Super Bowl 2012: 8 Players to Keep Your Eye on

Svyato Rovenchuk@TorontosClassicSenior Writer IFebruary 3, 2012

Super Bowl 2012: 8 Players to Keep Your Eye on

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    In a Super Bowl, there will always be those big game players—guys who step up their game and play at the highest level to ensure their team that victory.

    Offense, defense, whatever—someone will leave their impact on this year's Super Bowl.

    This year we have the New England Patriots facing off against the New York Giants in the big game. While many will be quick to look to Brady and Manning to be the big game players here (for good reason) I'll throw in some other names you might have to look out for, along with those two as well. 

    So sit back, relax, grab some popcorn if you wish, and enjoy.

    (Note: + means at least the given number)

Tom Brady

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    Here is the most obvious player you would think of for a big game player—and why wouldn't you? Tom Brady already has three Super Bowl rings to his name and is always hungry for the next one.

    What would a fourth ring mean to Tom Brady? Well, simply put, it solidifies Brady's case for being the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Brady is already in that discussion, and this victory could easily end it.

    We the people know that, and you can sure as hell bet he knows that. 

    Tom Brady had three Super Bowl rings faster than any quarterback in NFL history. In the Super Bowl era, Brady has the best winning percentage of any quarterback with at least 100 starts, holds the record for the most consecutive passes without an interception, had the most TD passes in a single season and guided his '07 Patriots to a perfect regular season, among tons of other achievements.

    Brady has 5,235 passing yards this season—the second most in NFL history—to go with 39 touchdown passes. Leading one of the worst defenses in the league, he managed to get the Patriots back to the Super Bowl.

    So what can you expect from Tom Brady in the big game?



    Projected Stats: 300+ passing yards, four touchdown passes, 20+ rushing yards

    Is a big game in store for Tom? If you were betting on it in Vegas, I'd go all in.  

Eli Manning

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    Getting the other obvious one I mentioned earlier out of the way, Eli Manning could definitely be in line for a big game.

    The Patriots secondary is not too impressive, and with the Giants being a pass-happy offense, Eli could be in for a big one. With plenty of weapons around him, he has a chance to play just as well, maybe even better than the quarterback on the other side of the field. 

    Eli has proven to be a clutch quarterback this season, breaking his own brother's record for most TD passes in the fourth quarter in a single season. He has 4,933 yards to go with 29 touchdown passes this season.

    Eli has certainly done well to step out of his big brother's shadow this season. While many will argue that Eli will never be better than Peyton, at the end of the day when the two are sitting down at the dinner table, Peyton could be wearing only one ring while Eli could have two, maybe even more.

    So what kind of stats can you expect from Eli Manning in the Super Bowl?



    Projected Stats: 300+ passing yards, three touchdown passes, 25+ rushing yards

    Eli will have himself a nice game, hoping his efforts may be enough for a Giants victory. 

Vince Wilfork

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    How could I leave Vince off this list?

    If you're a quarterback waiting for the ball to be snapped and you look over to the Patriots D-line to see this man, you can sure as hell bet you've got butterflies in the stomach.

    Wilfork is a force, and don't think for a second that the Giants O-line will be able to keep him out of the backfield. Wilfork will be a key player for the Patriots on defense. He'll look to stop the run as well as try to get to Eli Manning for a sack or two.

    Honestly, I hope Eli wears a lot of padding.

    So what can you expect for the 6'2", 325-pound big man?



    Projected Stats: six tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, three tackles for losses

    Like I said, look for Wilfork to be in there on run plays, to stop Jacobs and Bradshaw short, as well as getting to Eli and pressuring the QB.

Jason Pierre-Paul

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    Jason Pierre-Paul is simply a force to be reckoned with. No matter how good of a blocker you are, no matter how big, no matter how strong, this guy will find a way to get around you and make the play.

    Offensive linemen had a problem dealing with him all season long as Pierre-Paul had 16.5 sacks this season, with two forced fumbles.

    The entire Giants D-line is dangerous, and it'll be interesting to see who will win the matchup—the Giants defensive linemen, or the Patriots offensive linemen. However, if there's one guy you can count on seeing in the Patriots backfield, Pierre-Paul is your guy.

    So what can you expect from the All-Pro defensive end?



    Projected Stats: two sacks, one forced fumble, five tackles

    Look for Pierre-Paul to have a big game on the biggest stage of 'em all for the Giants.

Victor Cruz

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    This is a name that fans should be pretty used to hearing by now. Breakout star Victor Cruz is in line for a huge game if you ask me.

    I know Nicks has been the Giants best receiver in the postseason, but I think this game belongs to Cruz.

    Cruz had an incredible season, emerging as Eli Manning's favourite target to rack up 1,536 receiving yards along with nine touchdown catches. He has really been the receiver the Giants look to on big plays and usually does not disappoint. 

    Cruz tied the record for the longest reception in NFL history with 99 yards this season.

    As I mentioned earlier, although the postseason has belonged to Hakeem Nicks, Cruz is a big game player from what it seems and there is no bigger game than the Super Bowl.

    I'd look for Cruz to be catching balls left and right in what will be one of his best games of the season.

    What's the stat line for Cruz?



    Projected Stats: 120+ yards, two touchdown receptions

    Expect Cruz to pull in a lot of catches in this one, even some you thought had no chance. Cruz will be on his game, I can bet money on that one.

Aaron Hernandez

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    Yes, Aaron Hernandez. At the start of the season, many of us believed it was going to be Hernandez with the big year and not Gronkowski.

    Well, Gronkowski pulled a fast one and hauled in 1,327 receiving yards along with 17 touchdown passes in what many believe was the greatest year for a tight end, ever.

    However, Hernandez was still very productive for the Patriots, racking up 910 receiving yards to go with seven touchdowns. They even had him in at fullback a few times to run the ball. 

    With the Super Bowl around the corner, fate might have Hernandez in store for a huge game.

    Gronkowski suffered an injury last game against the Baltimore Ravens. From what we know, it's a high ankle sprain. I know Gronk went back out there in the game against the Ravens, but come on, a high ankle sprain is a high ankle sprain. This is not an easy injury to recover from.

    Gronkowski did say he was going to be playing against the Giants, but in reality, this is not going to be the same Gronkowski we have seen all season long.

    With that being said, look for Hernandez to take advantage and really step out of Gronkowski's shadow. Gronk will still draw attention—injured or not—and Hernandez will thrive from this. Look for a huge game from one half of the Boston TE Party.



    Projected Stats: 100+ receiving yards, two touchdown receptions, 10+ rushing yards

    This is Hernandez's moment, and I expect him to take full advantage of it. 

Wes Welker

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    Another benefactor from Gronkowski's injury will be Wes Welker. Welker was an All-Pro this season, with 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns. He really did have a huge year, but has been relatively quiet in the postseason. 

    Welker has 12 receptions in the postseason, but has only been good for 102 yards and one touchdown. For some players' standards that might be good...but not for Welker.

    With Gronkowski out, the targets he received will be split between Aaron Hernandez and Wes.

    I would expect nothing less than a great outing for Welker in this one as he and the Patriots will look to bring home the championship.

    So what kind of numbers should you expect from him?



    Projected Stats: 100+ receiving yards, one touchdown reception

    Welker will have a big one, easily doubling his receiving and touchdown totals for the postseason.

Mario Manningham

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    Some of you could be scratching your heads at this one, but mark my words when I tell you not to sleep on Mario Manningham. Let's look at it like this...

    With Steve Smith gone, a lot of people had Manningham picked to have a big season catching the ball for the Giants. Instead, Manningham only had a decent year with 523 receiving yards and four touchdown receptions. 

    The emergence of Victor Cruz really left Manningham long forgotten for most NFL fans, even a lot of Giants fans.

    There have been many unlikely heroes in past Super Bowls. Well, you can add Manningham to the list after this one.

    In the postseason so far, he has only received eight receptions through three games, getting 116 receiving yards. However, the fact that he has three touchdown receptions–one short of his regular season total–is something that jumps out at me.

    Call me crazy, but I just think Manningham is going to be one of the stars of this year's Super Bowl.

    The Patriots do not have too impressive of a secondary, and you know a lot of the focus will be on keeping Cruz and Nicks in check. Cue Manningham.

    Little defensive attention? Against a not-so-great secondary? BOOM, big game is in line. 



    Projected Stats: 100+ receiving yards, one touchdown reception

    Look for Manningham to have a big one, as he hopes to help bring his team a championship.