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Super Bowl XLVIII: 3 Underplayed Factors that Don't Favor the Denver Broncos

Seahawks' Wild Card Percy Harvin, New Jersey's Elevation Could Hurt Orange and Blue

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COMMENTARY | We've all heard about -- literally and figuratively -- the defensive noise the Seattle Seahawks' Legion of Boom will bring on Super Sunday.

Meanwhile, most everyone realizes there's a better-than-average chance that Ma Nature will bring something chilly and damp to the festivities.

And it's been well established that Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch is a Skittles and opposing-D-chomping Beast.

But now that Super Bowl XLVIII week is officially upon us, what are some of the more overlooked and underplayed hurdles standing between the Denver Broncos and a third Lombardi Trophy?

Glad you asked . . .

Percy Harvin is the wildest (and most potent) of wild cards

When Harvin takes the field on Feb. 2, it will only be for his third game in a Seattle uniform.

Due to preseason hip surgery, the fifth-year wideout missed all but what one regular-season game. He did return and play in the divisional-round win over the New Orleans Saints, but a concussion cut that appearance short and he wound up sitting out the NFC Championship Game.

So what does a presumably-healthy Harvin bring to the Seattle offense and special teams? With only six total touches -- four receptions, one rushing attempt and one kickoff return -- since 2012, the Seahawks are hard-pressed to really know themselves right now.

So the Orange and Blue are no doubt spending some time reviewing some Harvin tape from his four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.

And what they'll see is a versatile and explosive player who accumulated the fourth-most all-purpose yards -- 7,168 receiving, rushing and kick returns -- in the league from 2009-12. During that same span, Harvin also led all wide receivers with 683 rushing yards and four TDs on 107 attempts while also reeling in the 11th-most receptions (280) among all NFL players.

Now that's a true wild card who could very well wind up being a trump card.

Broncos' kick coverage teams must be ready, not rusty

The elevation of East Rutherford, N.J. is listed at 3 feet above sea level.

For the record, that's a full 5,277 feet lower than the Mile High City.

Now, too much air isn't going to be a much of a problem for the Broncos - except possibly on the distance of Matt Prater's kickoffs.

During the regular season, Prater easily topped the league with 81 touchbacks. At home in the thin air, Prater had 49 touchbacks in 59 kickoffs (a league-leading 83.05 percent); on the road, those figures slipped to 32 in 56 kickoffs or 57.14 percent.

And when opponents did get to return a kickoff against the Orange and Blue, they averaged a league-best -- or, from the Broncos' perspective, league-worst -- 29.3 yards per runback.

Couple that with the fact that Seahawks boast three capable return men in Harvin (an NFL-leading 27.92 yards per return from 2009-12 among players who returned 100 or more kickoffs during that span), Doug Baldwin (a key 69-yard return in the NFC title game) and Jermaine Kearse (a 107-yard TD preseason return vs. the Broncos) and you have a potential field-position boon - or even better - for the Seattle offense.

Are these Seahawks possibly underrated?

Seattle opened as a 1-point Super Bowl favorite, but money quickly poured in on the Broncos, who now are 2-point favorites.

Why the switch?

Seattle's glaring lack of Super Bowl experience -- coaches as well as players -- is one factor. The fact that the game is a neutral-site game -- a full continent away from raucous CenturyLink Field -- and takes the league's best homefield advantage out of the Super equation is another.

Then there are the quarterbacks: Young, inexperienced second-year Russell Wilson going up against Peyton Manning, who on Saturday will officially garner his record fifth NFL MVP award.

But -- loquacious cornerback Richard Sherman aside for a moment here -- is Seattle being overlooked?

Possibly so considering the Seahawks are the champions of the tougher overall conference and the league's unquestioned top division with the four NFC West teams going a combined 42-22 this season -- an NFL division best since 2002 realignment -- with an impressive plus-359 point differential.

Also consider that Seattle, like Denver, was 6-2 away from home this season with two victories over double-digit win teams (Carolina and Arizona) and a 23-0 Dec. 15 shutout win over the host Giants and Peyton's brother Eli at the Super site.

Throw in the health factor - the Seahawks have seen most of their key injured players (Harvin, OT Russell Okung and LB K.J. Wright) return to action, unlike the Broncos (LB Von Miller, OT Ryan Clady, CB Chris Harris) - and you might start wondering if these Seahawks are getting the short shrift here.

Broncos beware.

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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