Super Bowl 2014: Players Who Must Step Up for Each Team

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Super Bowl 2014: Players Who Must Step Up for Each Team
Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks made it to football's biggest stage thanks to great team efforts, but the outcome of the 2014 Super Bowl will largely depend on the performances of a few individuals. 

While every player is important, some will undoubtedly have more responsibility than others on Sunday. With that in mind, the following players must step up for their team to win Super Bowl XLVIII

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

Wes Welker, WR, Broncos

Wes Welker is one of the most accomplished wide receivers in recent history, but his struggles on the big stage are well-documented. 

When he was with the New England Patriots, that dropped pass in the video above arguably cost his team Super Bowl XLVI. Although he had seven catches for 60 yards and two carries for 21 yards, Welker went down as the goat of that Super Bowl thanks to his infamous drop (Gisele Bundchen's postgame rant didn't exactly help him escape that one). 

Since then, Welker has had several other high-profile drops. He couldn't hang on to this routine catch in last year's AFC Championship Game, and earlier this year, his dropped punt against the Patriots contributed to an epic Broncos collapse. 

Against a Seattle secondary that finished first in the NFL in passing yards allowed (172.0), second in passing touchdowns allowed (16) and first in interceptions (28), the Broncos will need Welker to forget his past troubles and deliver. 

If he doesn't, Richard Sherman and the Seahawks will take home the trophy. 

Byron Maxwell, CB, Seahawks

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The man who will potentially spend part of the game covering Welker will play a big role as well. 

Although Byron Maxwell is an excellent young corner, he is the only starter in the Seahawks secondary who was not selected to the Pro Bowl. And given that Richard Sherman, who has 20 interceptions over the past three seasons, will be on the other side of the field, you can expect Peyton Manning to attack Maxwell regularly. 

Of course, Maxwell can certainly hold his own. During the regular season, he had 28 tackles, 13 passes defensed and four interceptions after stepping into the starting role when Walter Thurmond was suspended. 

But as good as Maxwell's been, he has yet to face an offense as potent as Denver's. The Broncos had the best passing attack in regular-season history, racking up 340 yards per game and 55 total touchdowns through the air. 

With Manning's massive arsenal of weapons (Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Welker, Julius Thomas and Knowshon Moreno), Seattle's defense—particularly Maxwell—will be tested early and often. 

Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

As good as Manning and the Broncos receivers are, Moreno will need to step up in order to keep the aggressive Seahawks defense on its heels. 

Moreno had a solid season, rushing for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns. He carried his strong performance over to the Broncos' first playoff game, going for 94 total yards and a touchdown on 24 touches against San Diego. 

Unfortunately for Moreno, he was largely ineffective the following week against New England. Outside of one 28-yard pickup, Moreno had just 31 yards on 13 carries (2.38 YPC). 

Against Seattle's defense, that lack of consistent production will be unacceptable. If the Broncos are going to get their passing game going, they will need four quarters of strong running from Moreno. 

If he doesn't produce, the Broncos will likely go home empty-handed. 

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