Ravens: Joe Flacco, QB
It's not a secret that this game will be decided by the performance of Flacco. For all his accomplishments during his four-year career, he has not played well during the postseason. In eight playoff appearances, he has only completed at least 60 percent of his passes in one game and his 6/7 touchdown-to-interception ratio is substandard for a championship quarterback. However, he gets an opportunity to make amends for his disappointing play against the Patriots. If he can perform well on the biggest stage, he will not only guide the Ravens to the Super Bowl, but he will finally get the respect that he desperately covets.
Patriots: Jerod Mayo, LB
The Ravens are at their best when Ray Rice is the centerpiece of the game plan. His ability to grind out tough yards between the tackles sets the table for the offense, allowing the Ravens to control the tempo and keep the ball away from the Patriots' explosive offense. Rice also functions as the Ravens' most dangerous weapon in the passing game on screens and swings in space. Mayo, the Patriots' leading tackler in the regular season, must own the tackle-to-tackle box to limit Rice's effectiveness on the ground. If he can corral Rice early and force the Ravens to put the game on Flacco's right arm, New England could be in line for another Super Bowl appearance.
49ers: Joe Staley and Anthony Davis, OT
The Giants' fearsome frontline bullies opponents with its collection of talented pass rushers. The defensive ends -- Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck -- excel at collapsing the pocket off the edges with their speed and quickness. To combat their explosiveness, Staley and Davis must set up with depth and use their size and strength to maintain the integrity of the pocket. If they are able to provide Alex Smith with sufficient time, he should be able to take advantage of a vulnerable Giants' secondary and provide the offense with a few big plays in critical situations.
Giants: Ahmad Bradshaw, RB
The Giants' running game has made major strides over the past few weeks, but the 49ers' defense has been impenetrable for most runners this season. Its ability to stuff the run forces teams to take a one-dimensional approach, leading to turnovers and miscues in critical situations. For the Giants to win, they must have offensive balance with Bradshaw leading the way on the ground. He needs to approach the 100-yard mark to keep the 49ers honest and create opportunities for Eli Manning to take shots down the field off play-action.