Super Bowl 2012: Ranking the 10 Best Players on the Field

Steven MarinoContributor IIIJanuary 30, 2012

Super Bowl 2012: Ranking the 10 Best Players on the Field

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    Super Bowl XLVI is one of the most highly anticipated rematches in NFL history.  With Tom Brady having the chance to solidify himself as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time with four championship rings and Eli Manning having the chance to officially get out of his older brother's shadow with two championship rings, much is at stake.

    The Patriots might not be 18-0 heading into this game, but ask anyone in their locker room and they'll tell you how much this game means to them.  Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have the opportunity at redemption, as well as being one of the winningest player-coach duos in NFL history.

     For Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin, they have the chance to prove that 2007 wasn't a fluke.  After being ridiculed most of the season for his "elite" comments, Eli Manning has backed his talk up and has been the hottest QB in the playoffs.

    Here is a preview of who to look for on the playing field come Super Bowl Sunday

Jake Ballard: NYG

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    After letting free agent Kevin Boss sign with Oakland in the offseason, the New York Football Giants had a void to fill in the tight end position.  Answering that void was Jake Ballard, a rookie from Ohio State.

     With a receiving core containing such depth that the Giants have, much can be utilized by the single coverage Ballard is going to see.  

    Racking up four touchdowns and over 600 receiving yards this season, Ballard contributed to the Giants offense.  However, the biggest catch of his rookie campaign came with 15 seconds left in the Week 9 victory over the New England Patriots. Ballard caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to give the Giants the victory.  

    Expect Ballard to be targeted in the red zone when the Giants face the Patriots come Super Bowl Sunday.

Vince Wilfork: NE

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    Standing at 6'2" and weighing 325 pounds, Vince Wilfork is no one to mess around with.  After having 3.5 sacks on the year, Wilfork already has 2.5 sacks this postseason, including 9 tackles.  Coming from the "U", Wilfork contains that toughness that will give the Giants offensive line some trouble.  

    Getting to the quarterback is key in slowing down an offense and after being hit 20 times in the NFC championship game, Eli Manning will have a lot to deal with when being chased around by Wilfork.  

    If Wilfork can get his hands on Eli throughout the game, the Patriots will stand a better chance in achieving redemption.  

Ahmad Bradshaw: NYG

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    Consistency is a key factor in winning football games.  The Giants running game has been questionable throughout the season.  Ahmad Bradshaw combined for 11 touchdowns during the regular season, 9 on the ground and 2 from the air.  

    Yet to reach the end zone this postseason, Bradshaw should look forward to a productive afternoon with New England focused on the Giants potent passing attack.  With his ability to catch in the open field and run the ball, Bradshaw makes it difficult for opponents to stop him. After dealing with the ground and pound game of Brandon Jacobs, this makes it that more difficult when a smaller, quicker back is approaching you.

    The Giants have found luck through the air this postseason, but if New England's mediocre defense can find a way to slow it down, look for Bradshaw to have a good game. 

BenJarvus Green-Ellis: NE

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    BenJarvus Green-Ellis, A.K.A "The Law Firm," ran for over 600 yards and 11 touchdowns during the regular season.  Running for nearly 70 yards versus the Baltimore Ravens defense in last week's AFC championship game, "The Law Firm" provided a solid running game for the Patriots.

    Green-Ellis will have a lot to handle against New York's front four, but if he gets past them, Green-Ellis should be able to gather yards against a banged-up linebacking core.

    After giving up an average of 121 rushing yards to opponents this season, the Giants have contained running backs such as Michael Turner and Frank Gore this postseason.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis is my dark horse for this game and if the Patriots win this rematch, I expect "The Law Firm" to be a part of the victory.

Victor Cruz: NYG

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    Victor Cruz has been the biggest surprise in the NFL all season.  After being undrafted out of Massachusetts, Cruz put Pro Bowl numbers up in 2011 with over 1,500 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns.

    Yet to enter the end zone in the postseason, Cruz has still been a major factor in the Giants offense.  Receiving much of the attention by opposing defenses, Cruz has still managed to gain substantial yards this postseason with 244 yards on 17 receptions.  Cruz had 142 receiving yards in the NFC Championship game versus San Francisco's defense.

    With the Patriots ranked 31st overall in opposing passing yards per game during the regular season, Cruz is bound to have another breakout game.  If the Giants win this year's Super Bowl, expect to see Cruz salsa dancing in the end zone.

Wes Welker: NE

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    Wes Welker finished the season with 122 receptions, 1,569 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns. Having one touchdown during the postseason, Welker has been one of Brady's go-to receivers throughout this season and his career.

    With the quickness of Welker, defenses have had trouble containing him.  Ask Miami, who witnessed Welker breakout for a 99-yard touchdown earlier this season.  With the possibility of Rob Gronkowski being sidelined with an ankle injury, Welker will again be receiving much of the attention from the Giants defense and Tom Brady.

    Welker has big play capability and is a driving force in New England's pass-friendly offense.  Tom Brady will need his sidekick ready to play come Super Bowl Sunday if the Patriots want to stand a chance at making history.

Jason Pierre-Paul: NYG

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    Jason Pierre-Paul has been remarkable throughout the entire year.  Combining for 86 tackles, 16.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and one necessary field goal block, Pierre-Paul's numbers were top tier in the NFL this past season.  He almost single-handedly won the Giants' road game versus NFC East rival Dallas.  

    Finishing in the top five in the league for sacks, Pierre-Paul has caused fits for the opposing offensive line.  His freakish athletic ability is a main reason why the Giants defensive line has been one of the best this season.  

    With the ability to block passes and get to the quarterback, Tom Brady could have a miserable day, something similar to what the 2007 Giants did to him.

    Losing Michael Strahan to retirement a few years back, Pierre-Paul has brought back life to the Giants defensive line.  I expect nothing less than an outstanding performance from him this Sunday.

Rob Gronkowski: NE

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    Having possibly the best season in tight end history, Rob Gronkowski set records for most receiving yards (1,327) and touchdowns (17) during the regular season. "Gronk" has given a new definition to the tight end.

    This postseason, "Gronk" had 232 receiving yards and 3 touchdown receptions.  However, in last week's AFC Championship, "Gronk" received a high ankle sprain at the end of a tackle.  This caused him to head to the locker room early, eventually returning to finish the game.  

    Gronkowski has been in a walking boot all week and is still wearing one after arriving in Indy.  Being held out of practice and listed as questionable, Gronkowski is New England's offensive weapon.  Not having him during the Super Bowl would be a crucial blow in Bill Belichick's offense. However, Aaron Hernandez is pretty darn good himself.

Tom Brady: NE

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    Tom Brady had yet another Hall-of-Fame-caliber season. Brady threw for over 5,200 yards, connecting for 39 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions. Brady was seen frequently connecting to Welker and Gronkowski for big plays.

    Throwing for 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions during the postseason, Brady didn't have one of his stellar performances in the AFC Championship. Brady threw for 239 yards and had two interceptions to the Ravens defense.  

    One thing we should all know is not to count Brady out. After losing in heartbreaking fashion in 2007, Brady has much to prove in this year's Super Bowl. Although he already has three Super Bowl rings, the fourth would be that much sweeter. The Giants have had Brady's number in recent years and he has still yet to watch highlights from the Super Bowl game that left the Patriots with 18 wins and 1 "Giant" loss.

    Brady has a chance to join Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as being the only quarterbacks with four Super Bowl victories.  With redemption on the line, look for Brady to come out as "Tom Terrific." 

Eli Manning: NYG

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    In the beginning of the season, Eli Manning made a comment that he believed he was in Tom Brady's category of elite quarterbacks. He backed it up. Finishing 5th overall in passing yards per game, Manning threw for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns. Setting a NFL record for fourth quarter touchdown passes and having numerous late game heroics, Manning has been the league's most clutch player.

    This postseason, Eli has thrown for 923 yards, eight touchdowns and only one interception, going along with a QB rating of 103.1.  

    Did I mention that two of those games were on the road against Green Bay and San Francisco? Manning is definitely the hottest quarterback going into this Sunday's Super Bowl.

    With a chance of proving all his critics wrong and to surpass his older brother in Super Bowl rings, Manning will deliver yet another clutch performance. Earlier this season, Eli led a fourth quarter comeback against Tom Brady and the Patriots, giving the Giants the victory.  I expect nothing less from Eli this time around.

    Although being banged up by San Francisco's defensive line, Eli is ready to go this Sunday.  With targets such as Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham, Eli's passing game has been a career best this season. If the Giants stay victorious, I expect Eli to take home MVP honors and to finally not be regarded as Peyton's little brother.