The AFC Champion will not be determined by the headline grabbing players on the field.
Instead, it will be won by some of the game's lesser known, but still important stars. Each team has one player that they will need a nice game from to advance to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis.
Baltimore Ravens: Torrey Smith - WR
When playing Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker, a good defense like the Ravens can give a good effort and still allow more than 24 points. New England's offense is just too good to shut down, especially at home. So, to beat them, the Ravens will need to score points.
The most important man on the Baltimore offense is not Ray Rice. Yes, you know that he's capable of a big performance, but the Patriots know to key on him. If the Ravens want to avoid having New England's defense key in on their best player, they will need to establish a vertical passing game.
Doing that would not only keep the Patriots' defense on edge, but it would also exploit their greatest weakness. New England allowed nearly 300 passing yards a game in the regular season, which was good enough for dead last in the NFL.
Smith has the speed to get deep and exploit New England's secondary, making big plays. He caught 50 passes on the season for 841 yards, which is just less than 17 yards a reception. Seven of those 50 catches were touchdowns.
With a stretched field, the Patriots will have to drop men in the secondary, opening holes for Rice on the line. That will keep Brady and the offense off of the field, which is the goal of any team playing the Patriots.
New England Patriots: Mark Anderson - DE
Their offense may grab the headlines, but if the Patriots are going to earn a trip to Indianapolis, they will need to step up big on the defensive side of the ball.
Above, I said that Torrey Smith needs to get deep against the Patriots' secondary, which is the team's weakness. That is true, but pressure on Joe Flacco will not allow anyone to get deep, nor will it allow good passes from the Baltimore signal caller.
Anderson recorded 10 sacks on the season, which is more than any active player on the team (Andre Carter also had 10, but is on the injured reserved list).
If the Patriots keep Flacco off balance, they will force turnovers. It is nearly impossible to see Baltimore winning this game if their offense turns the ball over more than maybe once. New England's offense is just too good.
If Anderson makes himself a fixture in the Baltimore backfield, the Patriots will be the AFC Champions.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Ravens 16