Five wildcards for the Super Bowl include Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin, the potentially disastrous weather and talented Broncos tight end Julius Thomas. | AP/Getty Images
Even the most casual NFL fan is well aware of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning's brilliance. And after last week, is there anyone who isn't aware of the outspoken Richard Sherman? Yet, as Baltimore wide receiver Jacoby Jones demonstrated in last year's Super Bowl, a big-game hero can burst unknown from the ranks to etch his name into football lore forever.
Here are five X-factors with the potential to make a mark at MetLife Stadium come Feb. 2:
Percy Harvin, Wide Receiver, Seattle Seahawks
Harvin is Seattle's biggest wildcard, because he is the one receiver on the team with elite speed and playmaking ability. Coming off a concussion sustained in the divisional round against New Orleans, he has been practicing and is expected to be ready for the Super Bowl. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson -- even with his 200-plus yards passing against San Francisco -- has endured a brutal stretch over his last six games, barely averaging more than 150 yards per game. Harvin's speed and dynamic ability could mean all the difference.
Julius Thomas, Tight End, Denver Broncos
"Orange Julius" has been a revelation for Manning and the Broncos offense. The 25-year-old Portland State product is a former basketball player with sensational athleticism and the versatility to line up all over the field. A 2013 Pro Bowl selection, Thomas faces a Seattle defense that ranks second in the NFL against tight ends, holding Pro Bowlers Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis to a combined three catches for 24 yards in the playoffs.
Byron Maxwell, Cornerback, Seattle Seahawks
Maxwell became a starter in early December when teammate Brandon Browner was suspended. Maxwell has used the opportunity to prove himself as yet another lockdown corner for the Seahawks, alongside Sherman. A sixth-round pick in 2011, Maxwell is likely to spend most of his time defending wide receiver Eric Decker, who has amassed a career-high 1,288 yards receiving this season.
Terrance Knighton, DT, Denver Broncos
The man they call "Pot Roast" has become an explosive playmaker, capable of clogging running lanes and getting to the quarterback, as he did in his crucial fourth-down sack of Tom Brady. The 27-year-old Knighton is one key reason why the Broncos had the league's eighth-best run defense this year. He will be tasked with limiting Seahawks Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch.
MetLife Stadium -- shown here following a snow storm on Jan. 22 -- will be more than a tad chilly on Super Sunday, with a projected low of 26 degrees. Why does this matter? For one, Manning is 4-7 in games when temperatures are below freezing at kickoff.
On the other hand, Denver is a throwing team that emphasizes the screen, which one wouldn't expect to be affected by weather conditions. For its part, Seattle's offense prioritizes ball control, and its elite defense should, in theory, travel well in the cold.
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