2013 Super Bowl: What wild-card player will impact the game most?
CBSSports.com takes a look at what player will impact Super Bowl XLVII the most on Sunday.
It doesn't have to be a no-name guy, although it can be. It can be a starting running back. It can be a backup quarterback. It can even be a kicker. But when all is said and done and one of the Harbaughs is raising the Lombardi Trophy, there will be someone we point to who made a tremendous difference for the winning team.
Here are our picks for that player. Leave yours in the comments below or tell us about them on Twitter @EyeOnNFL.
Mike Freeman: Ray Rice. Names you've heard a lot of this week: Kaepernick, Lewis, Reed, Gore, Flacco, deer antler, Beyonce. Name that seems to have been lost in all of the noise: Ray Rice. If the Ravens are to keep Colin Kaepernick off the grid as much as possible, they will have to control the football, not have Joe Flacco wing it. That's where Rice comes in.
Gregg Doyel: David Akers. The 49ers will move the ball against the Ravens, but they won't march easily into the end zone. They'll settle for field-goal attempts two or more times, which I figure means at least three missing points -- because kicker David Akers is little more than a 50-50 proposition (12 of 20) the last eight games. Close game like this? Those three points are going to hurt.
Pete Prisco: Bernard Pollard. Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard is a classic box safety, a big hitter who is good in the run game and not great in coverage. So why is he my Super Bowl XLVII x-factor? Pollard could be the guy who is key to slowing the 49ers' read-option runs with quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The St. Louis Rams did a nice job on Kaepernick in their victory over the 49ers in St. Louis by using safety Quintin Mikell near the line of scrimmage. Mikell helped neutralize the outside quarterback runs and kept the read-option inside runs to a minimum. I think Pollard can have the same type of impact in this game. If Pollard gets matched in coverage, he could be a liability. But as the eighth man down, he could be the secret to the Ravens slowing that potent San Francisco running game -- including the runs by the quarterback.
Will Brinson: Justin Smith. The 49ers pass rush, no matter what Smith wants to say, hasn't been as effective since the All-Pro defensive end suffered a torn triceps against the Patriots in Week 15. Aldon Smith is sackless since the injury happened and Smith's been limited in his ability to disrupt opposing offensive lines. If Joe Flacco gets time in the pocket, he'll burn the 49ers deep the same way he burnt the Colts, Broncos and Patriots. Whether or not the extra week helped Smith get healthy enough to disrupt Baltimore's offensive line could be the key to this game.
Josh Katzowitz: Anquan Boldin. The 32-year-old has been on a hot streak in the playoffs, catching three touchdown passes. If he goes against 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers in the slot, there’s a good chance Boldin will win the majority of those battles, and though he’s not the fastest receiver out there, he always seems to make the tough catches. Joe Flacco will need him Sunday, and Boldin will deliver.
Ryan Wilson: Dennis Dixon. Yes, he's on the practice squad, and no, he won't see the field Sunday, but Dixon's ability to run the read option in practice will be invaluable for a Ravens' defense that is playing its best football of the season. The former Oregon standout and one-time Heisman hopeful volunteered to prepare his teammates for Robert Griffin III back in Week 14, and he's done the same ahead of the Ravens' matchup with one of the league's most dynamic players, Colin Kaepernick. And who knows, Dixon could parlay this into a chance at a starting job with the Eagles next year.
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