NFL: WeLCOme to THE cANNAbis BowL

Colorado and Washington both legalized marijuana this year. As a direct result, the Broncos and Seahawks tied for the best win-loss record in the league and represent their states in the Super Bowl. Maybe this year we’ll see a different type of Bud commercial!

OK, you probably can name reasons for the success of the Broncos and Seahawks other than the decriminalization of pot. But you might not understand why we focus on intangibles here rather than riffing off of cold, hard stats as we usually do. (Don’t worry, we’ll unpack the stats and hammer out our Lazy Line picks later this week.)

We promise, neither reefer madness nor psychodelia drove us to envision each team’s potential failure this Sunday. Sure, a bit of marijuana permeates the atmosphere around our home office, but contrarianism led us to zig-zag down this path, not a contact high. The truth is we’re sober enough to know you don’t find value focusing on the same factors as everyone else.

Dissing the Bronc-00s

In an era of rules changes designed to increase scoring, you’d expect the best offenses of this century to succeed wildly in the Super Bowl. But they haven’t. Recent history shows that flashy, pass-based offenses often crash to earth in the Super Bowl.

While media talking heads buff and shine their holy Manning icons and loudly spew their accolades of him, history whispers a darker tale. The high-flying Broncos are careening in the contrails and locking into the crash-paths of other offensive powerhouses that nosedived in the Super Bowl. Here’s the list of recent infamous groundings:

  • 2012 New England Patriots, who had 10 TDs and 76 points more than the next-best NFL offense
  • 2007 New England Patriots, with a perfect record built on the strength of its awesome aerial attack, featuring Touchdown Tommy and Randy Moss
  • 2005 Seattle Seahawks, a Holmgren-led, West Coast offense that led the NFL in scoring
  • 2004 Philadelphia Eagles, who boasted the best West Coast offense of Andy Reid’s career, featuring the well-behaving Terrell Owens as a top-notch deep threat
  •  2002 Oakland Raiders, with revitalized QB Rich Gannon and a bevy of Hall of Famers scoring more points than all other playoff-qualifying teams that year
  •  2001 St. Louis Rams, a.k.a. “The Greatest Show on Turf,” who racked up nearly 100 points more than any other NFL team

These teams with dominating offenses all lost the Big One, despite most of them entering the fray as favorites. But that was then. This time it’s different, right?

Peyton Manning shares the offensive spotlight with a solid running game. Unlike last year, victory doesn’t rest entirely on his rickety old shoulders and neck. Last year, the running attack was above average, but top back Knowshon Moreno suffered an injury early in the AFC Championship game. That allowed the Ravens to ignore the run, tear down Manning’s pass protection, jam receivers, and fill the passing lanes. That won’t happen this year.

Oh, I forgot. Knowshon Moreno was knocked out of the AFC Championship game again this year. Knowshon will be in the starting lineup for the Super Bowl, but will he survive more than one quarter of beatings from the very physical Seattle defense?

OK, let’s move to the other side of the ball. The Broncos line up a more stout and aggressive defense this year than last. This unit overcame injuries to its star players and developed other stars to replace them. That’s a heartwarming tale, but maybe we should ask the Patriots and Panthers what happens when a team goes deep into the playoffs without any defensive depth. Isn’t someone (everyone) on the Broncos defense going to get tired chasing Russell Wilson? Won’t a few Broncos’ starters pull up sore or injured from knocking heads with Marshawn Lynch? Who lines up when the overachieving Broncos’ backups walk off the field winded and battered? The backups to the backups, that’s who. The sub-understudies.

Broncos fans, despair not. It’s time to light up the pipe and listen to ruminations of how the Seahawks cannot win.

Slammin’ the Seahawks

Pete Carroll’s teams play with a lot of emotion. Mostly that brings out the best in his players. It can also bring out the worst. And I’m not talking about embarrassing post-game rants.

The Seahawks led NFL playoff teams in penalties. They play a physical, rule-bending brand of defense that draws more flags than a Memorial Day parade. Several weeks ago, 49ers’ coach Jim Harbaugh lobbied heavily for the refs to call a tighter game when Seattle traveled to SF. Harbaugh’s wish was granted, and his team edged the Seahawks 19-17. With the league’s most popular (most loved, most idolized) player taking center stage on offense for the Broncos, will the NFL seek to crack down on Seattle’s defenders? And, if so, can the Seahawks withstand Manning’s withering precision while playing hands-off pass defense?

Intense emotions also lead to sloppiness in pressure-packed situations, as players try to do too much. Ramped up and ready to roar at home vs. the 49ers, Seattle fumbled on its first play. Ramped up and ready to steamroll the 49ers on the goal line in the 4th quarter, Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch badly botched a simple handoff.

And when the emotions flatten out, as they sometimes do for the Seahawks on the road, performance sags. Last year in the playoffs, the traveling Seahawks showed no intensity in the opening quarters and fell far behind the Redskins and the Falcons. They found a way to come back in both games (although they lost to Atlanta). Will early-game flatness or mistakes find them trailing the Broncos by a few scores at the half? If so, can a struggling Wilson and inconsistent offense do more than trade points with Manning in the 2nd half?

Denver’s most glaring weakness is its defensive secondary. Unfortunately for Seattle, the chink in the Seahawks’ armor is its wide receivers. The Seattle receivers have great hands but little speed. The receiving corps boasts of no true deep threat. They often rely on Russell Wilson to buy time for them to get open. With the Denver secondary improved enough to slow down Tom Brady in their most recent effort, Russell Wilson might struggle to exploit Denver’s defensive backs.

If the refs handcuff the Seattle defense and the Seattle offense stumbles, the historically huge scoring gap between the Broncos and their opponents this year will widen even further.

Now that we’ve depressed fans of both teams, we should mention there’s a silver lining to our litany of criticisms. Whichever negative perspective pans out, fans of the losing team will have one extra option this year for easing their sorrows.

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