Weather, ticket prices and offense have so far been the main topics of discussion about Super Bowl XLVIII as the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos prep to take the lengthy trip to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. for the big game.
When all is said and done, it will be defense that ultimately decides the game.
This has nothing to do with the recent loudmouthed antics of Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, although he will obviously play a big role in the outcome of the game.
This has everything to do with how impressively deep each team is on defense, and how a loud Seattle unit and an unheralded Denver unit got each franchise to this point. ESPN's Louis Riddick puts it best:
The old adage that states defense wins championship will prove true once more, not just because of star defenders, but because of the not-so-obvious guys, too.
When: Sunday, Feb. 2, at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Live Stream: FoxSports.com
Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks
It is shameful how little attention Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner gets.
In his second season, the Utah State product has developed into one of the NFL's best interior linebackers and tallied 120 total tackles, five sacks and two interceptions—do not forget his epic 15 tackles in the NFC Championship Game.
Thanks to his strong performance in the regular season, Wagner ranked as the No. 13 overall inside linebacker in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Wagner has shown maturity for his young age, and says he has been studious in his time leading up to the big game, per CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora:
I've definitely watched a lot of tape this week. We've definitely got to be on our A Game when we play somebody like this. I'm not saying we don't have to be on our A Game every week, but when you play a guy that's so detailed and so in tune with everything you do, you have to put a little extra film in, and it's a Super Bowl and you've got this extra time. So what else are going to do?
Wagner has a tall task ahead if he and the Seahawks are to stop the likes of Denver running backs Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball—without any additional help in the box since Peyton Manning is so dangerous through the air.
Terrance Knighton, DT, Denver Broncos
Unlike Wagner, Denver defensive tackle Terrance Knighton is finally beginning to see his name in headlines for his strong play.
Knighton ranked as the No. 9 overall defensive tackle in the regular season, again per PFF.
The 6'3", 335-pound tackle—otherwise known as "Pot Roast"—has been a main cog in the unheralded Denver defense. Coach John Fox put it best, via The Denver Post:
Knighton has an uncanny ability to put pressure on quarterbacks and obviously doubles as a massive force in the middle, which helps to stuff the run.
Pot Roast will have to do plenty of that against Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, who has bruised his way to 249 yards and three touchdowns in two postseason games so far. Knighton has not let the Broncos down so far, so keep an eye on No. 94 all day.
Byron Maxwell, CB, Seattle Seahawks
Fans would be wise to get to know the name Byron Maxwell if they have not already, because the Clemson product is a big reason the Seahawks are at this point today.
Maxwell has stepped up in the face of suspensions in the Seattle secondary and wound up as the No. 13 cornerback in the NFL, one more time per the folks at PFF.
Sherman is actually part of the reason Maxwell is such a big deal against Manning and his vast array of weapons, because he stays on just one side of the field. This means the Broncos will mix it up and send names like Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker Maxwell's way and look to exploit him rather than testing Sherman.
Sherman understands just how important Maxwell is, as he wrote at MMQB.com before the NFC Championship:
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.
Maxwell will be under the microscope on the NFL's biggest stage, but considering he has grabbed four interceptions in his last five starts, the safe bet is on Maxwell being ready to take on Manning.