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MINNEAPOLIS — With four Super Bowl MVP trophies already, Tom Brady is the safest bet to leave U.S. Bank Stadium as the focus of Super Bowl LII on Sunday. But who are the five players not named Brady who have a good chance to be the hero for their respective teams? Let’s take a look:
Dion Lewis, New England Patriots running back: Turning an NFL journeyman into a key contributor is nothing new for the Patriots, but Lewis has become a legitimate playmaker since taking over as the primary ball carrier in Week 7. While most of the focus in New England’s offense goes toward the passing game and how teams defend Rob Gronkowski, there could be a huge opportunity for Lewis, who started with the Patriots as a specialist but has been responsible for lots of big explosive plays this season. His 16 receptions in two playoff games should definitely be an area of concern for the Eagles. Lewis, who started his career in Philadelphia but didn’t play much in 2011 and 2012, is a remarkable story that could get even better with a huge Super Bowl performance. A running back hasn’t won Super Bowl MVP since Terrell Davis in 1998. While that may be a bridge too far, it would be a very Patriots thing for him to make a big impact in this game.
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Jalen Mills, Philadelphia Eagles cornerback: The second-year pro has far outplayed his draft slot (No. 233 overall) thus far in his career. And without his one-on-one defensive effort against Atlanta receiver Julio Jones on the game’s decisive fourth-down play, the Eagles would have been one-and-done in the playoffs rather than in the Super Bowl. But Mills, despite three interceptions and 17 passes defended this season, is also considered the weak link in the Eagles secondary alongside Ronald Darby and Malcolm Jenkins. The Patriots will undoubtedly try to get favorable matchups to exploit Mills, who gave up nine touchdowns in coverage this season. But this is as huge opportunity if he can rise to the occasion and shut down the likes of Brandin Cooks. Mills is already a fan favorite due to his green hair and underdog swagger, but a couple key defensive plays in this game could make him a legend.
James Harrison, Patriots linebacker: It was an ugly exit from Pittsburgh for the 39-year old, whose playing time was erased this season before he was released on Dec. 23. But there’s still some life left in those legs, as Harrison has played 89 snaps in three games since getting picked up by the Patriots and provided some significant pass rush help. Harrison is expected to start as an outside linebacker, and there’s no doubt New England expects him to make a difference in this game. Harrison, who will be a free agent this offseason, said this week he doesn’t plan on retiring. But this Super Bowl could provide a final moment of glory for Harrison, who is already a two-time champion and recorded a 100-yard interception return of Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XLIII. Harrison’s best days may be behind him, but this is the kind of stage where an all-time talent can absolutely rise to the occasion.
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Danny Amendola, Patriots wide receiver: Some players have a knack for having the biggest impact when the stakes are greatest. Amendola has seemingly been that guy for the Patriots, always around the action when they need someone to make a play. Amendola’s touchdown catch in Super Bowl XLIX started New England’s comeback from a 10-point deficit against Seattle, and he caught a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the Patriots’ frenzied comeback from a 28-3 deficit last year against the Falcons. Amendola has also been hot in this year’s playoff run, with 11 catches on 13 targets against the Titans and seven receptions in the AFC Championship Game, including a fourth-down reception and the third-and-18 catch that kept Patriots’ hopes alive. If the game is close in the fourth quarter, Brady will undoubtedly be looking for Amendola — and odds are, he’ll deliver.
Jake Elliott, Eagles kicker: The rookie out of Memphis has handled every pressure situation thrown at him this season, most notably making a 61-yarder to beat the New York Giants in just his second game after the Eagles signed him off of Cincinnati’s practice squad. Already, Elliott has the Eagles franchise record with five 50-plus yard kicks made in a season and has added a 53-yarder in the playoffs. He’s got a big leg and the clutch gene, going back to college where he made a memorable 54-yarder in overtime against BYU in a bowl game. Elliott isn’t a big guy at 5-9, 170 pounds, but he kicks the ball a long way and usually on target. If the Eagles win their first Super Bowl title on an Elliott field goal, he may get a statue next to Rocky Balboa.