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Optimum Performance: Denver’s hidden advantage that might decide Super Bowl 2014

Historically, the old adage “defense wins championships” rings true. In the four Super Bowls pitting the No. 1 offense versus the No. 1 defense, the top-rated defense has prevailed three times, the last game occurring in Super Bowl XXV when the New York Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills.

Therefore, the odds in Super Bowl XLVIII between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks should favor Seattle’s top-rated defense. Still, it would be foolish not weigh heavily the “Peyton Manning Factor.” In his 16th NFL season, Manning threw for 55 touchdowns and 5,477 passing yards, both league records.

One might also say “the best defense is a great offense.” The Broncos’ offense has accounted for 606 points this season with four of Manning’s receivers — Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas — having caught 10 or more TD passes.

Chronic injuries have the potential to haunt a player later in the season. Manning first showed up on the Broncos’ injury report at Week 8 with an ankle sprain. As it turns out, he had both ankles taped to the hilt to manage the damage control throughout the remainder of the season.

From Week 8 and into the AFC playoffs, Manning’s playing status was listed as “probable.” Could it have been a bluff or has Manning been in pain and just played through it, as many athletes tend to do? Archie Manning commented in the New York Times that his son “did have some ankle problems, but he was able to play through that and he felt he had a productive year, offensively.”

Manning also wears a glove on his throwing right hand to gain a better grip on the ball when throwing in cold weather. The cold weather on game day could definitely pose a potential risk for ankle and neck issues to resurface.

When asked earlier this week about the effect the weather might have on his team’s performance at MetLife Stadium, Manning said, “I don’t really know how to answer that.” Welker added, “It’s part of what football is supposed to be.”

Cold or not, Manning tends to get his passes off in 2.5 seconds — a prerequisite for neutralizing a defense as tough as Seattle’s.

The Seahawks’ secondary has stars like cornerback Richard Sherman, who gives up one reception for every 18 times he is in coverage. He also led the league with eight interceptions. Safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor together had eight interceptions, while hitting hard enough to force three fumbles.

Pressuring Manning will be linemen Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, who combined for 21 sacks and plenty more hurries. Seattle led the league with a turnover ratio of plus-21 percent during the season.

If the pressure builds on Manning early, he has a decided advantage, which no one has talked about — the O2 saturation of the Broncos’ players. By training and living at a higher elevation in Denver, the physiological effect (thin air) of the improved oxygen saturation of the Broncos’ blood will increase their stamina.

Thus, Manning can run his productive hurry-up offense, tiring out the Seahawks and keeping them from making substitutions.

I know firsthand just how effective high-altitude training can have on a professional boxer’s stamina, when applied correctly.

So sit back and get ready to fly high. Get those oxygen masks ready.

Mackie Shilstone, a regular contributor to | The Times-Picayune, has been involved in the wellness sports performance industry for nearly 40 years. He is currently the fitness coach for Serena Williams and has trained numerous other professional athletes and consulted a litany of professional sports franchises. Contact him at

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