There are so many Super Bowl Storylines every year. Some are real (Ray Lewis' last season ends with Dream Super Bowl Win?), and some are manufactured (Packers and Steelers, Oh My Gosh! What History!). This time, they don't really have to manufacture any. There are so many conflicting storylines that it beats last year (Brother vs. Brother, New-Age QB vs. Drop-Back QB) and matches up close to what Super Bowl XLII was. Anyway, let's get to the different storylines.
The Small Storylines:
Can Champ Bailey get a Ring?
I like all 1st-Ballot HOF-type players to win a ring sometime in their career. It just fits. Everyone that great should get the opportunity to bask in the glory of all the hard work they've put in. That's why I wanted the Ravens to win more last year than the 49ers, to see an All-Time Great like Ed Reed get a ring (Patrick Willis, whose resume is closer to 'All-Time Great' than most know, will get more chances). Only four players playing in Super Bowl XLVIII have played in a Super Bowl before (Peyton, Welker, DRC, Mike Adams), and only one (Manning) has won the Super Bowl before. Champ is the only other sure-fire Hall of Famer playing in this game. He waited 15 years to get this chance, and thankfully he's healthy enough to play in the game. Since he's played mostly inside since coming back, his matchup with Percy Harvin could actually play a giant role in this game.
Will Pete Carroll change the future prospects for All College Coaches?
There's a caveat here in that Pete Carroll was twice an NFL coach before becoming a College Coach, but he doesn't get the Seahawks job without his performance at USC. Pete Carroll was hired before the 2010 season. At that point, the most recent College coaches to get hired were of the Bobby Petrino, Nick Saban type. They failed. Carroll worked. He's turned the Seahawks into a defensive power by getting a little bit better each year, finding a new scheme to play, capitalizing on a market inneficiency (big-corners) that was much more important in a pass-happy NFL than it was earlier. He's done everything you can want from a head coach. The success of Chip Kelly, and potentially Doug Marrone, could help this as well, not to mention Jim Harbaugh, but Carroll was there first.
Which kind-of-illegal way of doing things will last, and which will be investigated in the offseason?
Both the Broncos and Seahawks specialize at doing something borderline illegal that counts on the referees not calling them on it. The Broncos run illegal screens a lot, marking a significant portion of their offense off of what the Patriots started. This was brought up in full by Belichick's ridiculous assertion that Welker committed one of the 'dirtiest plays he's ever seen', but while Welker's play was legal, many other Broncos plays are not. That evens out to what the Seahawks do on defense. Ex-officials have already said that the Seahawks pretty much grab and hold and do all the things 'Bill Polian made illegal' on almost every play in the plant that referees won't call them on it every time. It's true. The Seahawks pass-defense is spectacular, but they definitely do commit Illegal Contact and Defensive Holding quite often. Considering Peyton Manning has already lost an infamous game because of the ref's insistence on not calling Holding, I can't see it happening again. Either way, both quasi-illegal plans will be investigated this offseason.
The Four Big Ones
In a way, this is kind of a manufactured storyline in the extreme sense. Way too many people will write the "Manning is the Greatest QB in NFL History" story if the Broncos win, and way too many will write the "Manning Still Can't WIn the Big One Twice" story if the Broncos lose. That's manufactured importance since one game should never mean that much in a career of 250 games. That said, it will shut up a lot of idiots forever if Manning wins this game.If he can beat a great defense, in cold weather, to win his 2nd Super Bowl, what could people possibly say about him? That he doesn't have three?.... Actually, they most certainly will say that. Nothing will ever be good enough. It will always be a moving target for Peyton that he can never match. The more interesting part of Manning's legacy is that he could become the first QB to win Super Bowls starting for two teams. He's defined two different franchises. He immediately turned the Broncos into the best team in the NFL over the past two seasons. He's returned from an injury that easily could have been career ending and put together the best two-season run of statistical play in NFL history (Rodgers, 2011-12 comes close, as does Manning's 04-05) and might cap it off with a Super Bow. That's the better story than just the number two.
Can the Seaawks Start a Dynasty?
The NFL is starting to approach 10-years without repeat champions. The last two teams to win multiple Super Bowls are the Giants, who have missed the playoffs four of the past five seasons, and the Steelers, who have missed the playoffs the last two seasons. There are few easy candidates at a next potential dynasty, but the Seahawks are the clear leader. First, they have a cheap, young QB who will still be cheap for two more seasons. Plus, Wilson will likely not have the raw numbers to be paid like Luck (or Manning/Brady/Brees/Rodgers before him) and take up a giiant chunk of the cap. The Seahawks best players are all rather young. They have kept their coaching staff in-tact, have qualities of their home-field advantage that won't go away (noise). Everything about the Seahawks spells the best franchise in the NFL over the next five-to-ten years. Can it all begin in earnest this weekend? It hurts them going forward that either the 2nd or 3rd most likely next-dynasty is in their own division (49ers), but they can do what the 49ers didn't last season: win the Super Bowl.
Top-5 All Time Offense vs. Excellent Defense
Great offenses have played Great Defenses in the past in the Super Bowl, but there's never been something close to this. The closest I could think of was the 2002 Raiders vs. Buccaneers. While the Broncos offense is substantially better than that Raiders unit, that '02 Buccaneers defense was also substantially better than this Seahawks unit (both statements are jarring; random aside - how good was that Buccaneers defense? They held opposing QBs to a 48.4 QB-rating that season. That is stunningly incredible). No, this is something special. The Broncos are the highest scoring team of all time. They have the QB who, by volume, had the 'Greatest' season of all-time. They have four receivers who caught 10 TDs, and a running-back who had double digits as well. Both teams rank historically good by DVOA, the Broncos the 6th-best offense since 1989, and the Seahawks the 7th-best defense. I actually think both stats underrate the respective teams. The Seahawks cover like they were playing football in 1978, but do it in the most pass-happy era ever. The Broncos put up numbers that were never envisioned. Who can win this battle? Despite conventional thinking, the Great Offense has won a decent amount of these matchups (Steelers over Cowboys in '78, 49ers over Broncos in '89, Colts over Bears in '06). Defense Wins Championships is still meaningful, but historical offenses win as well.
Can a Cold Super Bowl Work?
I actually think this is the most important storyline of the game going forward for the NFL. If this Super Bowl goes off without too much of a hitch (which is probably anything but a blizzard that ruins traffic), cold weather Super Bowls could become a thing. There are loads of cities that would be great in hosting Super Bowls (Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Seattle). Obviously, good weather this time doesn't mean good weather a different time but the NFL is dumb that way. Just look at the reactions to Indianapolis and Denver. Indianapolis had an unseasonably-warm weather during Super Bowl week and had such a good response it is almost a lock to get another Super Bowl. Dallas had unseasonably-cold and bad weather that ensures it might not get it for a while despite its appealing qualities. Some of the most memorable NFL games were played in the cold, but if cold weather ruins the best matchup of this game (Denver's pass offense vs. Seattle's pass defense) the game will be remembered as a mess. If the wind doesn't play up and we get a competitive game (which the forecast six-days out makes that seem likely), this could be the start of something. Even if the game goes well, I can't see this being more than a once-a-decade sort of thing, but the rotation needs to be opened more, especially with the NFL essentially black-balling Miami and Atlanta until they build new stadiums. The future of the NFL depends on this game.