By Steve Silverman
(CBS) — The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks are taking their last deep breaths. Once they arrive in the New York metropolitan area on Sunday, they will be stuck in a double vortex.
It’s going to be cold in New York City and Northern New Jersey once again. Just like Chicago, that area is experiencing its most brutal winter in decades and has been in the middle of a polar vortex. That area will be visited by a crushing load of media interlopers this week, making it a media vortex as well.
How those factors will impact Super Bowl XLVIII is hard to estimate, but Peyton Manning has been there twice before (with the Colts), while Russell Wilson has only watched it on television. The guess here is that neither side will be cowed by the weather or media demands.
That’s because they have both been steeled on the road to the Super Bowl. The journey to this year’s Super Bowl began last year for both teams, with crushing defeats in the divisional playoff round.
The Broncos were the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs following the 2012 season, and they hosted the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the playoffs. The Ravens were formidable with Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs on defense, and the combination of Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Anquan Boldin on offense made the Ravens a difficult first playoff game.
But the Broncos had handled all challenges during the year. They were significant favorites, but they couldn’t shake the Ravens. It wasn’t until Manning hit Demaryius Thomas with a 17-yard fourth-quarter TD pass that the Broncos could feel good about the outcome. That gave them a 35-28 lead and they held it until the final seconds when Flacco hit Jacoby Jones with a game-tying 70-yard TD pass.
The Ravens would stun the Broncos in double overtime when Justin Tucker kicked a 47-yard game-winning field goal.
That game served as the team’s focus throughout the offseason and training camp. No player on the team lost sight of that game during the 2013 season, and it helped to keep the Broncos balanced when the Broncos got off to a 9-1 start.
“You don’t forget games like that,” Manning said. “You try to figure out what went wrong and you are motivated not to let it happen again. It fueled everybody in this lockerroom.”
The Broncos ran off to a hot start, but they weren’t truly tested until they hosted the Chiefs in Week 11. The Broncos were 8-1 at the time, while the shocking Chiefs were 9-0 and coming off a bye week. The Broncos put the Chiefs away with relative ease, hammering out a 27-17 victory that saw Manning throw for 323 yards and a touchdown and Knowshon Moreno run for 79 yards. Two weeks later, the Broncos would put the Chiefs away by beating them 35-28 in Kansas City.
Denver punched its ticket to the Super Bowl and passed its final test in last week’s 26-16 victory over New England. The hurdle was largely a mental one because the Patriots’ combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady remained a formidable one. The Pats had beaten the Broncos in a memorable come-from-behind game in Foxboro earlier in the year, but they did not have the weapons on offense to match the Broncos and their defense was severely weakened by injury.
Still, Manning had to stare down Brady, and had struggled in that matchup in the past. Not this time, as the Broncos dominated from the start and came home with a 26-16 victory.
Seattle took much of its motivation from last year’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional playoffs. Trailing 27-7 in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks roared to the front as Wilson drove them to three touchdowns and a 28-27 lead in the Georgia Dome.
The Falcons had been the top seed in the NFC and they did not go easily. Matt Ryan led them downfield and they got a game-winning 49-yard field goal from Matt Bryant to eliminate the Seahawks.
Seattle had joined the fight in that playoff game, but it came much too late. Head coach Pete Carroll and Wilson would not let that happen in 2013, as the Seahawks passed every test they had during the regular season and rolled to an 11-1 start.
The key game in that start was their 29-3 Week Two victory over the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field. Marshawn Lynch ran for two touchdowns and caught another from Wilson in that game, while the ferocious Seattle defense pummeled Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick and intercepted him three times.
That allowed the Seahawks to sit in the No. 1 position in the NFC, and they confirmed it with their thrilling 23-17 win over San Francisco in last week’s NFC Championship game. Richard Sherman made the decisive play, tipping a potential game-winning touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree into the arms of teammate Malcolm Smith for the game-winning interception.
“That’s what we have come to expect,” said Seahawks wideout Doug Baldwin. “Our defense is going to make the big play whenever we are in a crucial situation. They have been doing it all season.”
Both teams have passed all their tests this season after painful losses crushed them last year. They have earned their spots in this cold-weather Super Bowl and neither team appears to have an emotional edge over the other.