Cris Carter reveals his surprising Super Bowl LI X-factor

There are a number of superstars who could determine Super Bowl LI — Tom Brady, Matt Ryan or Julio Jones, just to name a few — but NFL Hall of Famer and FOX Sports analyst Cris Carter has a surprising pick for this year’s championship x-factor.

On Thursday’s Facebook Live episode of the Make Me Smarter football podcast, Carter and FS1’s Nick Wright came up with two options. First, there’s the titanic matchup between Falcons center Alex Mack and Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch, which Carter acknowledged will be pivotal on Sunday (2:00 PM ET, FOX and FOX Sports GO).

However, Carter has a different difference-maker in mind: veteran Falcons defensive lineman Dwight Freeney, who doesn’t get enough credit for what he does for Atlanta’s defense.

CRIS: That’s a great matchup. Alan Branch, at 6’6″, over 330, tremendous reach. Now Alex Mack is not big as far as centers go. So he might need some help. Now, Alex Mack is a grinder. He’s a mauler. He’s not the most athletic, so you won’t see him pulling, running out a lot on the edge.

But if you look at a matchup that I really like, that people have not even talked about or even mentioned. You know, Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks, so people kind of draw the conclusion, “Can he go off in this game? Can he do what Von Miller did in last year’s Super Bowl?” So it’s nice to draw that correlation. But on the other side, where DeMarcus Ware was, you have Dwight Freeney.

And to me, my x-factor in this game is Dwight Freeney. It could be his last game. He’s won a championship. His overall ability to put pressure on the quarterback on the edge, and also he has that inside spin move, because New England likes to push the defensive ends way up the field. But that spin move, when you go up the field and come back underneath, could be really effective in this game.

Wright adds one more player who has to have a big game for the Patriots to win their fifth Super Bowl of the Tom Brady era. Check out the rest of the Make Me Smarter Facebook Live episode, then head over to iTunes to subscribe to the show, give a five-star rating, and leave a review in the comments.

And if you want to learn more from Wright and Carter on the most important role players in this year’s Super Bowl, take a look at their biggest unsung players for both squads.