The Patriots will close out the regular season on New Year's Eve against the Jets at chilly Gillette Stadium on Sunday, but the playoffs are right around the corner. New England has made it to at least the AFC title game each of the last six seasons, and in order to have that amount of success a team needs contributions from more than just its stars.
Last season it was Chris Hogan and James White stepping up in the clutch. Hogan had a career game in the AFC Championship win over Pittsburgh with nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns. White set a Super Bowl record with 14 catches in the comeback win over the Falcons in Houston.
While both Hogan and White were key parts of the team throughout the season, few could have predicted their heroic runs in the postseason.
Now it's time to see who might emerge this season. Our Samsonite Make Your Case question of the week is: Which Patriot will emerge as an unexpected playoff hero?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
The second-year wideout has spent the entire year on IR with a knee injury but he recently returned to practice. I could easily see him stepping into the offense and providing Tom Brady with another reliable option.
Mitchell was clutch in last year's playoffs and Brady clearly is comfortable throwing the ball in his direction. With Chris Hogan dealing with some health issues, Mitchell might get the chance to step into a role outside the numbers to provide the offense with another option.
I don't expect Mitchell to put up huge numbers but if he gets a chance he will produce, and after sitting out all year I'm not sure many fans would expect that.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
Life as a new wide receiver in the Patriots offense is not easy. Dorsett arrived from Indy at the start of the season and he has struggled to establish a role for himself on any consistent basis.
But it seems anytime Tom Brady throws the ball in his direction Dorsett makes the catch. That wasn't all that often during the regular season, and I'm not expecting that to change dramatically in the playoffs. But it wouldn't shock me to see Dorsett come up with a couple of big plays along the way, and one might even turn the momentum in the Patriots favor.
Dorsett has great speed and he's shown the ability to get open. He also has shown the ability to run after the catch and make some big plays. All it takes is one or two in the playoffs to become an unexpected hero.
Now it's your turn to cast a vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.