The Super Bowl provides stars with a chance to cement their legacies, but it's also a golden platform for players to morph into household names.
After watching ESPN or listening to any sports radio, one can easily forget that football is still a team sport. Some casual fans might have been shocked to turn on the AFC Championship Game to discover that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were not engaged in a one-on-one skills contest.
But despite all the talk of how one loss would invalidate Manning's 15 years of awesomeness, football is indeed a team competition. Sure, Manning, his sensational receiving corps, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman will also factor prominently into the final outcome.
It's not, however, 100 percent on them. John Fox still seems to think running the ball is important despite touting the greatest passing attack ever, and he'd be right to think so for this matchup. Seattle's defense is infiltrated with studs, but what about the other guys holding down the fort?
Keep an eye out for these guys during Super Bowl XLVIII.
Super Bowl XLVIII Viewing Info:
When: Sunday, Feb. 2 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
Early Spread: Broncos -2 (via Vegas Insider as of Monday, Jan. 20)
Players to Watch:
Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos
Most Denver handoffs are typically met with grunts and sighs. After all, when the quarterback is completing 68.7 percent of his passes for 8.3 yards per attempt (including the playoffs), why waste his time with a four-yard run from Knowshon Moreno?
Unfortunately for Denver, the league's stingiest passing defense stands in its way of capturing the Lombardi Trophy.
That means even Manning will need a running game to assist him, but Moreno's health is in question after hurting his ribs against the New England Patriots. As of now, it appears he will play since ESPN's Josina Anderson said his X-rays came back negative:
Even if he suits up, Moreno has averaged 3.9 yards per carry over his last six games and has only exceeding 100 rushing yards once this season. His presence is important as a pass-catcher and blocker out of the backfield, but Montee Ball shows more promise as a rusher.
Ball has gained 95 yards on 22 carries this postseason. Relegated to limited work because of fumbling issues, he has not coughed one up since Nov. 24.
Ever since getting overworked with 37 carries during that same game, Moreno has looked more battered and sluggish. Ball, on the other hand, is well rested from running the ball only 120 times during his rookie campaign.
Don't be surprised if Ball receives a chance to shine during the Super Bowl.
Byron Maxwell, CB, Seattle Seahawks
Byron Maxwell is the last Seattle defensive back who comes to mind when considering the Legion of Boom.
And that's for good reason. When he's not terrifying Erin Andrews by delivering a WWE-style promo during his postgame interview, Sherman is one of the league's fiercest cornerbacks.
Safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor also earned Pro Bowl bids, meaning Maxwell is the only starter of the bunch who won't need to be replaced for the exhibition contest.
They could have had stars across the board before Brandon Browner got suspended indefinitely in December for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. That created a massive target on Maxwell's back, but opposing offenses have failed to exploit him.
Sherman showered his teammate with praise in his guest column for Monday Morning Quarterback.
Everybody comes into this league with a weakness, just like each team enters the season with holes in its roster. The trick is turning those weaknesses into strengths. That’s what Byron Maxwell gave us. At this point, he’s well-prepared, and he’s playing as well as any corner in the NFL.
The Broncos are loaded with receiving threats, which means Manning can look past whomever Sherman is covering. Colin Kaepernick learned his lesson the hard way, testing Sherman in man-to-man coverage on Michael Crabtree in what became the game-ending interception.
Given Seattle's excellent safeties, look for Manning to identify short, safe passes that gradually move the ball. This puts a huge emphasis on Maxwell to deliver a top-notch performance on the grand stage.
Denver's Offensive Line
No NFL offensive lineman gets his due recognition, so let's go ahead and honor Denver's entire unit.
Manning doesn't set single-season records for passing yards and touchdowns without the stellar unit of Chris Clark, Zane Beadles, Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez and Orlando Franklin providing an impenetrable force field around him. Manning was sacked an NFL-low 20 times during the season and has yet to be knocked down this postseason.
Against the Patriots, Manning had enough time in the pocket to read every "Peyton Manning isn't a big-game quarterback" article on his smartphone, formulate some wacky audible calls to mess with everyone and order a large pizza from Papa John's.
Not only did the Patriots never sack Manning, they never came close. The offensive line kept Manning upright throughout the entire game, which is a huge deal. Just ask his brother what happens when defensive linemen constantly pressure a quarterback.
If that protection persists, stopping Denver's passing offense is virtually impossible. Michael Bennett has already forced three fumbles in two playoff games, so this elite offensive line will have to keep him away from Manning.
The Seahawks need to find a blind spot in the trenches to avoid a high-scoring affair that suits them poorly.
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