One thing the guys on the Grantland NFL podcast like to do is "upset stories." It's pretty straightforward: pick an underdog, and describe what the game has to look like for that underdog to win outright. If you can't come up with a plausible story, it might be a sign that the upset is unlikely to happen. It's not a scientific handicapping method or anything, but I think it's a fun way to reexamine the assumptions you're bringing into the game.
I thought it would be fun to do a similar thing for the upcoming super bowl: if one team is going to win in a blowout, what will the game have to look like? I think a decent chunk of the country is assuming a Broncos blowout "because Peyton Manning" without really looking at the matchup, and completely ignoring the chance of a Seattle blowout win.
Disclaimer: I am a huge Seattle homer. I think the most likely scenario is Seahawks in a close game, but I would love to see a 56-10 Seattle victory where they split the MVP vote between Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch because they both had four TDs.
I see two scenarios where the Broncos could win big.
Tissue Paper Defense
It turns out during the game that the Seahawks' defense isn't that good. All of those gaudy numbers they racked up during the season were due to playing inferior quarterbacks like Colin "One Read" Kaepernick, Carson "Old Man" Palmer, and Drew "Ignore this data point" Brees.
Peyton Manning picks apart the defense with ease, running out to a big lead. Once the Seahawks are in a hole the offense has to abandon the run and throw the ball in a desperate bid to catch up, and the Denver defense feasts on the risky throws made by the inexperienced Russell Wilson.
This seems to be the popular internet comment board analysis.
Why it won't happen: Drew Brees is pretty good. Not quite on Peyton Manning's level, but in the same conversation. That doesn't mean the Seahawks are holding the Broncos to 11 points, but it suggests to me that they aren't exactly ripe to be shredded by the first elite QB they play. I think this also undersells Russell Wilson a bit--pop in your game tape from the second half at Atlanta last year and I think you won't be so sure he's going to collapse at the first sign of a deficit.
The Denver Broncos' defense has shut down both of their playoff opponents through the first three quarters of each game, not surrendering any touchdowns until after the game was well in hand. If they can carry that same level of performance into the Super Bowl, they can shut down the struggling Seahawk offense and win a relatively low scoring blowout, 28-7 or so.
Why it won't happen: The Seattle offense is different from what San Diego and New England try to do. Not necessarily better, but different enough that shutting down one type of offense means that you'll shut down the other. Take Pot Roast's big sack on 4th and 2. Does anybody in the world think Russell Wilson goes down in that same situation? Also, if you think shutting down a gimpy Ryan Matthews and LeGarrette Blount means you're set to take on Beast Mode... well, I'll be stocking up on Skittles.
I actually think this is more likely than the first scenario. Sometimes a defensive unit just plays out of its mind in the playoffs after being mediocre all year--look at the 2006 Colts. I don't think it's particularly likely, though, and they certainly haven't proven they can shut down a mobile quarterback. Yes, they played some mobile QBs during the regular season and did ok, but that was part of their general mediocrity; they haven't shown that the current run of excellence will hold up against an elusive guy like RW3.
For some reason, these aren't quite getting the same public attention as the Broncos stories.
One of Bill Simmons's pet theories: if you take a guy who has been playing Madden for three months on All-Madden mode and a guy who has been playing on Veteran mode, the guy who has been playing tougher competition is going to win their head to head matchup. The gist of this story would be that while Denver has been putting up gaudy numbers on cupcake competition, Seattle has been in a rockfight in the NFC West. The Broncos are going to be unprepared for the physicality that the Seahawks bring on both sides of the ball, and Peyton Manning is going to be on the turf contemplating retirement while Michael Bennet does his sack dance, forever.
Basically, picture a Bills-Cowboys Super Bowl. The Bills had a high flying offense that nobody in the AFC could stop, and then they played a real team. The NFC seemed to hang up one of these every other year or so throughout my childhood (Washington 42 Denver 10, Chicago 46 New England 10, San Francisco 55 Denver 10, Dallas 52 Buffalo 17, and so on).
Why this isn't going to happen: Denver has been playing real NFL teams. They're not Alabama fattening up on Moorehouse State. Also, DVOA adjusts for the level of your opponent, and the Denver offense is the best DVOA has ever seen. Peyton Manning is for real, and his passes are spectacular. The Seahawks can slow down the Mechanical Organism Designed Only for Completions, but he's not going to have a Kaepernick-style meltdown that just hands the game over to the Hawks.
Release the Harvin
The Seahawks' offense has been pretty good all year. Now they're adding Percy Harvin for the Super Bowl. A full speed Percy Harvin first burns the Broncos, then opens up space for everybody else as the defense is forced to focus on him. Essentially the Seahawks offense with Harvin is to the regular season offense what the 2007 Patriots offense was to the pre-Moss Patriots offense. The defense is good enough to slow Denver down and the Seahawks win 56-28 or so.
Why this isn't going to happen: I think this is a little more likely than the All-Madden story. The combination of Percy's speed and athleticism and Russell's ability to fling the deep ball is something that I expect to strike fear into the hearts of defensive coordinators for the next five years. But I think it's a little much to expect everything to come together perfectly with such a short time to pull it together.
Any scenarios that I'm missing? Or is one of these so compelling that you think for sure it's going to happen? The Super Bowl is still eight days away, and pointless speculation is the best way I can think of to pass the time.