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5 Super Bowl X-Factors

Posted Jan 26, 2013

Here’s a look at some of the under-the-radar influences on the Super Bowl.

The stories of Ray Lewis, Colin Kaepernick and the Harbaugh brothers have already been told (and will continue to be told) time and time again leading up to Super Bowl XLVII.

Those individuals will clearly have key roles in the game, but the outcome could very well come down to other factors.

With that in mind, here’s a look at five X-factors that could prove critical in the Super Bowl:

K Justin Tucker
The kicking game for the Ravens and 49ers couldn’t be more opposite this season. Rookie Justin Tucker has been rock solid for the Ravens, drilling 30-of-33 kicks during the regular season and connecting on a 47-yard game winner in the divisional round against the Broncos. It’s been a different story in San Francisco, where veteran David Akers led the NFL in missed field goals and has struggled of late. The 49ers brought in former Raven Billy Cundiff during the playoffs to give Akers some competition, but ended up cutting Cundiff before the NFC championship. Akers went on to miss a 38-yarder in the conference title game. If the trends continue, the Ravens will have a significant edge in the kicking game, which could prove vital playing in a dome where Tucker’s big leg will be an advantage.

RB Bernard Pierce
The rookie running back has come on strong during the second half of the season and is averaging 6.3 yards per carry in the playoffs. He has battled through a knee injury, but that didn’t hinder him in Sunday’s win over the Patriots. He has proven to be a strong complementary piece to starter Ray Rice, and is a good change of pace for the offense. Pierce has 169 rushing yards on 27 carries in the playoffs, but has yet to find the end zone. The Ravens have shown a trust in the rookie running back, and he could have a key role in establishing the ground game against a stingy 49ers defense.

WR/RS Jacoby Jones
Jones has been an X-factor for the Ravens all season, forcing teams to get creative in how to kick and punt against him. He has breakaway speed and the ability to score every time he touches the football, and he’s willing to bring out kickoffs from deep in his own end zone. That boldness has paid off for Jones this season – he’s the only player in NFL history to break two kickoff returns longer than 105 yards – and he led the NFL in kickoff return average (30.7 yards). If the 49ers have a breakdown in coverage, Jones will take advantage of the miscue. His speed can give the Ravens offense great starting field position throughout the game.

DE Pernell McPhee
The second-year defensive end has stepped up his play in the playoffs and flashed the last two weeks. He came up with a sack against Peyton Manning and also deflected two passes at the line of scrimmage last week against Tom Brady, one of which was intercepted. McPhee played through knee and hamstring injuries for much of the season, which limited his explosiveness and ability as a pass rusher. But those injuries appear to be behind him, and he is showing his ability to get after the quarterback to disrupt opposing offenses. Going up against a versatile 49ers offense led by Kaepernick, McPhee’s speed could be key in limiting the speedy second-year cornerback.

OT Bryant McKinnie
McKinnie worked his way into the starting lineup this postseason, and he re-emergence has paid dividends for the offense. The line has protected quarterback Joe Flacco, who has played the best of any quarterback during the playoffs. McKinnie will have the challenge of going against a very talented 49ers pass rush, led by outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who racked up 19.5 sacks this season. McKinnie has stone-walled talented pass rushers like Dwight Freeney and Elvis Dumervil during the playoffs, and he will get another big test in the Super Bowl. If McKinnie and the Ravens offense line are able to keep Flacco clean, that will go a long way in creating opportunities for the offense to succeed.

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