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Football is the ultimate team sport, but between the Seahawks and Patriots there is some serious star power.
All-Pro players are featured up and down both of these teams’ rosters, and inevitably, they will have a say in how the Super Bowl is decided. But what about those role players?
Here are six non-superstars that will help determine the outcome of the Super Bowl:
Doug Baldwin, Seahawks
The Seahawks’ bread and butter is their running game with Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson, but it’s those times when Wilson escapes the pocket to find Baldwin down the field that’ll help shift momentum in the Super Bowl.
Far and away Seattle’s top wide receiver, Baldwin is going to have his hands full with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner shadowing him. But if he can slip away from their coverage for a handful of big receptions, it could be the difference.
Devin McCourty, Patriots
McCourty provides the backbone to the Patriots’ revamped secondary, and he was the defensive catalyst in New England’s comeback win over the Ravens in the AFC Divisional round.
McCourty finished as Pro Football Focus’ No. 8 safety this season, which might come as a surprise since he’s rarely mentioned among the league’s best. Though he won’t be responsible for much deep-ball coverage against Seattle, he’ll play a pivotal role of covering the middle of the field and helping on Luke Willson, as well as slowing down Lynch.
Max Unger, Seahawks
The longtime Seahawks center missed 10 games this season due to injury, but upon his return he made his presence felt in the running game.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Lynch averaged 5.2 yards per carry on 149 attempts with Unger in the lineup. In contrast, Lynch averaged just 4.4 yards per carry on 170 rushes with Unger on the sidelines.
Healthy in the postseason with another two weeks to rest leading up to Sunday, Unger is the anchor to the Seahawks’ interior run blocking and will have to get a push on Vince Wilfork up front in order to open up some holes.
Shane Vereen, Patriots
LeGarrette Blount may have received most of the glory after his hat trick performance against the Colts in the AFC Championship game, but against a stingy Seattle front seven it might be the versatile Vereen who makes the difference.
Vereen has long been the lightning in the Patriots’ backfield, but with Stevan Ridley out most of the season he has also proven he’s a solid between-the-tackles runner, too. That dual-threat ability should allow Vereen to strike fear in the ‘Hawks defense as a threat to both run, as well as catch passes in the flats and stretch the field.
Byron Maxwell, Seahawks
Yes, the other Seahawks cornerback, Maxwell has been one of the reasons for the turnaround in Seattle’s defense down the stretch. Upon the return of Maxwell, Bobby Wagner, and Kam Chancellor, this Seahawks defense ascended to a level even higher than last year’s.
A week ago, Maxwell picked off Aaron Rodgers and keyed the Seahawks’ comeback victory. Maxwell is targeted more frequently than Richard Sherman, and still he’s held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 81.1. That’s better than 81 other qualifying corners, per Pro Football Focus.
He’s an impending free agent, so a solid Super Bowl performance could land him a lucrative deal in the coming months.
Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots
Patriots kickers tend to grab the spotlight in the biggest stages, and while Adam Vinatieri was the hero time and time again for this team during its runs in the early 2000s, perhaps this will be Gostkowski’s turn.
Both Gostkowski and Seattle counterpart Dan Hauschka were solid this season, but in the playoffs have attempted only one kick apiece. In his career postseason history, Gostkowski is 20-for-22 on field-goal attempts. Perhaps he’s due and will decide this game’s outcome.
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