In Manning, Do You Trust?

The wise guys apparently do in Super Bowl XLVIII. This guy? Not so much.

Photo by Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports

Photo by Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports

Questions that immediately ran through my head the moment this Broncos-Seahawks Super Bowl matchup was finalized:

Can you really trust Peyton Manning to win the big one, something he’s done exactly once in his storied college and professional career? (Aside: His counterpart in that one victory—Super Bowl XLI, when the Colts beat the Bears 29-17—was Rex Grossman.)

Can you really trust Peyton Manning to win the big one when his noodle arm will be shot-putting the football in frigid and gusty conditions? (Aside: Manning is 0-3 in playoff games when the kickoff temperature is 32 degrees or less.)

Can you really trust Peyton Manning to win the big one when his noodle arm will be shot-putting the football in frigid and gusty conditions against what is by far the NFL’s best defense? (Aside: The Seahawks allowed a league-low 14.4 points and 273.6 yards per game in the regular season; Manning has faced exactly two top-10 defenses in 18 games: the Texans and Giants, whose combined record was 9-23.)

Clearly, the answer isn’t just “No,” it’s “Hell no!” … or so you would think. But then Las Vegas sportsbooks posted the initial line for Super Bowl XLVIII—it ranged from Seahawks minus-2 to pick-em—and money immediately poured in on Manning’s Broncos. And this wasn’t my money or (likely) your money. This was big money.

Wait … what? Surely, the wise guys know Manning’s history as well as (if not better than) I do. And surely they found Seattle’s run to the Super Bowl (beating the Saints and rallying past the 49ers) more impressive than Denver’s (beating a Chargers team that needed half a dozen miracles just to get into the playoffs and a Patriots team that was a shell of its former self).

Honestly, what are the sharps seeing that I’m not? OK, so the Broncos are countering the Seahawks’ top-ranked defense with the league’s top-ranked offense (one that scored more points than any team in history). But it’s not like Seattle hasn’t shut down talented quarterbacks this season; in nine games against Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Drew Brees (twice) and Colin Kaepernick (three times), Seattle allowed an average of 12.4 points—or two points per game fewer than its overall season average.

Of that group, only Luck had any real success against the Seahawks, leading the Colts to a 34-28 home victory. Important caveat, though: That game was played indoors in late summer, not outside in Jersey in mid-winter. More importantly, Luck can make plays with his feet; Manning’s about as mobile as my mother, and she’s got a fake hip.

Three more stats to chew on: 1) Only three teams (Colts, Cardinals, Buccaneers) scored more than 20 points against the Seahawks this season; 2) While the Broncos averaged a tick under 38 points per game overall in the regular season, they managed just 27.3 ppg in their last seven against three playoff teams (Chargers three times, Chiefs twice, Patriots twice); and 3) Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the No. 1 offense has faced the No. 1 defense five times in the Super Bowl. The defense is 4-1.

Cliché alert: Defense wins championships … especially when those defenses face noodle-armed quarterbacks who struggle to perform both in big games and in bad weather.

Yes, I hear you: But what about all the professional bettors, all much smarter than you, who love Denver? Yeah, well, what about the fact I’m 3-1 picking the Super Bowl since Vegas Seven debuted—with the only loss coming when I backed Manning in Super Bowl XLIV against the Saints?

Super Bowl selections: Seahawks +2½, Under 47½ (Prediction: Seahawks 24, Broncos 20).