Super Bowl XLVIII figures to be a tightly contested battle between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, and there are a few players who can alter the outcome based on whether or not they show up big for their respective teams.
The upcoming championship tilt features a classic strength vs. strength matchup between Denver's top-ranked scoring offense and Seattle's league-leading scoring defense.
The battle between Peyton Manning and the defensive secondary of the Seahawks will be particularly interesting to watch unfold.
"That's the matchup everybody is going to be talking about, Peyton Manning vs. the Legion of Boom," Hall of Fame quarterback and Fox color analyst Troy Aikman said, via Mike Klis of The Denver Post. "I'm excited to see it."
For good measure, both teams finished the regular season as No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences, making this a rare set of circumstances.
Here's an examination of a few key difference-makers who must show up at their best in order for their teams to win the game. But first, here's a look at when and where you can catch the game, along with betting information.
When: Sunday, Feb. 2, at 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Live Stream: FoxSports.com
Betting Info (via Bovada)
Spread: Broncos (-3)
Money Line: Seattle (+115), Denver (-135)
Difference-Makers Who Must Step Up
Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos
Eric Decker put up big numbers for Denver this season: 87 catches, 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns. But he was hardly consistent. Six of those touchdown passes came in two games, and the receiver all but disappeared a few times during the course of the year.
His results in the playoffs have been mixed, too. Decker caught just two passes for 32 yards against San Diego in the divisional round before performing slightly better against New England with five catches for 73 yards.
Those numbers won't cut it in this upcoming contest against the Seahawks.
There's a decent chance Richard Sherman is going to lock up Demaryius Thomas. Furthermore, Julius Thomas will be hard-pressed to do better than Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham, who totaled just three catches for 24 yards against the Seahawks in the playoffs.
With both Thomases out of commission (potentially), it'll be up to Decker and Wes Welker to make big plays in the passing game. Welker is a brilliant slot receiver, but he's not going to stretch the field like Decker can, which is a vital component to beating Seattle's defense.
If Decker has a big game, then the Broncos will have an excellent chance of winning. If he doesn't, then the team's Super Bowl hopes will be almost certainly doomed.
Percy Harvin, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Percy Harvin hasn't made it through an entire NFL game in well over a year, but he's the biggest difference-maker for both teams in the upcoming Super Bowl.
If he can stay on the field, then the Seahawks will actually have a chance to keep up with Denver in the case of a shootout. If he can stay on the field and Seattle's defense holds Denver's offense in check, then Harvin could be the reason the Seahawks win in a blowout.
Simply put, he's the most dynamic offensive player on the field for either team.
“That’s a dangerous man right there,” Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said, via Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post. “He can change the game if you allow him to. I remember playing him when he was in Minnesota, and he’s one of the most explosive guys coming off the ball.”
Obviously, Harvin has no control over how his body reacts to getting hit. But he can play a bit smarter to do his part to avoid taking devastating hits. If he can stay in the game and make the big plays everyone expects from him, then the Seahawks could roll.
Terrance Knighton, DT, Denver Broncos
While Harvin has the explosive playmaking ability to blow a game wide open, there's no doubt Marshawn Lynch is the primary offensive weapon on Seattle's roster.
The Seahawks running back has been the key weapon for his team during its playoff run, rushing for 249 yards and three touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints. If he's allowed to run rampant in similar fashion during the upcoming Super Bowl, then Denver will be in deep trouble.
With that in mind, there's no bigger difference-maker on Denver's defense than Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton, who was absolutely huge for the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots.
Peter King of SI.com's MMQB believes Knighton could be a household name after the Super Bowl, noting his vital role in shutting Lynch down:
If you don't know him yet, you may be very familiar with him a week from Monday. Knighton is going to be a big part—both literally and figuratively—in stopping Marshawn Lynch and making things difficult on the Seahawks offense.
Knighton's play—good or bad—will have a huge bearing on the direction this game takes. If he can continue dominating the line of scrimmage and keeps Lynch locked down, then the Broncos will win the game. If Knighton gets pushed around and Lynch rolls, then Denver will get rolled.
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