Super Bowl Predictions 2013: X-Factors Ready to Shine in Ravens vs. 49ers Battle
When you look at players with the potential to shine in Super Bowl XLVII, you could make a strong argument for at least 40 players from both sides. We know that isn't realistic, though it would be fun to think about.
Instead of telling you to watch Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis, Colin Kaepernick or Patrick Willis in the big game, here are the under-the-radar players poised to steal the spotlight in New Orleans on Sunday night.
LaMichael James, RB, 49ers
It took an injury to Kendall Hunter late in the season for James to actually get into games, but when he got his chance, he ran with it (pun intended).
James, a Heisman finalist at Oregon, has been an integral part of the 49ers' pistol-option offense and a key player in the success of this team on special teams. His versatility has given him a role on this team that he might not have otherwise had.
Some players just know how to use their skills on the field. James isn't the biggest guy out there, but he has incredible speed and burst to get through the hole in a hurry. His touchdown run against Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game was because of his ability to hit the hole right away.
Despite seeing the ball just 10 times in the playoffs, James is averaging a stellar 6.6 yards per touch.
Oh yeah, James also averaged 29.8 yards per kick return during the regular season. That would have been second in the NFL if he had enough returns to qualify.
Remember, the Ravens struggled on special teams coverage against Denver in their divisional round game.
Haloti Ngata, DT, Ravens
Which player will have the biggest impact on Super Bowl XLVII?
Even though Ngata is a star, he largely goes unnoticed because players around him get to rack up all the stats while he is taking on multiple blockers. Ray Lewis leads the NFL in tackles this postseason because of Ngata's work in the middle of the line.
It is imperative that Ngata has one of the best games of his career against a big, fast and physical San Francisco 49ers offensive line. That big group, which weighs in at over 2,200 pounds on jumbo packages, has been impossible to get through in these playoffs.
If the 49ers are able to control the line of scrimmage and run the ball or give Kaepernick time to stand in the pocket and throw, this game is going to be one-sided for San Francisco.
The Ravens were middle-of-the-road in sacks this season with just 37. They need someone who can eat up a lot of space in the middle, which Ngata is built for, to open up holes that Lewis and Terrell Suggs can bust through with ease.
Andy Lee, P, 49ers
Andy Lee won't take home Super Bowl MVP honors, but I can easily see a scenario where the most valuable player on the field is San Francisco's punter.
One reason the 49ers are so successful on offense and defense is because of the way the field position plays out over the course of a game. Lee sets everything up when he is asked to do his job.
Lee finished fifth in average yards per punt (48.1) and first in net yardage (43.2). He was also third with 36 punts that ended up inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Because Lee is so good at pinning opposing teams back, it allows that great 49ers defense, which has had some problems in pass coverage this postseason, to keep the opposition back and give the offense shorter fields to travel.
Punters and kickers get no respect, but Lee is one of the few in the sport who deserves all the accolades he gets. His role on this 49ers team can't be understated.
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