The top two teams in the NFL will clash in Super Bowl XLVIII. Both the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks boast star-studded lineups that have produced at high enough levels to get them to the pinnacle of the sport, but it will be the role players who dictate the outcome of the NFL's championship game.
With the Peyton Mannings and Russell Wilsons of the world garnering much of the interest in the time leading up to the Super Bowl, it's the lesser known guys that head coaches John Fox and Pete Carroll need to prepare for.
The following are four players that you need to watch out for on Super Bowl Sunday. But before we get started, here's a refresher on all pertinent game information.
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
Spread: Denver by 3, according to Bovada
Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos
Rookie Montee Ball appeared in all 16 games for the Broncos in 2013. He was expected to have a larger role in the offense upon being drafted, but the emergence of Knowshon Moreno as a viable runner and pass-catcher limited Ball's opportunities.
Still, he was productive when given the chance. He totaled 559 rush yards on 4.7 yards per carry for four touchdowns. He also caught 20 passes for 145 yards.
Most rookies will hit the "rookie wall" at the end of December, as the younger athletes are used to their season ending earlier in college. Limited touches coupled with proper care has helped to keep Ball fresh through the postseason. He told Broncos.com independent analyst Andrew Mason how he stays healthy: "My body right now feels fine. It really does—just because I do a great job of taking care of it, hydrating and getting massages, chiropractic and all that stuff."
Ball will have an impact on this game when Moreno gets his much-needed breaks. The Broncos are a generally balanced offense, relying on the run almost as equally as the pass. That being said, there are occasional drives where Moreno gets touch after touch without much of a break in between. This is where Ball will be important.
If Ball can enter the game and provide similar production for several plays in a row, then the Broncos will be on their way to putting points on the board.
Jon Ryan, P, Seattle Seahawks
Jon Ryan is arguably the best punter in the NFL. To be honest, it might not even be much of an argument.
His sky-high punts both pin returns (30 fair catches, 82 total return yards in 2013) and help the Seahawks win the field-position battle (average of 42.7 yards per punt).
With special teams being such a fundamental aspect of the game, the team that plays the best when transitioning between offensive and defensive units will have the advantage. Ryan will be tasked with pinning dynamic returner Trindon Holliday and limiting his opportunities for returns.
Holliday himself as the ability to impact this game significantly, but Ryan won't give him the chance. He couples good distance with fantastic height on his booming punts, and that's exactly what will keep Holliday firmly planted wherever he catches the ball.
The last thing Seattle wants to do is give Denver good field position. Ryan will aid in preventing that.
Andre Caldwell, WR, Denver Broncos
Andre Caldwell isn't a featured member of the passing game. You'll likely see his name the most on special teams. He has the tendency to catch secondaries off guard when on offense, however.
He caught just 16 passes for 200 yards in 2013, but he hauled in three touchdowns. Caldwell was certainly a beneficiary of Manning's uncanny numbers this season, but he is a good route-runner who knows how to get open in traffic.
While the "Legion of Boom" of the Seahawks is focused on containing the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas, Caldwell very well might be the guy who sneaks on by and scampers into the end zone.
Denver runs a ton of shotgun sets with nobody else in the backfield and three or four receivers wide. This is where Caldwell will shine and get the most of his opportunities.
Allowing Caldwell to score won't be Seattle's downfall, but it definitely won't help their quest for the Vince Lombardi trophy.
Byron Maxwell, CB, Seattle Seahawks
Seattle's "Legion of Boom" is perhaps the best collection of players of a single unit in the NFL. The Seahawks secondary wreaks havoc on opposing offenses by picking the ball out of the air and batting even fairly accurate passes to the ground.
Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are the primary playmakers, but one player that isn't talked about much is Byron Maxwell.
Maxwell grabbed four interceptions in just five starts in 2013. Sherman even acknowledged him as a key member of the unit in SI.com's MMQB:
The best teams in the league are only as good as the guys on the bottom of the depth chart who you’ve never heard of, who get called on when injuries and suspensions transform rosters in midseason. ...
For the Seahawks, Byron Maxwell is that guy. And he’s one of the many reasons I believe we’ll not only survive, but also dominate on our way to the Super Bowl.
When Manning inevitably looks away from the likes of Sherman, he'll need to be careful in attacking Maxwell—or any other member of the secondary, for that matter. If he isn't truly careful, he'll get burned.