There's been a lot of ink dedicated to the Denver Broncos offense and Seattle Seahawks defense heading into Super Bowl XLVIII, which will take place on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
While those two units deserve all the praise for their accomplishments this year, don't forget about the third phase of the game.
Past Super Bowls have been impacted by huge special teams plays like Jacoby Jones' kickoff touchdown return last year for the Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans' onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV and Adam Vinatieri's heroics for the New England Patriots throughout the years.
Sunday's matchup also features a host of quality special teamers who are primed to have a major impact on the outcome of the game. Here's a look at three top candidates with a chance to be playmakers on football's biggest stage.
What: Super Bowl XLVIII
Who: Seattle Seahawks vs. Denver Broncos
When: Sunday, Feb. 2
Time/TV: 6:30 p.m, Fox (live stream)
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
K Matt Prater, Broncos
Both of these teams feature two of the best kickers in the game in Denver's Matt Prater and Seattle's Steven Hauschka. While Hauschka has gone 39-of-41 for the Seahawks this year including the postseason, Prater is 30-of-32 in 18 contests for the Broncos.
But what separates Prater from the rest of today's kickers is his ability to hit from long range. He tied for the NFL lead with six made field goals from at least 50 yards this year. He also set a new NFL record in Week 14 by converting one from 64 yards out.
In a game that's expected to be decided by 2.5 points, via VegasInsider.com, the kickers figure to play huge roles in the contest. Prater showed up big in Denver's 26-16 win over the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, making all four of his field goals.
Another aspect of his game that's strong is his ability to control field position with touchbacks.
Granted, he's benefited from the altitude while playing 10 home games at Sports Authority Field, but he has hit 12 straight touchbacks on kickoffs throughout the playoffs so far.
"We haven't hit anybody in a couple weeks, so were all champing at the bit," Broncos linebacker and special teamer Steven Johnson told Mike Klis of the Denver Post, who noted the kickoff unit hasn't made a tackle since the regular-season finale on Dec. 29.
This won't mark the first time Prater and the Broncos have played at MetLife Stadium this season, per Klis.
Back in mid-September, when the Broncos played Game 2 against the New York Giants, kicker Matt Prater had five of his eight kickoffs returned, his season-low touchback rate.
And that was when Prater was feeling well and the temperature was 70 degrees. The forecast for Super Bowl Sunday at MetLife calls for a high of 36 degrees with an 80 percent chance of a rain-snow mix.
Prater contracted a virus this week that caused him to miss his third consecutive practice Saturday. He's recovering and will travel with the team Sunday to New Jersey.
Prater's ability to slow down Seattle's potentially robust kicking game will come into play often if Peyton Manning and the offense put up points like they usually do.
WR/KR Percy Harvin, Seahawks
After a frustrating season that featured one regular-season game and one playoff appearance, Percy Harvin has been deemed fit to play in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Seattle coach Pete Carroll intends to use Harvin in the kick return game and on offense, via Dan Hanzus of NFL.com. When healthy, Harvin has been an explosive return man, leading the NFL in kick return average in 2011 (32.5 yards) and 2012 (35.9 yards).
Respected Broncos veteran cornerback Champ Bailey recently told Andrew Mason of Broncos.com that Harvin presents a unique problem for Denver.
"I don’t know how they’re going to use him -- we don’t have a lot of tape on him (with the Seahawks), if any," Bailey said. "But they’re going to use him. You don’t have a weapon like that and not use him."
Could Harvin's limited time on the field be a blessing in disguise in the Super Bowl? Offensively, you could certainly argue that's the case. Special teams-wise, there are no secrets: Harvin is dangerous.
Offseason hip surgery left the speedy wideout on the sidelines until Week 11, and soreness kept him out until the NFC Divisional Round, when he was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Now that he's been cleared, it sounds like Harvin will be all systems go, per Curtis Crabtree of KJR radio in Seattle.
PR/KR Trindon Holliday, Broncos
Throughout his career, the shifty Trindon Holliday has proved to be a high-risk, high-reward type of player.
Broncos fans know that all too well, as he has made them hold their breath the past two seasons. While Holliday has four regular-season return touchdowns the past two years for Denver, he also has 10 fumbles in that span, with nine of them coming on punts.
While his fumbly tendencies have to be a concern, Holliday has proven he can make plays in the postseason. He scored punt and kickoff return touchdowns last year against the Ravens in the playoffs, and he also had a 105-yard kickoff return called back for a penalty against the San Diego Chargers in the divisional round.
Klis relayed comments from Broncos coach John Fox, who knows the value of a good return man in the Super Bowl.
"No one talks about it, but special teams are part of the game too," said Fox. "Our Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, we had two touchdown returns, back to back."
Fox was the Giants' defensive coordinator in 2000 when Ron Dixon and Baltimore's Jermaine Lewis exchanged kickoff return scores.
Holliday has ball-security issues, but he also has speed you can't teach. There's a good chance he will be a boom-or-bust contributor for the Broncos on Sunday.
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