Super Bowl XLVII: 8 Potential Unsung Heroes
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With three days left until the Ravens and 49ers take the field for Super Bowl XLVII, most of the top stories have been set. The battle between the brothers, Ray Lewis' last ride, Joe Flacco's attempt to create his legacy and Colin Kaepernick's incredible run. These are the hot topics that have been talked about since both teams earned their ticket to New Orleans over a week ago.
But what about the guys flying under the radar? This game has plenty of stars but there are numerous players who aren't generating much buzz. Who could be this year's version of David Tyree or Mario Manningham? Here are eight players, four from each team, who haven't been talked about much but could be labeled as a Super Bowl legend when the confetti begins flying in the Superdome.
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Why not start this list of potential Super Bowl heroes with the guy who recently labeled himself as the greatest receiver of all time? Randy Moss has had an outstanding career, but this season will not go down as one of his strongest.
Moss was targeted 51 times during the regular season, but caught only 28 passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns. Moss' lackluster season continued into the playoffs, as he has caught only five balls for 71 yards in the postseason. San Francisco only has 33 completed passes in their two playoff games, but it is clear that Moss is Colin Kaepernick's third option behind Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis.
Despite his disappointing debut in the Bay Area, Randy Moss is one of the greatest wideouts of all time. He will be trying to back up his media day comments on the biggest stage. Don't be surprised if Moss has a big game in his second Super Bowl appearance.
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From one of the most overconfident players in the NFL to one who might not have much confidence going into Sunday. Last season, David Akers made 44 of his 52 field-goal attempts and was near perfect from inside 39 yards. This season Akers suffered a hard fall back to earth, converting only 29 of his 42 attempts and nailing only two field goals from beyond 50 yards after making seven last season.
Akers has only kicked two field goals during the postseason, but the 49ers' chance at a championship could ride on his leg. The Ravens defense seems to pick up its effort in the red zone, which could lead to multiple field-goal opportunities for Akers.
Akers will likely be given at least one chance to put points on the board, but if he gets off to a shaky start, Jim Harbaugh may be more inclined to go for it on 4th-and-short situations. Akers is merely a kicker, but in the Super Bowl, every point matters.
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Of all the stars on San Francisco's daunting defense, Bowman is easily talked about the least. It wasn't Patrick Willis who led the 49ers in tackles this season, it was Bowman with 149. The tandem of Bowman and Willis is the strongest linebacker duo in the league and Bowman's presence gives opposing offenses another force to worry about when running up the middle.
Bowman has been somewhat quiet in San Francisco's two playoff games with only 10 tackles, but this should be taken with a grain of salt as both games were against Green Bay and Atlanta. Both offenses are notorious for throwing the ball and only rushed a combined 39 times in the two games.
The 49ers defense will have their hands full trying to contain Ray Rice, but Bowman should have an impact when Baltimore hands the ball off.
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Another man on the Niners defense who doesn't get much credit, Sopoaga is the anchor of the 49ers defensive line. The 330-pound defensive tackle doesn't have many flashy statistics, but he is one of the strongest run stoppers in the NFL.
Sopoaga recorded 27 tackles this season and one sack. Once again, nothing flashy, but he makes an impact on the field in other ways than on the stat sheet. His biggest impact? His size. Not many centers and guards can move a 330-pound man by himself over the course of an entire game.
Expect Baltimore to double-team Sopoaga occasionally, if not often, during the game. Baltimore may also try to keep him off the field as much as possible by spreading the field with three wide receivers.
If the Ravens want any chance of finding a rhythm in the running game, they will have to find a way to clear out Sopoaga up the middle.
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Although Torrey Smith gets all the attention because of his ability to stretch the field with his speed, Boldin led the Ravens with 65 grabs and 921 yards. He finished the season strong and his performance has enhanced Joe Flacco and Baltimore's passing game.
Boldin is having a strong postseason with 16 catches for 276 yards and three touchdowns. He is appearing in his second Super Bowl, and at this point, has to be Joe Flacco's favorite option on the field. In the last two months of the season, Boldin caught 34 passes and three touchdowns.
Not only will San Francisco have to worry about Torrey Smith down the field, they'll also have to cover Boldin down the middle.
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Here is the biggest sleeper to take home the Super Bowl MVP award. Pitta provides matchup fits for the opposing defense as the third option in the passing attack. He caught a career high 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns during the season.
Pitta is having a solid postseason which include two key touchdown catches against New England and Indianapolis. Pitta is a sneaky safety valve for Joe Flacco, and the 49ers will have to be careful not to let him slip free from the coverage.
Pitta could have a quiet first three quarters then explode in the fourth. San Francisco needs to give Pitta plenty of attention during the entire game or else he could catch a late touchdown or two.
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During the Ravens' remarkable run, Cary Williams has emerged as one of the team's biggest defensive playmakers. Williams is an excellent tackler for a defensive back and can also create turnovers. He recorded 75 tackles this season along with four interceptions, which tied for the most on the team with Ed Reed.
Williams is having a terrific postseason with 24 tackles, including a 12-tackle game against Indianapolis, and has also picked off two passes.
Williams will likely match up with San Francisco's top wide receiver, Michael Crabtree. If Williams can limit Colin Kapernick's favorite option, it could change the way San Francisco operates on offense.
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It's unlikely that Baltimore's second-string running back will win the MVP award, but Pierce can make an impact when Ray Rice is resting on the sideline. Pierce carried the ball 108 times for 532 yards and a touchdown during the regular season. Impressive numbers for a backup.
Although Pierce will merely be providing Rice a break during the Super Bowl, he could change the game with a big run or two. Pierce averaged 4.9 yards per carry during the regular season and averaged 6.3 yards per rush on the ground during the postseason.
Unless Rice suffers an injury, it is unlikely that Pierce will get more than five or six carries on Sunday. But those five rushes could be important ones for Baltimore.