The countdown to Super Bowl XLVIII has begun as the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos begin preparations for the biggest game of the season.
But while all eyes are on Richard Sherman, Peyton Manning and other marquee players heading into the big game, there are several impact players going unnoticed.
Below I'll breakdown three impact players flying under the radar ahead of Feb. 2's Super Bowl clash.
Date: Sunday, February 2, 2014
Start Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Spread: Denver (-2.5) over Seattle, according to VegasInsider.com.
Montee Ball, RB, Broncos
Despite being slightly banged up, Knowshon Moreno is sure to see a bulk of the carries against Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII. However, rookie running back Montee Ball will likely touch the ball 10 or so times as he's been able to have a significant amount of success out of the Denver backfield this postseason.
Ball hasn't made any big plays as a runner or receiver through the Broncos' two previous playoff wins. However, his 4.3 yards-per-carry average is the best of any Broncos running back this postseason.
Ball carried the ball a dozen times and caught three passes in the AFC Championship Game against New England. And before that, in the AFC Divisional Round against San Diego, Ball ran 10 times for 52 yards.
It's no easy task to run on either of these two defenses, but with Ball providing Denver with an excellent change of pace out of the backfield, the Broncos will have a shot to move the ball on the ground and put forth a balanced attack against the Seahawks.
Jermaine Kearse, WR, Seahawks
Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse has been overshadowed by Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate for the most part this season. Still, the second-year receiver's knack for the big play makes him an impact player for Seattle.
Kearse only has three catches for 69 yards and a touchdown through two playoff games. But his lone touchdown catch was a clutch one and the most important of the season for the Seahawks as it put them ahead of the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game.
Keep in mind that each of Kearse's three catches this postseason have gone for at least 19 yards. His 23 yards-per-catch average leads all remaining wide receivers in the playoffs.
With Seattle set to take on a vulnerable Denver secondary that ranked 27th against the pass during the regular season, Kearse is sure to leave his mark with a big play or two on Super Bowl Sunday.
Terrance Knighton, DT, Broncos
While plenty of attention has been paid to the Denver Broncos defense this postseason, there's been little love for dominant defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
Knighton, who has been a huge key to Denver's success against the run this year, recorded 31 combined tackles, three sacks and one interception during the regular season, his first with the Broncos after four years in Jacksonville. In the playoffs, the veteran has been every bit as impressive, recording four tackles, one sack and two tackles for a loss in the Broncos' AFC Championship Game win over the New England Patriots.
Knighton's sack came at a crucial time as well, on fourth down late in the third quarter with the Patriots looking to cut into the Broncos' 17-point lead, per The Denver Post's Tom Kensler:
At first, I wasn't going to be in (the lineup) after that timeout. But then I thought, 'I have to be in there.' It was going to be a moment. And I was ready for the moment.
With Denver's defense set to face off with one of the league's top runners in Marshawn Lynch, you can bet Knighton's presence in the middle will be critical to the Broncos' success.
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