Super Bowl 2012: Top 25 Players Most Likely to Bring Home the Game's MVP Honors
The last time the New England Patriots and New York Giants met in the Super Bowl, the Patriots were regarded as easy favorites. Many experts assumed the 18-0 Patriots would easily dismantle a sixth-seeded Giants team that sneaked into the playoffs.
For the rematch, the Giants return 15 active players, and the Patriots just seven. These are two extremely evenly-matched teams, as evidenced by the Week 9 game that went down to the final minute.
Any of the 53 players on either team could come home with the game’s MVP honors, but these are the 25 players most likely to play a crucial role in their team’s win.
25. Chad Ochocinco
This probably isn’t the first player you would think of for this list.
After all, Chad Ochocinco has just 15 catches for 276 yards and one touchdown in a New England Patriots uniform. That’s a great game for Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions), not an entire season.
But Ochocinco has waited his whole career to play in a Super Bowl, and while he hasn’t made an impact on the Patriots this year, maybe he will have his breakout game on the NFL’s biggest stage. Ochocinco does thrive on attention, and he should benefit from Rob Gronkowski’s injury.
24. Kyle Arrington
The New England Patriots have a secondary that’s given up an astounding number of passing yards this season—4,703 to be exact—but they also produce a high number of turnovers.
Kyle Arrington tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions in 2011. Arrington was targeted 100 times this year and gave up an average of 8.10 yards per attempt—but if he gets an interception and takes it for a score, that could win him the game’s MVP award.
23. Devin McCourty
See: Arrington, Kyle.
Devin McCourty has all but transitioned to safety for the New England Patriots after some rough times at cornerback since his terrific campaign as a rookie in 2010. He became the first player in the Pro Football Focus era (since 2008) to give up over 1,000 yards as a corner, but he also has a knack for the ball.
If it is a low-scoring game and he gets an interception or even two, McCourty could take home the award.
22. Mario Manningham
Of course he will be the third target for the New York Giants, behind Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Jake Ballard may even get more looks as the tight end, but Mario Manningham is a very capable third receiver and could put up some yards against a much-maligned New England secondary.
21. Mathias Kiwanuka
The former New York Giants first-round pick has struggled as a defensive end, but really excelled in the switch to outside linebacker this season.
Mathias Kiwanuka picked up just five sacks but registered his fair share of quarterback pressures. The Giants were able to beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl four years ago because of the defensive line’s ability to pressure Brady.
With Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora up front, Kiwanuka could easily emerge as a surprise defensive star.
20. Antrel Rolle
Antrel Rolle had a rough season, but he is still a two-time Pro Bowler and former All-Pro at free safety. Rolle is a playmaker, and he could capitalize on an errant pass by Eli Manning. As with any defensive back, it will likely take a touchdown for him to win the MVP award.
19. Jerod Mayo
Jerod Mayo is arguably the best player in the back seven for the New England Patriots defense, and the team liked him enough to give him a five-year contract extension in December.
Mayo is a terrific linebacker for a Patriots unit that hasn’t had the normal stars it had in its early Super Bowls—players like Tedy Bruschi, Roosevelt Colvin, Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest.
Mayo would need to do something spectacular to win the MVP, like recover a couple of fumbles or take an interception back for a touchdown.
18. Danny Woodhead
After his breakout season for the New England Patriots in 2010, the team didn’t utilize Woodhead nearly as much this past season.
Woodhead is still a shifty capable running back who averaged 4.6 yards per rush and 8.7 yards per reception. If Bill Belichick calls Woodhead’s number much more, with Rob Gronkowski likely to be a non-factor, Woodhead could go from an undrafted rookie free agent in 2010 to Super Bowl MVP in 2011.
17. Jake Ballard
Remember his spectacular catch late in the game against the New England Patriots back in Week 9?
Ballard is difficult to cover, at 6’6” and over 270 pounds, and he is a big red-zone target for Eli Manning. If the two teams had awarded an MVP for their matchup earlier this regular season, it very well could have gone to Ballard.
16. Osi Umenyiora
Osi Umenyiora didn’t get any of the team’s five sacks against Tom Brady in the 2007 Super Bowl, but he was still a force and opened up lanes for his teammates to make plays.
Umenyiora is a top pass-rusher. New England Patriots tackles Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer will have their hands full trying to stop him in this game.
15. Julian Edelman
He’s Bill Belichick’s new secret weapon; a reincarnation of Troy Brown—a wide receiver who can also play cornerback. Julian Edelman has been the New England Patriots’ nickel back this season, and he will get his fair share of snaps against the New York Giants.
If Edelman intercepts a pass in the game and also makes some plays on offense, voters will definitely look to give the award to the super-utility man.
14. Stephen Gostkowski
But say Gostkowski kicks two long field goals in the first 60 minutes, and the game goes into overtime with the score tied at 13 apiece. The New York Giants fail to score on their first possession and Gostkowski kicks a 44-yarder in overtime to win it. He has to win the MVP.
13. Justin Tuck
He earned national attention in the game four years ago when he sacked Tom Brady twice and played a huge role in the New York Giants’ win over the New England Patriots.
Whether Justin Tuck goes against Matt Light or Sebastian Vollmer, he just needs to get to Brady a couple of times to get his name into the MVP talks.
12. Deion Branch
He won the game’s MVP in the 2004 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, when Bill Belichick wisely put Branch against nickel corner Matt Ware.
Branch ended with 11 catches, earning the game’s MVP honors. With Rob Gronkowski doubtful to make much of an impact in this game, Branch could be one of Tom Brady’s top targets again.
11. Rob Gronkowski
He may be a decoy and he may be a big factor in the game, which poses the big question.
Rob Gronkowski was a playmaker during the regular season, setting single-season tight end records with 1,327 receiving yards and 18 total touchdowns. A high ankle sprain in the AFC Championship Game win over the Baltimore Ravens leaves Gronkowski’s status in doubt.
It’s difficult for players to play just two weeks after suffering an injury of that magnitude, but if Gronkowski takes enough pain medications, the adrenaline of the game may be enough for him to snag a touchdown or two.
10. BenJarvus Green-Ellis
The New England Patriots’ starting running back has been an afterthought for most of the season; after all, this is a team that throws the ball 40 times per game if needed.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis probably won’t get too many carries, but if he breaks a long one early, the team will keep feeding him the ball, especially if they have a lead. That’s where his chance of winning Super Bowl MVP comes in.
9. Ahmad Bradshaw
Likewise, the New York Giants don’t use their running game too much, especially with a quarterback in Eli Manning who nearly threw for 5,000 yards this season.
Ahmad Bradshaw is a complete running back though, and some fine plays both on the ground and through the air could get him the MVP.
8. Aaron Hernandez
Bill Belichick does a phenomenal job of utilizing Aaron Hernandez as a super utility man on offense—at running back, wide receiver and tight end.
Hernandez has worked well as a complement to Rob Gronkowski this season, totaling over 900 yards of receiving. He has 4.4 speed and has the big-play potential to top 100 yards and score a few touchdowns.
7. Jason Pierre-Paul
If a defensive player is going to win the game’s MVP award, my money is on Jason Pierre-Paul. JPP was virtually unblockable this season.
He is a dynamic pass-rusher and terrific run-stuffer, and he is quickly establishing himself as one of the game’s premier defensive players. JPP picked up 16.5 sacks during the regular season (as well as a pair of forced fumbles) and he plays on a New York Giants defense that has proven in the past it can get to Tom Brady.
6. Brandon Jacobs
Brandon Jacobs is exactly the type of player who could eat up the clock if the New York Giants get an early lead and wear down the New England defense.
Jacobs is built like a linebacker, at about 6’4” and 270 pounds, and he may be playing his final game in a Giants uniform.
Jacobs didn’t play well in the Super Bowl four years ago, running just 14 times for 42 yards, but he had scored a touchdown in each of the Giants' three previous playoff contests. If he tops 100 yards and scores a touchdown in this game, he could win MVP.
5. Victor Cruz
I can’t ever remember a player coming out of anonymity onto the national spotlight like Victor Cruz has done this season.
Cruz had an unbelievable season in which he caught 82 passes for a franchise-record 1,536 yards plus nine touchdowns. A Super Bowl MVP award would cap off a magnificent season.
4. Hakeem Nicks
As good as Victor Cruz is, I still ranked Hakeem Nicks higher on my list of best active receivers, and I think the New England Patriots will have to worry about Nicks more in this game.
Nicks has freakishly large hands, and he has brought in over 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns since entering the league three seasons ago. He already has 335 receiving yards and four touchdowns in three playoff games in 2011. Simply put, the Patriots better have more than nickel back Julian Edelman ready for Nicks, because he is on a roll.
3. Wes Welker
This is my non-quarterback pick to win the Super Bowl MVP award, especially given the state of Rob Gronkowski’s ankle.
Wes Welker has led the NFL in catches in three of the past five seasons; the only two seasons in which he didn’t were when he was coming off an ACL injury and when he didn’t have Tom Brady. Welker could easily pick up double-digit receptions with Gronkowski likely to be unavailable or ineffective.
2. Tom Brady
He’s already earned this Super Bowl MVP award twice and could have easily won it a third time.
Tom Brady is making his case as the greatest quarterback of all time, and if the New England Patriots win tomorrow night, there’s probably at least a 50 percent chance Brady wins the award.
Brady averaged over 325 passing yards per game in 2011. He would have set the single-season record had it not been for Drew Brees. Brady threw 39 touchdowns against just 12 interceptions, and he set a career-best by averaging 8.6 yards per attempt.
Even without a healthy Rob Gronkowski, Brady should still put up around 300 yards and a few touchdown passes.
1. Eli Manning
Eli Manning finishes No. 1 on this list, simply because I think the New York Giants will end up winning this contest. Manning had a strong performance in the Super Bowl four years ago, and all but replicated his last-second game-winning touchdown in this season’s midseason game between the two teams.
Manning quietly threw for almost 5,000 yards this season, and in any other year, he would have won the NFL MVP award. If the Giants win this game, Manning will have to play his best game.