But I always like to find some lesser-known players who could determine who wins or loses. So I came up with a list of five guys you might not know who might make a name for themselves on Sunday.
Clinton McDonald, DT, Seahawks
This is a player who doesn’t even start, but comes in on passing downs. The Seahawks traded for him two years ago for corner Kelly Jennings from Cincinnati and he has been a pleasant surprise.
McDonald is a good inside rusher on passing downs. He had 5 1/2 sacks this season and gets loads of push inside. That is key against Manning. Players at Manning’s feet bother him more so than edge pressure.
McDonald was cut by the Seahawks in the summer, but was re-signed after clearing waivers. He is playing on a one-year deal, so he will become a free agent.
At 6-foot-2, 297 pounds, he’s a little undersized at tackle, but he makes up for it with his quickness off the ball. His pressure inside against Manning will be a factor in this game.
Walter Thurmond, CB, Seahawks
He is the team’s nickel corner with Byron Maxwell and Richard Sherman as the starters.
With Denver playing so many three-receivers sets, it means Thurmond will be on the field almost the entire game. I expect he would spend a lot of time on Wes Welker.
Thurmond is the shortest Seattle corner at 5-11, and I think that’s being kind. He has good man-cover skills. Thurmond missed four games this season after being suspended for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
It came at a bad time since he is a free agent. But a good game against Welker could drive his value back up.
Manny Ramirez, C, Broncos
Ramirez moved from guard to center when the Broncos’ top two centers went down. All he did was play at a Pro Bowl level.
Ramirez is a physical player who can get on a defensive tackle and root him out in the run game, but he’s also smart in the passing game, which is a must with Manning under center.
Ramirez will be key in two ways. First, he makes the line calls against all those looks the Seahawks will throw at the Broncos. He will also be called on to handle Brandon Mebane in the middle of the Seattle defense in the run game. To run on Seattle, Mebane has to be blocked.
Duke Ihenacho, S, Broncos
This physical safety can be a liability in pass coverage. He lacks the suddenness to change directions quickly.
But Seattle isn’t a pass-first team. They want to line up and pound Lynch. That’s where Ihenacho could be key. He is a thumper in the run game and plays at times more like a linebacker. He will be counted on to be the eighth man in the box when the Broncos go to man coverage.
He could also be a spy on Wilson when he scrambles. I think Denver will try and hide him some in the passing game because he can be victimized.
Luke Willson, TE, Seahawks
The Seahawks love their double-tight end looks and that means Willson will be on the field a lot with starter Zack Miller.
Willson, a rookie from Rice, has had some big plays in the passing game off play-action fakes this season. He had 20 catches for 272 yards and a touchdown.
He is a good receiver who can get down the field and puts a lot of pressure on linebackers in coverage. Look for him to be a factor on some bootlegs and throws back against the coverage.