SUPER BOWL: Profiles of key players
Projected starters and key players for the Super Bowl:
NEW YORK GIANTS
Eli Manning, QB (10), 6-4, 218, 8th season, Mississippi
Goes for second Super Bowl title, which would surpass older brother Peyton ... Had best regular season of career, set NFL record with 15 fourth-quarter TD passes ... Has 103.1 passer rating in playoffs, with eight TDs and one interception ... Was sacked six times at San Francisco, yet hung in to complete 32 of 58 for 316 yards and two touchdowns ... Has longest active starting streak among NFL QBs at 119.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB (44), 5-10, 214, 5th season, Marshall
Battling back and foot injuries, but shows up nearly every week ... Did not play in win over Patriots in November ... Has more power than size might indicate, also has nice burst ... Rushed for team-high 659 yards and nine TDs, also caught 34 passes and scored twice ... Averaging 4.3 yards per carry and has 14 receptions in playoffs.
Brandon Jacobs, RB (27), 6-4, 264, 7th season, Southern Illinois
Has gone from starter to backup to starter and backup again ... Rushed for 72 yards and scored touchdown vs. Patriots in November win ... Rushed for 571 yards and seven TDs during season, averaging 4.5 yards per carry in playoffs ... Stands fourth on team's career rushing list with 4,849 yards.
Hakeem Nicks, WR (88), 6-1, 208, 3rd season, North Carolina
A deep threat who also can break shorter passes into long gains ... Also missed first game with Patriots ... Having dynamic postseason with 18 receptions for 18.6 average and four TDs ... Uses big hands and long arms to fight off defenders for passes ... finished second on team with 76 receptions for 1,192 yards and seven TDs ... Had been bothered by shoulder pain.
Victor Cruz, WR (80), 6-0, 204, 2nd season, Massachusetts
Went from obscurity to Pro Bowl in one season ... Replaced Steve Smith (left for Philadelphia as free agent) as slot receiver, developed into Giants' most dangerous wideout with 82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine TDs, averaging 18.7 yards a reception ... Broke 99-yard catch-and-run for score against Jets ... Celebrates touchdowns with salsa dance.
Mario Manningham, WR (82), 6-0, 185, 4th season, Michigan
Made only one catch at San Francisco, but was for 17-yard touchdown ... Has TD catch in all three postseason games this year ... Injuries shortened his regular season, limiting him to 39 catches and four TDs ... Like Nicks and Cruz, a threat to break long gains.
Jake Ballard, TE (85), 6-6, 275, 2nd season, Ohio State
Developed rapidly in second pro season after having virtually no role as rookie in 2010 ... Replaced Kevin Boss (left for Oakland as free agent) and had 38 catches for 15.9-yard average and four TDs. Boss had only 28 catches for Raiders ... Knee injury slowed him late in season, but he has played in all three postseason games.
David Diehl, LT (66), 6-5, 304, 9th season, Illinois
As versatile as they come, Diehl has played all over offensive line ... A fifth-round pick in 2003 who has started nearly every game since ... Pretty good pass protector, but struggled against San Francisco last week ... Has become radio personality as host on SiriusXM.
Kevin Boothe, LG (77), 6-5, 320, 6th season, Cornell
Previously a backup at several positions, has settled in at left guard ... Sixth-round choice of Oakland in 2006, was waived before 2007 season and signed by Giants ... Moved over to center for a few snaps at San Francisco.
David Baas, C (64), 6-4, 312, 7th season, Michigan
Signed as free agent to replace popular veteran Shaun O'Hara, who was cut ... Second-round selection by 49ers, opening pick of that round in 2005 ... Started every game but one for past three seasons ... Had head injury against Niners last week, left and then returned.
Chris Snee, RG (76), 6-3, 305, 8th season, Boston College
Son-in-law of coach Tom Coughlin ... Most consistent of Giants' blockers, although Snee tends to draw penalties ... Second-rounder in 2004, 34th overall, and has been starter virtually every week since ... Very strong.
Kareem McKenzie, RT (67), 6-6, 330, 11th season, Penn State
A solid player for more than a decade, first with Jets and then with Giants beginning in 2005 when he signed as free agent ... Steady, rarely commits penalties or makes errors ... Must watch for onrushing linebackers against Patriots.
Justin Tuck, LDE (91), 6-5, 268, 7th season, Notre Dame
Leader of defense, has fought through series of injuries and is playing his best ball now ... Can play anywhere on line in passing situations ... Missed four games this season, compromising his numbers, but has been very active in playoffs with nine tackles, 1 1-2 sacks, two quarterback hits and a tackle for loss ... Has 18 forced fumbles and six recoveries in career.
Linval Joseph, LDT (97), 6-4, 323, 2nd season, East Carolina
Second-round pick in 2010 who has been starter for most of career ... More of a force against the run, comes out on most passing downs ... Inconsistent, but has improved as season went along.
Chris Canty, RDT (99), 6-7, 317, 7th season, Virginia
Brings veteran presence inside, also can rush passer ... Signed as free agent from Dallas in 2009, was fourth-round selection by Dallas in 2005 ... Blocks passes with long arms and reach, can also block kicks ... Has four sacks among his 47 tackles this season.
Osi Umenyiora, RDE (72), 6-3, 255, 9th season, Troy
Injuries limited him to nine games, defense has taken root since he returned for Jets game, and team hasn't lost since ... Was Giants' lone Pro Bowl rep in 2008, when they beat Patriots in Super Bowl, and is more-rounded player now ... Gets to QB (69 career sacks) and has forced 30 fumbles in career, recovering 13 ... Despite limited time on field, had nine sacks this season, has 3 1/2 in playoffs.
Jason Pierre-Paul, RDE (90), 6-5, 278, 2nd season, South Florida
Rising star on line, All-Pro who makes dynamic plays ... First-round pick, 15th overall in 2010, who is still raw, yet had 86 tackles, 16 1/2 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2011 ... Exceptionally quick burst off the line, will be the main defender Patriots must control ... Uses reach to block passes and kicks, clinched win over Dallas with blocked field goal.
Mathias Kiwanuka, OLB (94), 6-5, 267, 6th season, Boston College
Played college ball in New England and is native of Indianapolis ... Can also play on the line, often will be up there in pass-rush situations ... First-round pick (32nd) overall in 2006 who has displayed versatility throughout career ... Giants will try to mix his responsibilities to confuse Patriots; Kiwanuka could wind up on All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski at times.
Chase Blackburn, MLB (93), 6-4, 242, 7th season, Akron
Spent most of regular season out of league, was re-signed on Nov. 30 and has started each postseason game ... Excels on special teams ... Plugged big hole in middle of defense when he rejoined team ... Led Giants with seven tackles against San Francisco, is second on team with 19 postseason tackles.
Michael Boley, OLB (59), 6-3, 230, 7th season, Southern Mississippi
Signed as free agent in 2010 from Atlanta, where his career seemed on decline ... Very active player, had 91 tackles this season ... Always trying to shake the ball loose, has eight forced fumbles and seven recoveries in career ... Noted for mocking Aaron Rodgers' celebrations during win at Green Bay.
Corey Webster, LCB, (23), 6-0, 200, 7th season, LSU
Best cover cornerback on Giants ... Makes big plays in big spots, including interception of Brett Favre to set up winning field goal in January 2008 NFC title game ... Has started for most of career, with 16 career interceptions, including team-high six this season ... Occasionally will blitz ... Could be matched up at times with one of New England's dangerous TEs.
Kenny Phillips, SS (21), 6-2, 217, 4th season, Miami, Fla.
First-round pick in 2008 who has battled back from major knee surgery and started 15 games this season ... Has improved his tackling late in season and playoffs ... Had four interceptions in 2011 ... Also will see lots of Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Antrel Rolle, FS, (26), 6-0, 206, 6th season, Miami, Fla.
Played on losing Cardinals in 2009 Super Bowl, a memory he says ''will stay with me forever. But I don't talk about losing.'' ... Signed as free agent in 2010, led Giants with 96 tackles this season, and has drastically improved his coverage in last six weeks ... Very active in playoffs with 21 tackles ... Has a good feel for where the ball will go.
Aaron Ross, RCB (31), 6-0, 190, 5th season, Texas
Struggled in coverage for much of career, especially early this season, even has spent time at safety ... Figures to be targeted by Patriots in passing game ... First-round selection in 2007 (20th overall) who also has run back punts ... Had four INTs this season.
Lawrence Tynes, PK (9), 6-1, 194, 8th season, Troy
Has proven his skills in clutch with winning FGs in two NFC championship games ... Made 19 of 24 field goals this season, longest from 50 yards, and had 79 touchbacks on kickoffs. His kickoffs have improved throughout season ... Acquired for seventh-round draft pick in 2007 from Chiefs ... Range indoors should reach just over 50 yards.
Steve Weatherford, P (5), 6-2, 211, 7th season, Illinois
Spent previous two seasons with Jets, then switched allegiances to Giants as a free agent ... Also holds on place kicks, did good job handling low snap on Tynes' winning FG last week ... Had career-high 12 punts at San Francisco for 557 yards, both team records ... Averaged solid 45.7 yards per punt this season.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Tom Brady, QB (12), 6-4, 225, 12th season, Michigan
Most accomplished quarterback of his era, has won three Super Bowls and is in his fifth ... Broke Dan Marino's record for yards passing in a season with 5,235, yet finished second in that category to Drew Brees' 5,476 for New Orleans ... Has career record of 2-2 against Giants ... Owns NFL mark for TD passes in a season with 50, set in 2007 ... Comes off mediocre game (for him) in AFC title win over Baltimore ... Operates no-huddle offense as well as any quarterback in history.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB (42), 5-11, 215, 4th season, Mississippi
Underrated runner with power and burst ... Never has fumbled in NFL career ... Scored 11 TDs rushing this season, has one in playoffs ... Has 29 career TDs ... Not a receiving threat ... Could be charged with picking up blitzes when Giants send DBs after Brady.
Danny Woodhead, RB (39), 5-8, 195, 4th season, Chadron State
Versatile back who also returns kicks ... Made it from Division II, where he was top player (Harlon Hill Award) in 2006 and 2007, to NFL ... Patriots pirated him away from division rival Jets and he became part of offensive core ... Good burst, excellent receiver, has not played much this postseason ... Lost fumble on kick return in AFC title game.
Wes Welker, WR (83), 5-9, 185, 8th season, Texas Tech
Led NFL with 122 catches, becomes second player with at least 120 twice in a career (Cris Carter) ... Has most receptions since 2007 in NFL (554) ... Set franchise record with yards receiving (1,569), was one catch short of his team mark ... Best slot WR in league, an All-Pro who was with Miami before Patriots acquired him in 2007.
Deion Branch, WR (84), 5-9, 195, 10th season, Louisville
MVP of Super Bowl win for Patriots in 2005 ... Left for Seattle in 2006 as free agent, but struggled there ... Reacquired in 2010 in trade with Seahawks, immediately slipped comfortably back into New England's lineup ... Had 51 receptions for 702 yards and five TDs this season, broke 61-yard TD catch-and-run against Denver in playoffs.
Rob Gronkowski, TE (87), 6-6, 265, 2nd season, Arizona
Record-setting tight end and All-Pro ... Combination of size and strength overwhelms defenders ... Battling left ankle injury sustained in AFC title game, but came back to finish that game. Has discarded walking boot ... Had record for TE of 1,327 yards receiving, scored 17 TDs on passes, also an NFL mark, and also ran for a TD ... Giants will try to double-team him at times with DB and LB or two DBs.
Aaron Hernandez, TE (81), 6-1, 245, 2nd season, Florida
Recently has lined up as a running back in some formations, especially out of no-huddle ... Broke 43-yard run against Denver in divisional playoff contest ... Very effective in open space as receiver, made 79 catches for 910 yards and seven TDs ... If not for Gronkowski, he might be an All-Pro.
Matt Light, LT (72), 6-4, 305, 11th season, Purdue
Has rebounded from some poor games in recent years to have solid season ... Second-round pick in 2001, has started virtually entire career ... Steady pass protector when on his game, and has been on it this season ... Only remaining Patriot from 2001 draft.
Logan Mankins, LG (70), 6-4, 310, 7th season, Fresno State
After some nastiness in contract negotiations, Mankins signed six-year deal after lockout and has played at high level all season ... Powerful run blocker and crafty in pass protection ... A team leader ... Was first-round pick in 2005 and is only remaining draftee from that year on roster.
Dan Connolly, C (63), 6-4, 313, 6th season, Southeast Missouri State
Acquired in 2008 as free agent from Jacksonville, has been backup much of career ... Was expected to be weak link in line, but has been solid ... Missed four starts with injuries, but snapped in both postseason games.
Brian Waters, RG (54), 6-3, 320, 12th season, North Texas
One of NFL's best for last decade in Kansas City, signed as free agent with Patriots after lockout ... Terrific run blocker, steady in pass protection, good leader, made Pro Bowl ... Never won a playoff game before this postseason ... Began career in college as tight end.
Nate Solder, RT (77), 6-8, 319, 1st season, Colorado
Pretty good rookie season, took over as starter when Sebastian Vollmer was out for season opener ... Projected as future left tackle in New England ... Huge wingspan, hard to get around, but footwork can be shaky ... Will be tested by New York's pass rushers.
Shaun Ellis, LDE (94), 6-5, 290, 12th season, Tennessee
Like Waters, spent previous 11 seasons with one team, Jets, then was enticed to sign as free agent in Foxborough ... Situational player who has enough burst left to get to passer ... Solid against the run ... A quiet leader and strong locker room presence.
Vince Wilfork, LDT (75), 6-2, 325, 8th season, Miami, Fla.
Talk might be about Giants' defensive linemen, but Wilfork has been as good as anyone in postseason ... Played more than usual against Ravens, who couldn't block him with two men in AFC title game ... Has 2 1/2 sacks in playoffs ... Will challenge middle of Giants' line and is key to shutting down run game.
Kyle Love, RDT (74), 6-1, 310, 2nd season, Mississippi State
Has played well stacking the middle ... Situational player, comes out on many passing downs ... Made 55 tackles, had three sacks during the season ... Made Patriots as rookie free agent in 2010.
Mark Anderson, RDE (95), 6-4, 255, 6th season, Alabama
Career got off to big start when he was in Chicago, then fizzled ... Joined Patriots this year as free agent and shared sacks lead with now-injured Andre Carter with 10 ... Good off the edge and on stunts.
Rob Ninkovich, OLB (50), 6-2, 255, 6th season, Purdue
Was waived by both New Orleans and Miami before he signed in New England as free agent in 2009 ... Had two INTs in win over Jets that began 10-game winning string ... Played some tight end in college ... Also has done some long snapping, was special teams player before becoming starter at LB.
Jerod Mayo, MLB (51), 6-1, 245, 4th season, Tennessee
Best and most accomplished of Patriots' LBs, has had some health issues hold him back ... First-round pick in 2008, won Defensive Rookie of the Year that season ... Has had more than 100 tackles every year, including 103 in 2011 ... Already has team-high 21 tackles in postseason.
Brandon Spikes, OLB (55), 6-2, 250, 2nd season, Florida
Considered too slow to play the position by many coming out of draft, but has proven himself in New England ... Got healthy in time for final regular-season game after being idled for seven weeks, and had only Patriots takeaway in AFC title game, a fourth-quarter interception ... Second-round pick in 2010.
Devin McCourty, LCB (32), 5-10, 193, 2nd season, Rutgers
Slumped from great rookie season, when he made Pro Bowl ... Is aggressive in coverage, but can be beaten deep ... Went from seven interceptions as rookie to two in 2011 ... Has made 12 tackles in postseason, will probably change to make a few more covering Nicks, Cruz and Manningham.
Kyle Arrington, RCB (24), 5-9, 196, 3rd season, Hofstra
Tied for NFL lead with seven picks, one against Giants ... Very aggressive, will challenge receivers, go after the ball ... Sometimes gambles too much ... Could have trouble with taller wideouts, but uses body leverage and jumping ability to negate that ... School dropped football soon after he left.
Patrick Chung, LS (25), 5-11, 212, 3rd season, Oregon
Returned from injury just before playoffs, adding physical dimension to secondary ... Hardest hitter of the DBs ... Could see a lot of Ballard, but also might wind up on a WR at times ... Can blitz with nice burst to QB ... Had 67 tackles this season, but just one INT.
James Ihedigbo, RS (44), 6-1, 214, 5th season, Massachusetts
Another former Jet finding success in New England ... Hits hard, not great in coverage ... Also has played on kick coverages ... Made 72 tackles during season.
Stephen Gostkowski, PK (3), 6-1, 215, 6th season, Memphis
Has no championship rings, but has not allowed dropoff from Adam Vinatieri over the years ... Regular season field goal percentage (.844) is better than Vinatieri's (.819) ... Kickoffs usually soar through end zone ... Pats unafraid to ask him to make clutch kicks, scored 143 points, made 28 of 33 field goals during season.
Zoltan Mesko, P (14), 6-5, 231, 2nd season, Michigan
Lefty whose kicks sometimes confound returners ... Has strong leg and led AFC in net average with 46.5 per kick ... Native of Romania, where he played soccer ... Came to United State in 1997 at age 11.