circus performed by Dan Marino in their only loss of the season to the Miami Dolphins.
The Seahawks have lost 3 games this season, but no quarterback has lit them up.
The Seahawks have the best secondary in the NFL led by the best cover-cornerback in the league in Richard Sherman, the best free safety in the business in Earl Thomas and one of the top strong safeties in the league in Kam Chancellor.
The Seahawks linebackers are underrated, but they are a talented and fast unit and I have not seen a linebacker group get to the edge so quickly on screen and swing passes to the backs.
But what makes the Seahawks defense percolate is their ability to get good initial pressure on a quarterback. It is not all about sacks, but the ability to get pressure that affects the timing of the pass downfield and it causes hesitation from the signal-caller.
That is the key to this football game.
Can the Denver Broncos offensive line handle the pressure put on by the very athletic front of the Seahawks?
If they can, the Broncos win this football game because the Seahawks can't match them point for point, but no offensive line has been able to protect their quarterback throughout a game and given that signal-caller the opportunities to make big plays downfield against the Seahawks in 2013 or in the early part of 2014.
The Seahawks secondary has given up some big plays, but when you break down the tape it has mostly come on great catches by a wide receiver and plays in which a quarterback breaks away from the pressure and makes a big throw off the run.
This is what makes this matchup great. The best tactician in the game offensively in Peyton Manning going up against the top ranked defense with the best secondary and a front four that has consistently disrupted quarterbacks all season long.
Drew Brees is one of the top five players in the league today and he had two shots at the Seahawks and the Saints couldn't figure it out.
Some will say the plays were there, but the Saints offense couldn't piece it together to defeat the Seahawks.
Sean Payton is the most innovative offensive mind in the game and he had difficulties in both contests this season.
Now, it is Peyton Manning’s turn.
The other factor is that all season long referees have let NFL secondaries pull, tug, hold, snag and maneuver wide receivers and tight ends long beyond the five yard limit.
You could literally call illegal contact or holding on every play, but the league is set up so much today with rules to favor the offensive side of the ball that they have given leeway to defenses to almost get away with a football version of a mugging at times downfield.
And no one does it better than the Seahawks.
On Super Bowl Sunday don't think that they will call this game close. They don't want constant interruptions and they will let a lot go on deep downfield.
The key player for Denver is slot-wide receiver Wes Welker. While the Seahawks may be able to play bump and run coverage with the outside receivers they will not be able to do that to Welker-if he is in the slot and he becomes the dump-off target for Peyton when quick pressure comes.
What he does after the catch is key.
The Seahawks don't need to have Russell Wilson play great, but good and him not to make a huge mistake by turning the ball over.
Wilson can't throw the ball as accurately as Brees, Manning, Brady or Aaron Rodgers, but he makes 3 to 4 big plays each game by his improvisational skills and his ability to break away from pressure and make a big play on the move.
Wide Receiver Percy Harvin is the "X" factor for Seattle and he has only played one full game in 2013.
We all saw Harvin heavily involved in the Seahawks offense before New Orleans Saints safety Rafael Bush put the football lumber to him, not once, but twice at playoff time. The big question mark is not the talent of Harvin and his potential big play skills, but can he hold up physically for an entire game.
Despite Harvin not playing for most of the 2013 season we have all seen Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate or tight end Zach Miller make a big play or two during a game.
Seattle is not a pass-oriented football team. They want to run the ball with an offensive line now healthy, and the toughest in-between the tackles runner in the game in Marshawn Lynch.
And the Seahawks are patient running the ball. It doesn't matter to them if in the first half Lynch has only 40 yards on 11 carries. In many games it has happened, but his wear down approach normally gets him 120 yards on 23 carries.
He is like a body punching boxer who just wears away at you and most of the time he succeeds. Each week Lynch takes on opponents with a relentless running style and routinely takes on multiple would-be tacklers for extra yardage.
Denver's defense has been outstanding the past few weeks against the run despite playing without five key starters, but they haven't gone up against a runner like Lynch in that timeframe.
Just a gut feeling, but I feel as though like what we saw a few years back between the New England Patriots and New York Giants on Super Bowl Sunday that this game will be just like Super Bowl XLII and a defensive affair.
I am picking the Seahawks to win 23-20 over the Broncos.
If Peyton Manning has a huge game and the Broncos win there will be no more doubters of just how good Mr. Manning has been and is, and watch if a host of NFL teams try and copycat what the Broncos did to give Manning the best chance to succeed.
They have surrounded the future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback with the best group of wide receivers/tight ends in the league and teams with star or future standout NFL quarterbacks like New England, New Orleans, Indianapolis, Carolina, Green Bay-and to an extent they already have done this, San Francisco and Seattle will do the exact same thing.
This is a team game, but it helps to have a star quarterback lead the way, and to have as many big-play weapons as you can on one team.
Today is the ultimate team match-up and the NFL could not have written a better script.
Mike picks the Green Bay Packers to win the Super Bowl.
Read his Houma Courier column here.