NFL Denver Broncos

5 Denver Broncos Players Who Will Be Key in Super Bowl XLVIII

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Denver Broncos: 5 Players Who Will Be Key in Super Bowl XLVIII

Mark J. Rebilas - USA Today Sports

We’re less than a week from Super Bowl XLVIII where the Denver Broncos will play the Seattle Seahawks for the Lombardi Trophy. The Broncos will be making their first Super Bowl appearance in 15 years and will be looking to capture their third NFL championship. The Broncos have had an excellent season, especially when one considers all of the key injuries they’ve suffered throughout the season; linebacker Von Miller, tackle Ryan Clady, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson have all been lost for the season due to injuries.

In spite of all of that, the Broncos still achieved a 13-3 regular season and a No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Despite a below-average defense which ranked No. 22 in the NFL in points allowed per game, the offensive unit broke every major single-season record you can think of -- points, first downs and touchdowns.

Quarterback Peyton Manning obliterated the passing touchdown record with 55 and all four of his main receivers -- Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker -- had 10-plus touchdown receptions on the year. Running back Knowshon Moreno had his first 1,000-yard rushing season and ranked fifth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1586 total yards in 2013.

The issue for the Broncos is they’re playing the team with the top defense in the NFL in the Seahawks. Seattle allowed just 14.4 points per game while ranking first in yards allowed and turnovers forced. To say Seattle’s defense is ‘good’ would be an understatement. The Broncos will certainly meet their match when kickoff takes place on Sunday night in Super Bowl XLVIII.

With that said, who are five Broncos who will be key to a victory in Super Bowl XLVIII?

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5. CB Tony Carter

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Tony Carter was an afterthought the entire season for the Broncos. Well, until starting cornerback Chris Harris Jr. went down to injury in the Divisional playoffs.

After Harris suffered an injured knee and ankle in the 24-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers in the Divisional Round, Carter became a key figure in the Broncos’ plans once again. With Harris ruled out for the season and Champ Bailey playing the nickel cornerback role, Carter played the role of No. 2 corner for the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game and had an excellent outing matching up with the New England Patriots’ starting receivers.

With Bailey having only played five regular season games this year and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie playing the role of Denver’s No. 1 corner, Carter’s play against Seahawks receivers Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin may be the difference between the Broncos hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and going home without one on Sunday.

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4. DT Terrance Knighton

Mark J. Rebilas - USA Today Sports

An unheralded hero on Denver’s defense is none other than defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. Another under-the-radar free agent signing by executive John Elway, Knighton stepped in as a starter for the Broncos at the start of the season. Along with Kevin Vickerson, Knighton aided the Broncos in establishing an elite run defense -- the Broncos ended the season ranked seventh in the NFL at stopping the run.

However, Vickerson was lost for the season following the Broncos’ Week 12 loss to the Patriots. In spite of that, Knighton helped the Broncos maintain stability along the defensive line. The defensive tackle was a key reason why Patriots quarterback Tom Brady struggled in the AFC Championship Game as Knighton had a sack on Brady in the Broncos’ 26-16 victory over New England.

If the Broncos wish to pressure Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who has been sacked seven times in two postseason games this year, the 335-pound defensive tackle will likely play a key role in whether Wilson is comfortable or not in the pocket come Sunday.

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3. WR Demaryius Thomas

Mark J. Rebilas - USA Today Sports

One of the more obvious selections of this list is none other than receiver Demaryius Thomas. The Broncos’ No. 1 receiver and Peyton’s favorite target is receiving more and more praise leading into the Super Bowl.

Other than being named to the Pro Bowl this season, Thomas has received the respect of his peers: Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman recently named Thomas as one of the top five receivers in the game. It’s hard to argue with Sherman as Thomas had 92 receptions for 1430 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013. His 14 touchdowns were the second-highest mark in the NFL.

The Thomas-Sherman matchup on Sunday might just determine who walks out with the Lombardi Trophy.

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2. RB Knowshon Moreno

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Considering the game-time temperature will hover under 40 degrees with a chance of rain and snow, one can assume the Broncos’ highly-explosive passing attack won’t be so explosive in the Super Bowl.

Which means Knowshon Moreno will be just as important as Peyton Manning is to the Broncos’ success on Sunday.

When Manning won his only Lombardi Trophy in the Super Bowl back in 2007, he played in rain-soaked conditions in Sun Life Stadium in what is considered to be the wettest Super Bowl of all time. Peyton won Super Bowl MVP, but it was the rushing attack of Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai that was key to the Indianapolis Colts’ Super Bowl victory over the Chicago Bears. Rhodes and Addai combined for 190 yards rushing in the victory.

The Broncos will need Moreno to bring his best on Sunday.

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1. QB Peyton Manning

Mark J. Rebilas - USA Today Sports

As if this selection is any shock, Peyton Manning will be the biggest key to whether the Broncos win the Super Bowl or not. The soon-to-be five-time NFL MVP had the greatest single-season by a quarterback in NFL history.

The problem is he's playing in a Super Bowl that has the worst conditions for the passing game of any Super Bowl game in NFL history. To make matters worse, he is playing against the NFL’s best defense.

If Manning excels in the cold weather environment, the Broncos likely walk out as Super Bowl champions. If Manning can’t get the passing game going, the Broncos likely walk out as Super Bowl losers.