In the end, Richard Sherman stole the show. The quarterbacks get the commercials and most of the hype, but when the curtain closed on the NFL season, the spotlight was on the Seattle Seahawks and their defense.
The Seahawks won the Super Bowl because Sherman made the most significant play to get them there, swatting away a pass that was about to land in the hands of San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree in the corner of the end zone. Imagine what could have changed if Sherman had reacted a half-second later.
Sherman would have been silenced, not shouting about being the best cornerback in the league, and the 49ers, who dominated the NFC title game for three quarters, probably would have put the beatdown on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos instead.
But it’s all history, the worst Super Bowl of the 48 is in the books, and now we look ahead to the next one. At Station Casinos, Seattle is the 9-2 favorite, followed by San Francisco at 5-1 and Denver at 6-1.
“You have the two favorites to win the Super Bowl in the same division,” Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito said of the NFC West. “I can’t remember that ever happening. But I think those two teams deserve to be at the top.”
Not to rain on Seattle’s parade, but Esposito added, “It’s really hard to repeat in that league.”
I walked through the Denver airport Thursday and noticed a book with Manning on the cover. It was titled “Leader of the Broncos.” It’s probably not a big seller this week.
The Broncos’ aura of offensive invincibility was stripped bare in an embarrassing 43-8 loss to the Seahawks, who lowered the boom on Manning. The signature play of a really boring Super Bowl was a first-down snap sailing over Manning’s head for a safety 12 seconds into the game.
When the season kicked off Sept. 5, Manning was at his unstoppable best, passing for 462 yards and seven touchdowns in a 49-27 blowout of Baltimore. The Broncos won the affection of the betting public, and the affair lasted for five months, but Manning saved his worst day for last.
“He’ll be back next year to give it another shot,” Esposito said.
The same can’t be said for Jay Leno. In honor of David Letterman, here’s a top 10 list of the regular season’s most memorable betting moments:
10 — In Manning’s homecoming, Andrew Luck was king. The Indianapolis Colts, underdogs of 6½ to 7 points, cashed in a 39-33 win in Week 7. The buzz over the Broncos’ 16-0 proposition wager was killed.
9 — In Week 3, the Seahawks covered the most talked-about line of the season, up to that point. The so-called sharp side was Jacksonville, which was getting 19½ to 20 points, but the hopeless Jaguars trailed by 24 at the half and fell 45-17.
8 — The 49ers were laying 5½ points but trailing 28-24 midway through the fourth quarter. Colin Kaepernick, who passed for 412 yards and three touchdowns, completed a fourth-down pass to set up a 33-yard field goal with 26 seconds to go for a 34-28 win and cover over Green Bay in Week 1.
7 — The Cowboys snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but oddly, the scapegoat was not quarterback Tony Romo. Matthew Stafford passed for 488 yards, 329 on 14 passes to Calvin Johnson, and Detroit outgained Dallas by 355 yards yet failed to cover as a 3-point favorite in a 31-30 win in Week 8. The total was 52, and 41 points were scored in the fourth quarter.
6 — In near-blizzard conditions in Philadelphia on Dec. 8, the Lions led the Eagles 8-0 at the half. But then came the scoring avalanche. LeSean McCoy finished with 217 yards rushing in the snow in the Eagles’ 34-20 win. Due to the weather, the total dropped from 54 to 49½.
5 — Bettors on the Houston Texans got jobbed — or Schaub-ed — in Week 4. The Seahawks, favored by 2 points on the road, erased a 17-point deficit to beat the Texans 23-20 in overtime. Matt Schaub threw three touchdown passes, the third to Seattle’s Sherman with 2:40 remaining in regulation. Schaub rolled left, threw back across the field, and Sherman picked it off before strolling 58 yards to tie the game.
4 — In Week 6, New England took over at its own 30 with 1:13 to go. Tom Brady masterfully worked the clock and the soft spots in the New Orleans defense before connecting with Kenbrell Thompkins on a 17-yard touchdown as the Patriots, 1½-point favorites, pulled out a 30-27 thriller. Brady’s final pass put the score over the total of 51.
3 — Snow was falling on the Chicago lakefront, everything was on the line, and Aaron Rodgers was running out of time to save the Green Bay Packers in Week 17. Rodgers’ comeback from a broken collarbone caused a 7-point adjustment in the line, and the public backed the Packers as 3-point favorites. For the Bears, who led 28-20 early in the fourth quarter, and underdog bettors, it was a brutal beat. Spinning away from pressure, Rodgers fired a 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb with 38 seconds remaining. The Packers prevailed 33-28 and won the NFC North.
2 — Manning and Romo matched each other shot for shot in Dallas in the wildest game of the season’s first five weeks. Denver won 51-48, after Romo, who passed for 506 yards and five touchdowns, threw an interception with less than two minutes to go. The public bet the Broncos, 7½-point favorites, with no fear as tickets on Denver came in at about a 7-to-1 ratio. The score went over the total of 57½ midway through the third quarter.
1 — Brady rallied the Patriots from a 24-0 halftime deficit. Manning tossed a touchdown pass to force overtime, and New England, a 1-point home underdog, pulled out a highly unlikely 34-31 victory over the Broncos.
But that game on Nov. 24 was not Manning’s most disappointing Sunday of the season.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.