The Atlanta defense is a different story. The Falcons don't blitz much; on passing downs they rely on their four linemen to apply the pressure, gradually wearing down the opposition as they did against the Vikings. "The best front seven in football that nobody's ever heard of," Sharpe says. "Look what they did [against Minnesota]. They beat the most prolific scoring offense in history. Their secondary's O.K., not great, but I'll always take a great front seven and an O.K. secondary over the other way around."
The front four—Lester Archambeau and Chuck Smith outside, Travis Hall and former Bronco Shane Dronett at the tackles—are indeed relentless. The Falcons were second in the NFL against the run this season, but they've never faced a back like Davis, who killed the Jets with his cutbacks, just as he'd done to the Dolphins a week earlier. It'll be one of the most interesting matchups in the Super Bowl: the Falcons' front four, possibly the best in the game, against the quickest, most mobile offensive line, clearing the way for the league MVP and a future Hall of Fame runner. Everybody knows the rules when playing against Davis: Guard your lanes, don't overpursue. But when fatigue starts to set in, he finds the creases.
Cornerback Ray Buchanan, Atlanta's best cover man, will probably draw Denver's deep threat, Rod Smith, leaving the other corner, Michael Booker or Ronnie Bradford (coming back from a shoulder injury), on the possession wideout, Ed McCaffrey. Sharpe? He could be the property of Cornelius Bennett, the Falcons' best and swiftest cover linebacker, in some sort of combination coverage with Pro Bowl free safety Eugene Robinson.
"Uh-uh, don't think so," Sharpe says. "Teams usually put a cornerback on me."
So whom does that leave on McCaffrey?
"That's where it gets interesting," Sharpe says. "That's why we play the game."
Finally, there's Elway. He completed only 13 passes in 34 attempts on Sunday but made just enough big plays to send the Denver faithful home happy. In last season's Super Bowl win over the Packers, he was almost an afterthought, throwing for just 123 yards, as Davis stole the show with 157 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Does Elway have one more 300-yard outing in him?
The feeling here is that he won't need it. I see a slugfest, not as high scoring as some expect, with Chandler hitting the occasional big ones but Davis controlling the tempo. Final score: Broncos 24, Falcons 17.