Broncos vs. Seahawks: Under-the-Radar Stars to Watch in Super Bowl XLVIII

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2014

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19:   Matt Prater #5 of the Denver Broncos takes the field prior to their game against the New England Patriots the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Everybody knows that Peyton Manning, Richard Sherman, Wes Welker, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, etc. will play a huge role in how Super Bowl XLVIII plays out. But it can sometimes be the lesser stars who decide the game.

You know, guys like Santonio Holmes, Dexter Jackson, Larry Brown and Deion Branch, all of whom have won Super Bowl MVP.

These next four names won't jump off the page, but they could swing the game in their team's favor. They either possess the ability to change the game with one play or do the dirty work that doesn't show up in the box score.

The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks made it to the Super Bowl because of players like these.

When: Sunday, Feb. 2, at 6:30 p.m. ET

Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

TV Info: Fox

Live Stream: Fox Sports GO

Odds: Denver by 3, via Bovada

Trindon Holliday, WR, Denver Broncos

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19:   Trindon Holliday #11 of the Denver Broncos reacts in the second quarter against the New England Patriots during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Pulling Trindon Holliday off punt returning duty for the playoffs was the right decision for the Broncos. The risk was far outweighing the reward, as he couldn't even field punts.

On kick returns, though, Holliday retains quite a bit of value.

He could turn the game on its head with one trip to the end zone. Even at 27 years old, Holliday remains lightning-quick. All he needs is one gap in the coverage and it's off to the races.

Even if Holliday isn't taking a return to the house, he could at least shorten the field for his offense. Manning and Co. don't need a lot of help when it comes to scoring, but they won't complain if they don't have to travel that far to get to the end zone.

For those who argue that a kick returner can't have a major impact on a Super Bowl, remember that Desmond Howard was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXI.

Bruce Irvin, OLB, Seattle Seahawks

Dec 29, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks outside linebacker Malcolm Smith (53) celebrates with outside linebacker Bruce Irvin (51) after scoring a touchdown during the first half against the St. Louis Rams at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: S
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

It's easy to get lost in all of the quality names on the Seattle defense, and as a result, a player like Bruce Irvin gets overshadowed. He's so athletic that the Seahawks have been able to move him all over the field. It hasn't helped Irvin's stat line, but there's no question that he's a valuable asset to the defense.

And his versatility could prove huge against the Broncos.

Irvin did a great job in shutting down Jimmy Graham in the Divisional Round. Some wonder if that's due in part to the altercation the two had before the game, but that doesn't help to explain how one of the best tight ends in the league could have one reception on six targets for eight yards.

Irvin talked to The Seattle Times' Bob Condotta about how Graham grew more and more frustrated as the game went on:

Yeah Jimmy [Graham] is the guy who wants to get open in zones, find windows, and make easy catches. He doesn’t want to be physical. So our biggest thing was to put our hands on him and make him be physical. That’s something that he didn’t want to do and I think it was successful.

The Seahawks could use a similar plan to rein in Julius Thomas. He's been great this season, and his combination of size and speed presents major matchup problems. But Irvin should have no problem keeping up with Thomas when lined up against him.

Matt Prater and Steven Hauschka

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Ask Adam Vinatieri and Scott Norwood if a kicker can win or lose a Super Bowl.

The value of a good kicker can often be understated. You never want to leave points on the board, especially in a game of this magnitude. It's a great feeling knowing if you're inside the 30-yard line, you're guaranteed three points.

Neither the Seahawks nor the Broncos look to have a major advantage over the other, so it's very likely that the game could come down to a field goal. Both teams should feel confident that their kicker will come good, as Denver's Matt Prater ranked first in field-goal accuracy in 2013 (96.2 percent), with Seattle's Steven Hauschka right behind him in second (94.3).

And who knows? Maybe one of Prater or Hauschka will be asked to nail a critical onside kick, a laThomas Morstead in Super Bowl XLI.


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