The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks showed there are two different routes to the Super Bowl.
The Broncos did it with offense. They rolled up the most yards (457.3 per game) in the NFL this season and scored more points (37.9 per game) than any other team in NFL history. Quarterback Peyton Manning's 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns were the most in NFL history.
The Seahawks did it with defense. Seattle allowed the fewest yards (273.6), fewest points (14.4) and fewest passing yards (172.0) per game and had the most takeaways (39), interceptions (28) and best turnover differential (plus-20) in the league in 2013.
Add it up either way, and each team finished 13-3. And next Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J., they will form the first matchup of No. 1 seeds in the Super Bowl since the 2009 season, when Manning's Indianapolis Colts lost to New Orleans in Super Bowl XLIV.
This will be only the second Super Bowl since 1970 in which the top-ranked offense meets the top-ranked defense. Tampa Bay's No. 1-ranked defense defeated Oakland's No. 1 offense 48-21 in Super Bowl XXXVII.
And this will be the fifth Super Bowl since 1970 that the top-ranked scoring defense meets the top-ranked scoring offense. The top-ranked scoring defenses are 3-1 in those games.
Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense beat Dallas in Super Bowl XIII; San Francisco beat Miami in Super Bowl XIX; and the New York Giants beat Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV. The only top-ranked offense to win was San Francisco over Denver in Super Bowl XXIV.
But the days of defenses winning championships changed in the 2000s with new the rules favoring offenses and with the proliferation of more sophisticated passing games led by Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Manning.
Could the Seahawks reverse the trend and go back to old-school defense winning the Super Bowl?
"That's a cool question," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "When you say Manning and Brady, you're talking about a couple of the greatest passers to ever play this game, in great systems that recognize how to utilize their talent at its fullest, and the best way to do that is let those guys throw the ball all over the yard. They could handle it and win championships doing it. That is what we're facing.
"Years before, I don't know if they were throwing the ball like that, so this is a new challenge in that regard. That statement that defense wins championships has been out there a long time. I don't know that it ever went away. We'll find out."
In scoring a record 606 points in the regular season, the Broncos topped 40 points in a team-record six games and tied the NFL record by exceeding 50 points in three games.
The Broncos became the first NFL team with five players scoring 10 touchdowns from scrimmage: wide receivers Demaryius Thomas (14), Eric Decker (11), Wes Welker (10) and tight end Julius Thomas (12) on receptions from Manning and running back Knowshon Moreno (10 rushing, three receiving).
"Nobody has ever taken more command of the game than he has at this stage of his career," Carroll said of Manning, "and the coaching staff has allowed that to happen where he can be in total command of what's going on. He sees every defense, he knows all the options, he makes his decisions all the way to the last second . . . there are few guys who have ever played the game that can do that.
"In the old days, quarterbacks called the plays, but they had a couple of formations. You go back to Joe Namath in the Super Bowl when he was running Matt Snell off of one side and throwing the ball out there . . . It was a different execution of the game.
"This is thrilling to have a chance to go against the best guys to ever play."
Seattle will counteract with perhaps the best secondary in the NFL led by loquacious cornerback Richard Sherman, who led the NFL in interceptions with eight.
Sherman's postgame tirade and attack of San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree after the NFC championship game was the talk of football last week, but he's showing a little more respect for Manning.
"We really embrace that man," Sherman said. "As a defense, we respect the heck out of Peyton Manning, but as a true competitor, as competitive as our team is, you wouldn't want to have it any other way. You want the best of the best; otherwise you don't feel like you're getting the biggest challenge of your life.
"If you lose, you understand that you lost to the best quarterback in the world and you can accept that. If you win, you understand that you were playing against the best quarterback in the world and it feels that much sweeter. It's just a competitive drive in you."
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