The Super Bowl stage is one where names can be made or scrutinized forever.
Take Peyton Manning, for example. Even as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game and at least of this era, he is constantly questioned for his shortcomings in the playoffs and Super Bowl in particular because he only has one ring. Is it deserved? No, but it comes with the territory.
How about Dan Marino? The man who did nearly everything imaginable on the football field didn't win a Super Bowl and is forever remembered for it. Quarterbacks are a little important in the Super Bowl. In the last seven years, a quarterback has won the MVP award six times with one of the Manning brothers, Eli or Peyton, winning three of those.
But quarterbacks certainly aren't the only names that show up on the biggest stage. With two great running backs sharing the same backfield with Manning and Russell Wilson, and wide receivers like the ones the Broncos possess along with the return of Percy Harvin—again—there is star potential at nearly every offensive position.
With several options on both teams in the biggest game of the year, here are the players who will shine the brightest when the game officially kicks off.
Date: Sunday, Feb. 2
Where: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Start Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
TV Info: Fox
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Spread (Bovada): Denver -3
Knowshown Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos
He wasn't supposed to be the lead back for the Broncos this season. In fact, Knowshon Moreno was buried behind rookie Montee Ball and even Ronnie Hillman before the year started. Remember the fantasy draft when your buddy was so excited he got Ball with a late-round pick?
Well, Moreno has proven to not only himself but also to others around him that he's worthy of being the workhorse in the Denver offense. Manning spoke about the running back and what he brings to the team, according to Steve Politi of The Star-Ledger:
He has been extremely dependable in the pass-blocking and the run game, catching passes out of the backfield. His attitude has been great and like I said, I sure do like having him back there next to me in the shotgun. It makes me feel real comfortable.
The man who wasn't perceived as a multi-tool player before the season is not only seen as a great running back now, but also has the soft hands and blocking ability to do everything that Manning wants out of his backfield mate.
Along with his production on the field, he's also an emotional leader for the team. So emotional, in fact, that the betting site Bovada actually has a betting line on whether he'll cry before the start of the game.
To go along with his outstanding abilities as a blocker, he's also a pretty good offensive weapon. He became the first running back in Broncos history—that's a pretty long list, including 1998 Super Bowl MVP and NFL MVP Terrell Davis—to top 1,000 yards rushing and 500 receiving, scoring a career-high 13 total touchdowns.
In his two postseason games this year, he has put together two consistent games with an average of 70.5 rushing yards per game and a touchdown. In a cold-weather game where getting going on the ground will be a high priority, Moreno will have to crack a great Seahawks defense for his team to win.
Predicted Stats: 82 rushing yards, 28 receiving yards, one touchdown
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Did someone say something about poor weather conditions? Well, then everyone can expect Marshawn Lynch to enjoy a huge game.
The same man who has made a living out of running the ball in both Seattle and with the Buffalo Bills is right at home in MetLife Stadium. And while the Broncos defense has been much better as of late against the run, ESPN Stats & Info points out that Lynch might just be Denver's kryptonite:
The Broncos rank 2nd this season allowing 3.7 yards per rush between the tackles. But look out for Marshawn Lynch pic.twitter.com/Qy8SETUKyM— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 27, 2014
Lynch's ability to wear down defenses matched with his spontaneous ability to go into "Beast Mode" at any moment could be too much for the Broncos to handle when the two teams face each other.
As for his postseason success, Lynch might be one of the best running backs in playoff history with his tendency to shed tackles and take it to the house. ESPN notes that he has not only set an NFL record in the postseason but also shattered it:
Marshawn Lynch has 4 rushing touchdowns of more than 25 yards in the postseason, twice as much as anyone else in NFL HISTORY #BeastMode— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) January 23, 2014
Do you like watching grown men make other grown men look foolish? Enjoy seeing an offensive player absolutely crush defensive players who are paid to manhandle him for a living? Then keep your eyes on Lynch once again in the biggest game of his career.
Predicted Stats: 111 rushing yards, 32 receiving yards, one touchdown
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
To question whether the best offensive player this season will be a big part of Super Bowl Sunday is a little bit silly. And leaving him off a list of top performers on the biggest stage of the NFL is blasphemous.
The 2007 Super Bowl MVP is not only at the top of his game, but also has one this season's best offensive lines on his side. As ESPN Stats & Info mentions, the Denver O-line has been consistent all year and has been on the field nearly all season:
Broncos starting OL: played 1,031 snaps together this season (80% of total plays). Seahawks haven’t had an OL unit play more than 212 snaps.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 24, 2014
Who will be most impressive in the Super Bowl?
Manning not only set the passing yards record for a single season, but also passed for the most touchdowns in one year. Needless to say, he's worthy of being the offensive MVP for the regular season and could accomplish the feat in the Super Bowl as well.
Despite his .500 record (11-11) in the playoffs, Manning has been good in January and February for both the Indianapolis Colts and Broncos. With an average of 286.7 passing yards, 36 total touchdowns, 22 interceptions and a stellar 64.05 completion percentage, Manning has more than proven he's worthy of another MVP award if he can keep up those numbers.
Predicted Stats: 292 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception
In a game that has been hyped up as the top defense versus the top offense, I'll take the Broncos offense, even in a game where the weather could be an issue.
Manning has been overpowering for nearly every defense he's faced on the year and hasn't exactly slowed down in the postseason. While he's probably not going to throw for four touchdowns or pass for over 400 yards against the Seahawks, he has enough firepower in his receiving corps to take down even the best defenses.
The often overlooked part of this game is that the Broncos defense has improved tremendously in the playoffs. After allowing teams to rattle off an average of 356 yards in the regular season, Denver is holding teams to a mere 289.5 yards through two games and hasn't given up more than 17 points in either contest.
With all of those factors on their side along with an offense that features playmakers at every position, the Broncos will win the Super Bowl and give Manning his elusive second ring.
Prediction: Broncos 31, Seahawks 23
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