NEW YORK — Here's why the Broncos will defeat the Seahawks, 31-21.
One: The quarterback
This game is about much more than the Peyton Manning-Russell Wilson matchup. I know this.
I also know this game pits Manning, one of football history's greatest passers, against Wilson, who has struggled so far in the playoffs. The Seahawks-Broncos matchup is, in many ways, extremely close.
But this quarterback matchup offers a vast canyon of superiority for the Broncos.
Two: The first three quarters
The Broncos outscored the Chargers and the Patriots 37-3 in the first three quarters. Both games should have been routs, but Denver allowed both opponents to remain within distant striking distance.
During those first three quarters, though, the Broncos were utterly dominating. For much of the season, the Broncos struggled in the first half before overwhelming teams in the final two quarters.
The Broncos have grown, and now find ways to jump on teams early. I see the Broncos jumping on the Seahawks early and learning from their recent fourth-quarter struggles.
Three: The defense
I bought into the common view of the Broncos. This was a lopsided team, powerful on offense and borderline weak on offense. The Broncos followed this script for much of the season, surrendering 48 to the Cowboys, 39 to the Colts and 34 to the Patriots.
But the defenders are gaining momentum, even after a season-ending injury to Von Miller. In the Broncos' past four games, the defense has allowed a total of 70 points and has been as impressive as the offense except for a porous fourth quarter against the Chargers.
Four: The health of Champ Bailey
When cornerback Chris Harris crumpled to the ground against the Chargers, a fresh question began to dominate the sports conversation in Colorado:
Who would replace Harris?
Turns out, the answer was easy.
Bailey, one of the NFL's all-time cornerback greats, is healthy after a season plagued with foot problems. He's no longer the dominating defensive back who inspired quarterbacks to throw everywhere but his direction, but he was effective and looked free of foot problems against the Patriots.
He's an inspirational presence on the field for the Broncos. On Friday, a reporter asked Broncos coach John Fox about how much the team wants to win an NFL title for Manning.
Fox was quick to mention that the Broncos have two venerable players on the roster.
Peyton and Champ.
Five: The tight end
The Seahawks are seeking to slow the Broncos' deep array of receivers, and they may enjoy some success. Maybe the Legion of Boom will stifle a few of Denver's receivers, but even a legion can't silence everyone.
I expect tight end Julius Thomas to emerge as Sunday's surprise hero. He's too fast for linebackers. He's too brawny for defensive backs. And he's developed a special bond with Manning.
O'ConnellSeattle vs. DenverBroncosBroncosBroncosLAST TIME1-11-12-0OVERALL171-94-1160-105-1168-97-1