BARRY WILNER,AP Pro Football Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — 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.