AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Four years ago, the National Football League made a bold decision. It would stage its biggest game outdoors in a northern climate. Well, that chilly Super Bowl arrives on Sunday, and it pits the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now. And, Stefan, first question: Any chance of snow?
STEFAN FATSIS: Sadly, it looks like no snow, Robert. And not only does it look like no snow, it looks like the temperature at kickoff might not even be the coldest for a Super Bowl. It was 39 degrees in New Orleans in 1972. So in the end, it looks like perfect football weather, actually, and the NFL's decision to break its 50-degree average temperature minimum rule for the Super Bowl looks like a good one. But I'd like to see them put a game in Green Bay now.
SIEGEL: OK. Great matchup. Denver had the league's best offense, averaging 38 points a game. Seattle had the best defense, allowing just 14. So who has the advantage?
FATSIS: Well, if the weather does turn a little bit, if it's especially windy in what is a very windy stadium, conventional wisdom says Seattle benefits because severe weather tends to limit high-scoring, pass-first teams like Denver at least a little bit. Weather aside though, when the league's top offense has faced the top defense in the Super Bowl, defense has won four out of five times. But that hasn't happened since 1991, and Peyton Manning wasn't playing for the offensive losers there.
SIEGEL: So what would you say, then, are the keys to this game?
FATSIS: Oh, I read a bunch of previews by quantitative smart guys at websites like Football Outsiders and Football Perspective and Grantland, and all of the numbers point to a stunning conclusion. This should be a fantastic game. Manning's offense is historically good. Denver scored an all-time NFL record - 606 points this season - and no one was close. Seattle's defense, led by the now-famous Stanford graduate Richard Sherman, also is historically good. Football is so much strategy and response. How the obsessively focused and prepared Peyton Manning has adjusted Denver's offense would be a critical factor as will Seattle's response to that.
SIEGEL: But there will be at times, of course, when Seattle has the ball and Denver's on defense.
FATSIS: Right. And Seattle's very good at running at the ball, especially Marshawn Lynch, their running back. Seattle's offense chews up the clock, which it's going to need to do to keep Peyton Manning off the field and which Denver's defense is going to need to do to mitigate that so Manning can get back on the field.
Everybody loves second-year quarterback Russell Wilson of Seattle. He's smart. His game-management skills are great, but his performance the last six games has been significantly worse than the first 12 of the season. More tentative decision making, more inaccurate passes. He was sacked a lot during the season, so maybe pressure or the state of his body is catching up with him. On the plus side for Russell Wilson, though, Denver's defense has also had a lot of injuries and it's inexperienced.
SIEGEL: Officials have come under a lot of scrutiny in the NFL of late. Could the referees be a factor in this game?
FATSIS: Yes. And that's because Seattle and Denver were number one and number two in the NFL this season in penalties. The website Football Perspective noted that refs tend to swallow their whistles in the playoffs. That reduces the risk of a game turning on a referee's call. They also tend to call fewer penalties in cold weather. Now, whether Denver and Seattle's coaches try to take advantage of those factors, whether the officials toss their yellow flags in response, it could be important.
SIEGEL: Any other factors that might come into play that we've missed?
FATSIS: Well, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that both teams have excellent kickers: Matt Prater for Denver, Steven Hauschka for Seattle. They've made 69 of 73 field goal attempts so far this season. Prater broke the NFL record with a 64 yarder. And, finally, so that we're not left out of the pre-Super Bowl media (unintelligible), Robert, I want to note that Denver's 330-pound defensive lineman Terrance Knighton is nicknamed Pot Roast. And I just read that his favorite movie is "Matilda," the adaptation of the Roald Dahl children's book.
SIEGEL: OK. Have a great weekend, Stefan.
FATSIS: You too, Robert.
SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis is the author of "A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL," and he joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.