Manning, Wilson potential Super Bowl opponents

It was a great opening weekend for the Warrior defenses. Kapaa High School pitched a shutout in its 23-0 win over Waimea, Friday night at Vidinha Stadium in the Kauai Interscholastic Federation opener. The University of Hawaii also showed a very stout and sturdy defense against USC on Thursday at Aloha Stadium, though the Warriors took the 30-13 loss.

Defense is typically ahead of offense in Week 1, and that proved true in much of the NCAA action this weekend. While the UH offense left much to be desired and provided little to cheer about until a meaningless (unless the number 23 was of relevance to you) touchdown with 30 seconds to play, the defense put pressure on the young Trojan quarterbacks and didn’t give the skill players much room to operate. It was a positive step for a mostly inexperienced unit and should give them the confidence to be competitive in the Mountain West.

But looking ahead at the meat course, the NFL gets its Week 1 action underway this coming week. Each of the past three Sundays, we’ve identified the lowest of the lows, the surprise teams and the contenders. Well, it’s time to differentiate Super Bowl aspirations from a Super Bowl appearance. Without further ado, here’s the pair of teams I expect to be running through the tunnel at my old New Jersey stomping grounds for Super Bowl XLVIII…

Denver Broncos – It seems like a now or never season for Peyton Manning and the talent surrounding him. While we weren’t sure what to expect last year, Manning put any fears about his neck to rest with one of the best statistical seasons of his prolific career. Now, expectations are at a lofty peak in the Mile High City.

Head coach John Fox has a defense he can be very proud of, though he will be without starting linebacker Von Miller for the first six games of the season. Miller was suspended by the league for violating the substance abuse policy. While the departure of linebacker Elvis Dumervil is also a blow to one of last season’s best units, the cornerback tandem of Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie keeps opposing wideouts in check. They have very capable linebackers in Shaun Phillips and Wesley Woodyard and defensive end Derek Wolfe had 6.0 sacks as a rookie in 2012. Those three will attempt to fill the void left by Miller until Week 7.

The team used its second-round pick on rookie running back Montee Ball, though it’s still unclear how snaps and carries will be divvied up between Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno. It will probably be the dreaded running back by committee that us fantasy players loathe. The receiving crew is even deeper and far more talented. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker had career seasons in their first go-rounds with Manning and the Broncos poached reception machine Wes Welker from the Patriots, just to give their star QB another toy to play with.

There are major question marks in New England and Baltimore, which vaults Denver and the Houston Texans to the top of the AFC totem pole. I see those two teams separating themselves and squaring off in the AFC Championship Game, with the Broncos getting to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1998.

Seattle Seahawks – I said in a previous column that I thought Seattle was the best team in the league by the end of the 2012 season. Having given this team another offseason to put the pieces together, I like the Seahawks to take on Denver and make just their second Super Bowl appearance.

While he was a question mark coming out of college, quarterback Russell Wilson proved to be a dynamic playmaker in his rookie campaign. It appeared that he would have an amazing all-purpose weapon next to him when the team signed wide receiver Percy Harvin from the Vikings, but hip surgery is expected keep Harvin sidelined for most of the season.

In Harvin’s absence and with Sidney Rice still banged up, Golden Tate will emerge as a true No. 1 wide receiver. Tate, who was credited with the “touchdown” on the last play of Week 3 against the Green Bay Packers – the play that ultimately ended the replacement referee experiment – made for a strong duo with Wilson as the pair gained more familiarity. Running back Marshawn Lynch is finally in the right situation and has shown he is perhaps the toughest back in the league, usually dishing out more punishment than he absorbs.

But the defense is what makes Seattle truly special. He may talk a lot, but cornerback Richard Sherman backs it up with shut down coverage skills. Earl Thomas packs a big punch at the safety position and has made back-to-back Pro Bowls. Defensive end Chris Clemons, one of the premier pass rushers in the league, is coming off of ACL surgery but will be ready to go sooner rather than later. Defensive end Cliff Avril is dealing with a hamstring issue, but that’s also a short-term problem. Bruce Irvin can line up anywhere and Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are ready to make names for themselves at the linebacker position.

If Seattle is able to put together enough road wins to go with what should be an 8-0 home record, the Seahawks could gain home-field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs. If that happens, game over. Sorry, San Francisco. Sorry, Atlanta. Sorry, whoever ends up being good in the NFC East. The Seahawks have such an advantage playing in their own stadium that more talented teams should still be considered 7-point underdogs.

So there you have it. I like Denver and Seattle to meet up on Feb. 2, 2014. Manning vs. Wilson. The old guard against the young gun. Yeah, I think I’d tune in.

• ‘My Thoughts Exactly’ appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays in The Garden Island. Email David Simon your comments or questions to dsimon@thegardenisland.com. Follow David on Twitter @SimonTGI

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