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Peyton Manning has the opportunity to add another historic accomplishment to his stellar NFL career.
Standing in the way of him and the high-scoring Denver Broncos’ offense are the Seattle Seahawks, who hope their intimidating defense will help make history of their own.
Manning looks to become the first starting quarterback to lead two franchises to a Super Bowl title Sunday night when the Broncos face the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium.
For the first time since the New York Giants beat Buffalo 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV following the 1990 season, the NFL’s top-ranked offense from Denver (15-3) will face the top-rated defense in Seattle (15-3).
The last time two No. 1 seeds also played for the league title came following the 2009 season, when New Orleans won 31-17 over an Indianapolis team led by Manning in Super Bowl XLIV.
“It will be a great matchup,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
The first outdoor Super Bowl played in a cold-weather city within the league’s biggest media market provides a unique backdrop, but much of the focus has remained on Manning.
After undergoing a series of neck operations that forced him to miss the 2011 season for the Colts, Manning earned the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award last season when he threw for 4,659 yards with 37 touchdowns while leading the Broncos to a 13-3 record.
They lost to eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore 38-35 in overtime in the divisional round, a stunning defeat in a game Denver appeared to have locked up before a 70-yard Ravens touchdown pass tied the game with less than a minute left.
Poised to help his team take the next step, Manning opened the 2013 season by throwing an NFL record-tying seven touchdowns in a 49-27 rout of Baltimore. That set the tone for the rest of the season, as he went on to set league records with 5,477 passing yards and 55 TDs for a team that averaged NFL bests of 37.9 points, 340.3 passing yards and 457.3 total yards.
“To have the kind of season he’s had to this point this year, I think is unprecedented,” said Denver coach John Fox, the sixth coach to take two teams to a Super Bowl.
Regardless of the outcome Sunday, Manning, who turns 38 in March, doesn’t appear ready to call it a career. He also remains humble when talking about his place in NFL history.
However, Carroll and his team are confident, and certainly not concerned that they’re the first team since the 1990 Bills to not have a player with Super Bowl experience on the roster. The Seahawks lost 21-10 to Pittsburgh in their only previous Super Bowl appearance following the 2005 season.
“I’ve never seen experience play in games,” said talented but polarizing Seattle cornerbackRichard Sherman.
Led by Sherman and a hard-hitting secondary known as the “Legion of Boom,” the Seahawks topped the NFL in points (14.4), total yards (273.6) and passing yards (172.0) allowed. They forced a league-high 39 turnovers and, paced by ends Michael Bennett andCliff Avril, tied for eighth with 44 sacks.
“They are as good as advertised,” said Manning, who has completed 67.5 percent of his passes for 580 yards with two TDs and two interceptions in his two Super Bowls.
“Probably one of the more impressive things is how well they play together as a unit.”
The Seahawks flexed their defensive muscle during the NFC championship game by forcing three fourth-quarter turnovers, including an interception that came off a deflection by Sherman in the end zone to seal the 23-17 win over San Francisco.
Sherman followed that game with an angry 20-second on-air rant directed at receiver Michael Crabtree, one which went on to spark a debate over sportsmanship and racial attitudes. He’s been more subdued and focused on the matter at hand this week.