Super Bowl 2014: Analyzing Biggest X-Factors for Broncos vs. Seahawks

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIFebruary 1, 2014

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin warms up before an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in Seattle, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Super Bowl XLVIII is set to kick off on Sunday, and the usual suspects will be on hand. Quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson look to lead their respective teams to victory, while running backs Knowshon Moreno and Marshawn Lynch look to churn out tough yards on the ground.

On the defensive side of the ball, cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Richard Sherman will continue to shut down opposing receivers and limit the opposing quarterback's passing yards. Pass-rush specialists Shaun Phillips and Cliff Avril will look to wreak havoc in the backfield.

All of these players have had huge impacts for their teams over the course of the regular season and into the playoffs. However, there are a handful of players who can have a huge impact on this game despite having been out of the spotlight this year.

These are the X-factors of the Super Bowl. These players will prove to be instrumental to their teams' success in the big game.

Let's take a look at which of these under-the-radar athletes you should be watching for come Sunday.


Brandon Mebane, DT, Seahawks

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 19:  Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane #92 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates in the fourth quarter while taking on the San Francisco 49ers during the 2014 NFC Championship at CenturyLink Field on January 19, 2014 in Seattle, Washingto
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The 6'1", 311-pound Brandon Mebane will be anchoring the interior of the Seahawks defensive line on Super Bowl Sunday. Mebane will play a vastly important role for Seattle, as he attempts to contain the Broncos' rushing attack.

Denver has been able to find success on the ground during the postseason, as Moreno and rookie Montee Ball have combined for 59 carries for 236 yards and a touchdown over two games.

During the regular season, Mebane was ranked second overall against the run by Pro Football Focus (subscribers link) with a positive-22.7 rating. He has accumulated five total tackles during the playoffs this year, and his production will be crucial to Seattle's defensive success.


Terrance Knighton, DT, Broncos

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots is sacked by Terrance Knighton #94 of the Denver Broncos on a fourth down in the fourth quarter during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Terrance Knighton is a big, bruising defensive tackle at 6'3", 335 pounds. Despite his huge frame, he is athletic enough to knife his way into the backfield and create problems there.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is capable of scrambling for yards when a play breaks down, so it will be important for Knighton and the Broncos defense to get pressure on him from all angles. With great edge-rushers in place, Knighton will get the chance to take advantage of one-on-one matchups to disrupt Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch.

Knighton has come alive during the playoffs and has seven total tackles and one sack in two games.


Percy Harvin, WR, Seahawks

SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 11:  Wide receiver Doug Baldwin #89 and wide receiver Percy Harvin #11 of the Seattle Seahawks talk in the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at CenturyLink Field on January 11, 2014
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Although Percy Harvin is more of a household name, injuries have only afforded him limited action in 2013-14. Now that he is set to play in the Super Bowl, it will be important for the Seahawks to get him involved in the offense early and often.

Harvin is usually the most versatile player on the field and can contribute in many different ways. Getting him enough touches will be imperative, as his explosiveness can break open a game at any time.

The Broncos had a tough time covering New England Patriots slot receiver Julian Edelman, as he racked up 10 receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown in the AFC Championship Game. Harvin is even more electrifying and should give Seattle the upper hand on offense.


Matt Prater, K, Broncos

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

Matt Prater may turn out to be the biggest factor in regards to the outcome of the Super Bowl. Even though Denver's offense is electric, the Seahawks have a type of defense that Manning and Co. haven't faced yet this season.

Once Seattle forces Manning off the field, it will be on Prater to put valuable points on the board. Prater had a fantastic regular season, making 25 of 26 field goals and setting a new league record with a 64-yard field goal in Week 14.

He has continued to produce in the playoffs, connecting on five of six attempts including making all four of his tries in the AFC Championship Game against the Patriots—Prater scored 12 points, making his output the difference-maker in the game, as the Broncos won by 10 points.


Kick Returns: Doug Baldwin vs. Trindon Holliday

Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

Since both of these teams feature the ability to counteract their opponent's strengths, it could be speculated that drives will stall rather frequently on Sunday. This makes it all the more important to start with the best possible field position.

Both Doug Baldwin and Trindon Holliday have been great as their teams' respective kick returners over the playoffs.

Baldwin has been able to average 32.5 yards per return with a long return of 69 yards. Holliday has managed an average of 20.3 yards per return with a long return of 37 yards. Each of these players has the ability to break a big play at any given time, which could become the difference-maker in this contest.