If the first part of the two-week stretch between the NFL's conference title games and the Super Bowl is a time for elation and reflection, this latter part is just torture.
This is the week when both teams arrive in New Jersey and try to replicate the season-long preparation rituals that got them there, only they really can't because this week is unlike any other. It begins with Media Day, when lucky <sic> fans can pay 30 bucks a pop to "...sit in the stands and watch thousands of media from around the world interview members of the participating Super Bowl teams on the floor."
Although it may not sound like much fun to watch athletes and coaches talk to packs of reporters from way beyond lip-reading distance, rest assured that the NFL takes Media Day very seriously. Two years ago, the league fined a New York Giants player $20,000 for skipping the event, and in 2007 it hit Brian Urlacher with a $100,000 penalty for wearing the wrong hat.
If you'd rather spend that $30 more productively, there's always gambling. Super Bowl Sunday has long been the biggest wagering day of the year, not just on the game itself, but because of all the quirky side bets you can place.
Oddsmakers also have set their predictions about who might take home game MVP honors. The safest thing to do here is pick your favorite quarterback, as signal-callers have won the most hardware by far. But given that this year's tilt is the NFL's first cold-weather title game—on purpose, that is: a couple of the early ones were played in unexpectedly wintry conditions—the MVP race might be a little more wide open. Among those who have the best chance to break the QB stranglehold on the award:
Marshawn Lynch (9/2 odds): If the Seahawks win, it will almost certainly be because they kept the ball out of Peyton Manning's hands, which means they ran the ball well, which means Lynch—maybe the most bruising halfback in the NFL since Earl Campbell—had a big day.
Demariyus Thomas (18-1), Wes Welker (20-1), Eric Decker (25-1), Julius Thomas (25-1): At least one of these four Broncos receivers should rack up formidable numbers if Manning is in any kind of rhythm, and any of them is capable of making a deciding play late.
Knownshon Moreno (25-1): If the weather becomes a factor—it's currently projected to be in the 20s with some possible snow—the Broncos may have to lean on the run more than usual. And even if the weather's not bad, they'll try to get Moreno going anyway to open up the passing lanes.
Richard Sherman (25-1): By far the highest-rated defensive player on the list, if he (or any Seahawks defender) wins MVP it means Peyton had a lousy day.
Steven Hauchka and Matt Prater (both 75-1): The opposing placekickers might be the savviest bet of all, because bad weather could result in a low-scoring, close game that comes down to a field goal. Similarly, if the great Seahawks defense can stop the Broncos in the red zone, it's not difficult to imagine Prater going 4-for-4, including the winner, in something like a 26-24 game.
Field (any other player, 22-1): What two things do Chuck Howley, Jake Scott, Larry Brown, and Dexter Jackson have in common? 1. You've probably barely heard of any of them, and 2. If you have, it's because they won the biggest prize in the NFL's showcase game. Here's hoping that if there is a dark horse this year, he's wearing Bronco colors.
—Image courtesy of Shutterstock (Matt Prater arrives in Newark, New Jersey on January 26, 2014)
Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.