Stars such as Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson will dominate the headlines leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII, but as history shows, it is often the less-heralded players who decide the result of football's biggest game.
Kickers are often mocked, but Tom Brady wouldn't have three Super Bowl rings without Adam Vinatieri. Safety Dexter Jackson was a widely unknown fourth-round pick until he intercepted two passes in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Deion Branch was a quality wide receiver, but I doubt he was anybody's pick to win Super Bowl MVP in 2005. And perhaps the best example is David Tyree, who caught just four passes in the regular season before his iconic helmet catch in 2008.
While stars are obviously critical, it is the role players who decide which team lifts the trophy. With that in mind, keep an eye on the following players on Feb. 2.
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
Trindon Holliday, Punt/Kick Returner
At 5'5" and 170 pounds, Trindon Holliday looks more like a water boy than an NFL player. But, as we've seen in recent years, the dude can flat out fly.
Holliday finished sixth in the NFL this season in average yards per kick return (27.7), and he was one of two players this year to score a touchdown on both a punt return and a kick return.
He also made some history last postseason when he became the first player ever to score a kick return touchdown and punt return touchdown in the same playoff game.
Holliday hasn't gotten a chance to do much damage this postseason, returning just four kicks in the playoffs. But if he gets his hands on a ball against Seattle, don't be surprised if he rips off yet another game-changing return.
Matt Prater, Kicker
Like Holliday, Prater made NFL history recently with that ridiculous 64-yard field goal. And in a game that will likely be decided by just a few points, the Broncos may need more magic from Prater against Seattle.
Luckily for Denver, Prater was the best kicker in the league this year. He led the NFL in field goal percentage (96.2), hitting 25 of his 26 attempts. His only regular season miss was a 50-plus yarder against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Prater has already played a crucial role this postseason, connecting on four field goals, including a 54-yarder, in Denver's AFC Championship victory over New England.
Against Seattle's intimidating defense, Prater will be even more important for John Fox's club.
Doug Baldwin, Wide Receiver/Returner
Baldwin has the potential to impact this game in many ways. He was the Seahawks' second leading receiver in the regular season, and he stepped his game up another level in the NFC Championship Game.
With his team struggling offensively, Baldwin made several key plays, including a 51-yard reception. He finished the game with six catches for 106 yards.
He also made an impact in the return game, returning three kicks for 109 yards. His 69-yard return in the third quarter was Seattle's biggest gain on the day, and it set up a key field goal to ignite the Seahawks' comeback win.
Seattle is facing perhaps the best offense in NFL history, so they will need a big game from Baldwin to keep pace with Manning and the Broncos. If he plays like he did against San Francisco, Baldwin could be the difference-maker.
Byron Maxwell, Cornerback
Maxwell isn't as vocal as Richard Sherman or as talented as Earl Thomas, but the third-year man out of Clemson may be the most important member of the Legion of Boom next Sunday.
Manning strung together the best regular season in NFL history, and he has plenty of weapons at his disposal. And although I'm sure he's not scared of Sherman, I would be surprised if he tests the self-proclaimed, "Best Corner in the Game" more than a couple times.
That means Maxwell will be seeing plenty of action on the game's biggest stage.
Of course, the young man has proven he can hold his own. In the regular season, Maxwell racked up 28 tackles, 13 pass deflections and four interceptions.
He has also terrorized one Manning brother this season, picking off Eli twice in Seattle's 23-0 victory over the New York Giants in December.
Now with Peyton and a fleet of quality receivers on the other side of the ball, Seattle will need another huge performance from Maxwell. If he delivers, Seattle will have a great chance to win the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
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