SUPER BOWL: Profiles of key players
NEW ORLEANS -- Projected starters and key players for the Super Bowl:
Joe Flacco, QB (5), 6-6, 245, 5th season, Delaware
Holds NFL record by leading team to playoff wins in first five pro seasons ... Has eight touchdowns and no interceptions in this postseason ... Is 8-4 in playoffs ... Outplayed top draftee Andrew Luck, then Peyton Manning, then Tom Brady in leading Ravens to Super Bowl
Ray Rice, RB (27), 5-8, 212, 5th season, Rutgers
The hub of the Ravens' offense throughout his career ... Rushed for 1,143 yards and nine TDs, caught 61 passes for 478 yards ... Has two TDs in postseason ... Threat to break long gains on runs or screen passes.
Bernard Pierce, RB (30), 6-0, 218, 1st season, Temple
Complementary back who has come on in last two months ... Gives Rice a breather, but doesn't give one to defenses ... More powerful than Rice, not as shifty or quick ... Had 532 yards rushing during season, 169 in playoffs (6.3 average)
Vonta Leach, FB (44), 6-0, 260, 9th season, East Carolina
All-Pro fullback ... One of best blockers in league, unafraid to take on anyone ... Can sneak out of backfield for receptions, too ... Occasionally will run ball in short-yardage situations.
Anquan Boldin, WR (81), 6-1, 223, 10th season, Florida State
Helped Arizona to 2009 Super Bowl and has been sensational in this postseason ... Has 16 receptions for 17.3-yard average and three scores, two in AFC title game ... Powerful, versatile and can outleap defenders for balls ... Made 65 catches for 921 yards and four TDs this season.
Torrey Smith, WR (82), 6-0, 205, 2nd season, Maryland
Dangerous deep threat with superior speed ... Has improved his hands this season ... Has run past every secondary Ravens have faced in playoffs, making nine catches for 22-yard average and two scores ... Scored eight times in regular season.
Dennis Pitta, TE (88), 6-4, 245, 3rd season, BYU
Flacco's confidence in him grows each week ... Gets open over middle or outside and hangs onto ball ... Not used much as a blocker ... Has 10 receptions and two touchdowns in playoffs after 61 catches and seven scores in regular season.
Bryan McKinnie, LT (78), 6-8, 360, 11th season, Miami, Fla.
Line has solidified since he moved in and Michael Oher switched back to right side ... Huge, anchors well, has experience to handle most challenges ... Lost job earlier in season, but has performed strongly since returning to starting status in playoffs.
Kelechi Osemele, LG (72), 6-5, 333, 1st season, Iowa State
Tough spot for a rookie, but second-round pick started every game ... Anchors well, fundamentally sound for younger player ... Held off veterans to keep his position.
Matt Birk, C (77), 6-4, 310, 15th season, Harvard
Might be final game for longtime veteran of Vikings and now Ravens ... Locker room leader who joined Ravens in 2009 ... Six-time Pro Bowl center ... Has started 136 consecutive games.
Marshal Yanda, RG (73), 6-3, 315, 6th season, Iowa
Pro Bowl guard ... Missed one game this season, but started every game previous two years ... Versatile, equally adept as pass protector and run blocker ... Ravens like to run behind him inside.
Michael Oher, RT (74), 6-4, 315, 4th season, Mississippi
"Blind Side" subject who is far more comfortable on right side ... Can be overpowered at times, needs to avoid sloppy footwork that gets him beaten ... Has been steadier in playoffs, might be weak link up front for Baltimore.
Haloti Ngata, DT (92), 6-4, 330, 7th season, Oregon
Pro Bowler who can also play nose tackle ... Very strong and powerful ... A sacks threat when healthy, which he finally seems to be ... Had five sacks in 2012, missed two games (knee).
Terrence Cody, NT (62), 6-4, 349, 3rd season, Alabama
"Mount Cody," can be immovable force, but is inconsistent ... Much better mucking up middle against run than in passing situations ... Had no sacks and 25 tackles ... Often yields to backup Ma'ake Kemoeatu (96).
Pernell McPhee, DE (90), 6-3, 280, 2nd season, Mississippi State
Development slowed by thigh problem, missed four games, started only six ... Has been steadier in playoffs, won't make highlight plays ... Ravens like his work ethic, expect bigger things in future.
Paul Kruger, DE (99), 6-4, 265, 4th season, Utah
Had breakout season and has been among best defenders in playoffs ... Led team with nine sacks, has 2 1-2 in postseason ... Very disruptive and also can drop into coverage, although that's not his strength ... With Terrell Suggs getting healthier, Kruger doesn't get double-teamed as much.
Terrell Suggs, OLB (55), 6-3, 260, 10th season, Arizona State
2011 Defensive Player of Year coming off Achilles tendon injury that cost him first half of season ... Played this season with torn right biceps ... Didn't make big impact until playoffs, but what's wrong with that? ... Was particularly effective against Broncos.
Dannell Ellerbe, ILB (59), 6-1, 240, 4th season, Georgia
Makes a lot of plays, and some mistakes ... Plays on edge ... Had 92 tackles, 4 1-2 sacks ... Versatile, could become the focal point of linebacking corps next year ... Picked off deflected Tom Brady pass in AFC championship.
Ray Lewis, ILB (52), 6-1, 250, 17th season, Miami, Fla.
"The Raven," as teammate Bernard Pollard calls him ... Emotional engine for Baltimore for entire career, retires after this game ... Missed 10 games with torn right triceps, but has been sensational in playoffs with 44 tackles ... MVP of 2001 Super Bowl, Ravens' only championship ... Defensive Player of Year in 2000 and `03.
Courtney Upshaw, OLB (91), 6-2, 272, 1st season, Alabama
Rookie who had lots of responsibility with so many injuries on defense ... Responded with 60 tackles and few errors ... Won two national titles at Alabama, was drafted in second round (35th overall) last April ... Could eventually be an end.
Corey Graham, CB (24), 6-0, 196, 6th season, New Hampshire
Emerged after top cornerback Lardarius Webb tore up knee ... Had two interceptions at Denver and had two during season ... Signed as free agent after five seasons as backup with Bears.
Cary Williams, CB (29), 6-1, 190, 4th season, Washburn
Very up-and-down defender who has two picks in postseason, including one in end zone in AFC championship ... So-so tackler, better as coverage man, yet made 75 tackles during season ... Joined Ravens in 2009 after Titans cut him.
Bernard Pollard, SS (31), 6-1, 224, 7th season, Purdue
Hardest hitter on the field for Ravens -- yes, including Lewis ... Patriots know how damaging he can be: Pollard has put out of games Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Stevan Ridley in recent years ... Takes some silly penalties when he gets too aggressive ... Led team with 98 tackles, also can blitz effectively.
Ed Reed, FS (20), 5-11, 200, 11th season, Miami, Fla.
Like Lewis, a Miami Hurricane who probably will wind up in Hall of Fame ... Smart, reads offenses as well as most coordinators ... Makes big plays, tied Williams for team lead with four picks ... Was in on 58 tackles ... Less demonstrative than Lewis, but as much a leader.
Justin Tucker, PK (5), 6-0, 180, 1st season, Texas
Rookies rarely have this kind of impact as kicker. Tucker went 4 for 4 from 50 yards and out during season, when he was 30 of 33 on field goals ... A bit inconsistent on kickoffs, but very reliable on FGs with game on line ... Undrafted after strong career for Longhorns.
Sam Koch, P (4), 6-1, 220, 7th season, Nebraska
Usually reliable, although his low punts allowed long returns for Patriots in AFC title game ... Had 47.1 yard gross average and 40.8 net and put 28 punts inside opposing 20-yard line.
Jacoby Jones, KR (12), 6-2, 212, 6th season, Lane
All-Pro returner who also is third receiver for Ravens ... Made 70-yard TD catch to rescue Baltimore in final minute of regulation at Denver in divisional round ... Averaged 30.7 yards on 38 kickoff returns, tops in NFL, and had two scores, one covering 108 yards ... Averaged 9.2 on punt runbacks with a 63-yard TD.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Colin Kaepernick, QB (7), 6-4, 230, 2nd season, Nevada
Dynamic player who replaced injured Alex Smith in November and kept the job ... Fast with long strides, set record for position with 181 yards rushing vs. Green Bay, including 59-yard TD ... Strong arm, unafraid to throw into tight spots ... Excellent weapon in read-option, although Niners don't use it that much.
Frank Gore, RB (21), 5-9, 217, 8th season, Miami, Fla.
Career rushing leader for franchise, as dependable as they come ... Strong, can pound through line, but also has quick feet to cut to open space ... rushed for 1,214 yards and eight TDs during season, has three touchdowns in playoffs ... Also effective out of backfield as receiver.
LaMichael James, RB (23), 5-9, 195, 1st season, Oregon
Change of pace player who sat until Kendall Hunter wrecked ankle in Week 12 ... Role has expanded of late ... Also dangerous kick returner.
Michael Crabtree, WR (15), 6-1, 214, 4th season, Texas Tech
Matured this season and became a true No. 1 receiver ... Led team with 85 catches, 1,105 yards and nine TDs ... Somehow finds way to get wide open several times a game ... Good after the catch, but needs to consider better ball security; fumbled at Atlanta 1 in conference championship.
Randy Moss, WR (84), 6-4, 214, 14th season, Marshall
Now a complementary wideout, but one who must be watched closely ... Still has a burst to get deep, runs as smoothly as ever ... Made only 28 catches during season, but scored three times and averaged 15.5 a reception ... Brought good attitude to Bay Area, leaving behind his rep for being bad locker room presence.
Vernon Davis, TE (85), 6-3, 250, 7th season, Maryland
Almost forgotten at times in offense, Davis has emerged powerfully in postseason ... Excellent clutch player, is a force over the middle and down the sidelines ... Among best at position going deep ... Had 41 catches and five touchdowns in 2012, has six receptions and a TD in two postseason games, averaging 25 yards a catch.
Delanie Walker, TE (46), 6-0, 242, 7th season, Central Missouri
Would be No. 1 tight end for a lot of teams, although he does drop some passes ... Solid blocker ... Averaged 16.4 yards a catch during season, excellent for a tight end ... Scored three times in 2012.
Joe Staley, LT (74), 6-5, 315, 6th season, Central Michigan
Pro Bowler and the fulcrum of the running game ... Solid pass protector, too ... First-round pick in `07 who has started every game in career when healthy ... Niners trust him to handle top DEs one on one.
Mike Iupati, LG (77), 6-5, 331, 3rd season, Idaho
Another first-round pick who blossomed into All-Pro player this season ... Strong, good feet, anchors well ... Rarely out of position, fundamentally sound blocker ... Best offensive lineman in this game.
Jonathan Goodwin, C (59), 6-3, 318, 11th season, Michigan
Veteran who won Super Bowl with Saints in 2009, joined Niners as free agent in `11 ... Steady, not spectacular ... If he has to handle Ngata, could be in for long day, will need some help.
Alex Boone, RG (75), 6-8, 300, 3rd season, Ohio State
Newcomer with tremendous size and power ... Got in only one game as rookie, played in all of them in 2011 without a starter, was elevated this season ... Probably the fifth-best player on the line, but it's a very good line, so Boone isn't a weak spot.
Anthony Davis, RT (76), 6-5, 323, 3rd season, Rutgers
Improved substantially since being drafted 11th overall in 2010, six spots before Iupati ... Durable, has started all 48 regular-season games ... Might see a few blitzes on his side, needs to get quickly out of stance to handle them.
Ray McDonald, DL (91), 6-3, 290, 6th season, Florida
Active player with some versatility ... Third-round pick whose duties have increased, but was more effective in 2011 ... Has some skills at pressuring QB.
Justin Smith, DL (94), 6-4,, 285, 12th season, Missouri
As versatile as any lineman, can play end or tackle and is often in a LB's spot in coordinator Vic Fangio's alignments ... Has been playing with partially torn left triceps muscle ... Never stops working, inspirational leader on D ... Pro Bowl player who left Cincinnati in `08 as free agent.
Isaac Sopoaga, NT (90), 6-2, 330, 9th season, Hawaii
Strong as they come, gets a nice surge in the middle ... If he matches up with Yanda, that's trench play worth watching ... Had one sack in season and has another in postseason.
Ricky Jean Francois, DL (95), 6-3, 295, 4th season, LSU
Often makes an impact despite limited snaps ... Had 22 tackles and two sacks in 2012 ... If Smith is limited, his role increases.
Ahmad Brooks, OLB (55), 6-3, 259, 7th season, Virginia
Comes off perhaps best game of career against Atlanta ... Good timing enables him to block or deflect passes ... Terrific pass rusher when turned loose, had 6 1-2 sacks ... Had 50-yard interception return for TD.
NaVorro Bowman, ILB (53), 6-0, 242, 3rd season, Penn State
All-Pro tackling machine No. 1 ... Really came on in 2011, can be dominant over middle or from sideline to sideline ... Led Niners with 149 tackles. His 97 solo would have been second overall on team ... No predicting where he'll pop up in defensive schemes.
Patrick Willis, ILB (52), 6-1, 240, 6th season, Mississippi
All-Pro tackling machine No. 1A ... With apologies to Lewis, Willis is best LB in this Super Bowl -- and probably best in entire league ... Has made All-Pro in five of six seasons and took taking Defensive Rookie of Year honors in 2007 ... Had 120 tackles, 88 solo this season.
Aldon Smith, OLB (99), 6-4, 258, 2nd season, Missouri
All-Pro sacks machine ... Led NFC with 19 1-2, but slumped when Justin Smith got hurt ... Not as good as he needs to be in coverage, but is raw ... then again, why not rush him every play? ... Great burst off the line, big wingspan and maneuverability.
Carlos Rogers, CB (22), 6-0, 192, 8th season, Auburn
Earned All-Pro recognition in 2011, wasn't as impactful this season ... Breaks on the ball well, but can gamble too much ... Managed only one interception after getting six in previous season ... Could see a lot of Boldin.
Tarell Brown, CB (25), 5-10, 193, 6th season, Texas
Has gotten better with experience, but still makes some big mistakes ... Has 39-yard INT return in postseason ... Made two picks during season ... Might wind up matched against deep-threat Torrey Smith.
Dashon Goldson, FS (38), 6-2, 200, 6th season, Washington
The glue of the secondary, a fourth-round choice who has become an All-Pro ... Breaks on the ball well, is physical when he gets there ... Good size and strength and intelligence ... Pitta frequently could be his responsibility.
Donte Whitner, SS (31), 5-10, 208, 7th season, Ohio State
Like Baltimore's Pollard, Whitner loves to hit ... Was third on Niners with 83 tackles ... Not a ballhawk, but did have 42-yard TD runback with interception ... First-round pick by Buffalo in 2006, joined Niners as free agent in 2011.
David Akers, PK (2), 5-10, 200, 14th season, Louisville
All-Pro in 2011, slumping in 2012 ... Missed most field goals in league (13), then failed on 38-yarder at Atlanta ... Coach Jim Harbaugh prefers familiarity he has with Akers, who made Super Bowl in 2004 season with Eagles.
Andy Lee, P (4), 6-2, 180, 9th season, Pittsburgh
Excellent punter with strong leg, good hang time and directional kicks ... All-Pro this season, averaged 48.1 gross and 43.2 yards net ... Has been 49ers' regular punter for entire career, with best seasons the last two.
Ted Ginn Jr., KR (19), 5-11, 180, 6th season, Ohio State
A flop as a receiver, Ginn found his niche in running back kicks ... Has good speed and big-play capability, but is inconsistent .. Was third in NFC with 10.2 average on punt returns.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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