They'll be opposed by the Seattle Seahawks' defense, which -- led by the Legion of Boom secondary -- allowed the fewest points and yards in the league this season.
But the unit playing the best entering Super Bowl XLVIII actually is none of the above. It's the overshadowed, dismissed, underrated Broncos' defense, and the least-regarded unit in this game very well could swing the Super balance toward the Orange and Blue.
That scenario is a little hard to fathom right now given the headlines and hype currently surrounding Manning, Lynch and LOB spokesman Richard Sherman.
It's even more implausible when considering the turnover and turmoil this unit has battled through this season. No fewer than six projected preseason Denver starters -- including the team's best linebacker (Von Miller), most experienced defensive lineman (Kevin Vickerson), No. 1 cornerback (Chris Harris) and the top all-around safety (Rahim Moore) -- will be spending Super Sunday on injured reserve.
What's left is a Super Bowl starting lineup that likely will feature only four players -- DT Terrance Knighton, LB Danny Trevathan, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and SS Duke Ihenacho -- who started the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens.
Yet, at the same time, the Broncos' defensive play has been anything but ailing.
Just check these numbers out:-Over their last four games -- the final two regular-season contests and their two AFC playoff wins -- the Broncos are allowing an average of 15 points per contest, with no more than 17 allowed in any one outing. During their first 14 tilts, they surrendered an average of 26.6 per contest, with no less than 17 in any one game.
-The Denver D has allowed a grand total of three points -- one measly field goal in the AFC Championship Game -- in the first three quarters of its past three games. In the meantime, the Broncos have taken respective leads of 31-0, 17-0 and 20-3 into the fourth quarter and scarcely have had to look back.
-In the last four games, the Broncos have given up an average of 268.5 total yards per outing with only one 300-plus-yard game. In the first 14 outings, they were gashed for an average of 371.5 yards per contest with only two games allowing 328 yards or fewer.
-After surrendering a season-high 177 rushing yards in a Week 15 loss to the San Diego Chargers, the Broncos have buckled down and allowed a total of 280 -- or an average of 70 per outing -- over their last four contests. That average was 105.4 over the first 14 games.
-In addition, the Broncos have allowed only one 200-yard passing game in their last six games, with an average of 185.3 surrendered per outing. Over the first 12 contests, Denver opponents topped 200 passing yards 10 times for an average of 284 per outing.
-Finally, three of these four opposing offenses we're talking about here in the Broncos' past four games -- the Patriots, Chargers and Houston Texans -- weren't exactly slouches, either, finishing among the league's top 11 in terms of total yards.
Don't know what your definition is, but that's commonly referred to as playing your best defensive football at precisely the right time.
Wilson and the Seahawks' offense, meanwhile, can hardly make the same claim, with five of their eight worst scoring and total-yard games coming over the last two months. And these Seahawks, mind you, weren't the Patriots, Chargers or even the Texans, finishing a highly mediocre 17th in total yards.
In other words, Seattle had best not overlook this implausibly improved Broncos defense Sunday as seemingly everyone else has.
Ken Pomponio has spent the past 25 years as a sports journalist who has been published extensively in print and online. He's been an avid follower of the Denver sports scene since early childhood, and can be found on Twitter @kenpomp.
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