When the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos duke it out for NFL supremacy in Super Bowl XLVIII, all eyes will be on superstars such as Peyton Manning, Richard Sherman, Demaryius Thomas and Marshawn Lynch. While all of them will surely impact the game, the team that gets more production from role players often comes out on top.
Lesser-known players often step up when the lights shine brightest, and it almost always comes from out of nowhere. New York Giants wide receiver David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII is the perfect example, as his miraculous catch helped the G-Men upset the heavily favored New England Patriots.
Who will be the Tyree of Super Bowl XLVIII? Here are three under-the-radar players who figure to be the best candidates to go from anonymous to household names.
Date: Sunday, Feb, 2
Where: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Start Time: 6:25 p.m. ET
TV Info: Fox
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Spread (Bovada): Denver -3
Which under-the-radar player will have the best performance in Super Bowl XLVIII?
Broncos running back Montee Ball entered the league with plenty of fanfare this season after an incredible collegiate career at Wisconsin, and most expected him to be Denver's starter in 2013. Unfortunately for Ball, some early-season struggles led to Knowshon Moreno taking the reins. Although Ball was clearly the No. 2 guy, with Moreno breaking 1,000 yards on the ground, the rookie still played an important role as he quietly racked up more than 700 total yards and four touchdowns.
One might assume that such production would be noticed, but it's easy to get lost in the Broncos' offense. In addition to Moreno, Denver boasts Manning at quarterback, as well as pass-catchers such as Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas.
It's fair to call Ball the No. 6 option, so there hasn't been much talk about him. In fact, the most notable fact that we'll hear about Ball leading up to the Super Bowl is that he was Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson's teammate at Wisconsin, as seen in this tweet courtesy of ESPN Big Ten.
Russell Wilson and Montee Ball going to the Super Bowl. How did that 2011 Badgers team lose 3 games again?— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) January 20, 2014
Ball often overshadowed Wilson when they played for the Badgers, and he could potentially do the same in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks have a dominant all-around defense; however, it is generally easier to run the ball on them because of their elite secondary.
Ball is a more dynamic runner than Moreno, so he may be the first choice for head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase on the ground. If that is the case, then Ball may be the biggest X-factor in the entire game.
Over the course of an NFL season, kickers are asked to make plenty of game-deciding plays, but they aren't usually talked about unless they make a mistake. Perhaps that is why Seattle Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka's name almost never came up.
Hauschka missed just two of his 35 field goal attempts and finished the year with an incredible 143 points. Fans may not realize it, but that consistency could decide Super Bowl XLVIII when push comes to shove.
As has been seen many times over the years, a kicker's career can be made or broken in the Super Bowl. Former New England Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri became a legend for his clutch makes, while infamous Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood is still talked about to this very day after missing a game-winning attempt wide right in Super Bowl XXV. Hauschka would obviously prefer to be mentioned in the same sentence as the former.
Perhaps the best thing about Hauschka is that he knows his limitations. Rather than attempting a 53-yard field goal that he didn't believe he could make in a critical moment against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, Hauschka suggested to head coach Pete Carroll that he should try something else, per Tom Rock of New York Newsday.
You have to be honest with yourself. It was the wind at that moment. Sometimes you can make that, but I felt the wind at that moment was into the face enough to not want to try that kick. I grabbed [Carroll] on the sideline as I ran out because I could see the flags [on top of the uprights] and I told him: "We shouldn't kick this."
It was the right choice, as the Seahawks scored a touchdown on the fourth-down play. Hauschka may have no choice but to attempt a difficult, long kick in poor conditions at MetLife Stadium in the Super Bowl, but his track record suggests that he has the ability to come through if need be.
Special teams are often put on the back burner during the lead up to the Super Bowl, and that certainly seems to be the case currently. The Seahawks have the league's No. 1 defense while the Broncos boast the most prolific offense in NFL history, so there isn't much time to talk about what role special teams will play in the game. With that said, several Super Bowls have been decided by big plays in the return game specifically.
Jacoby Jones' 108-yard kickoff return touchdown last year was pivotal in the Baltimore Ravens' win over the San Francisco 49ers. Desmond Howard earned MVP honors for the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI with a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown.
One player who could follow in their footsteps is Broncos return man Trindon Holliday. The speedy Holliday is a huge weapon, but he doesn't get as much credit as he deserves. Perhaps that has something to do with his diminutive size, as pointed out by Will Weathers of Rivals.com.
Former #LSU kick return standout Trindon Holliday, the NFL's shortest player, is headed to first Super Bowl after Denver's 26-16 win.— Will Weathers (@TigerBaitWill) January 20, 2014
Holliday will be the smallest player on the field during Super Bowl XLVIII, but he could potentially make the biggest splash. As good as the Broncos' offense is, it may have trouble scoring at will against the Seahawks' defense. If that is the case, then look for Holliday to provide Denver with the spark that it needs.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter