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5 Players Who Mean the Most to a New England Patriots Playoff Run

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5 Players Who Mean the Most to a New England Patriots Playoff Run

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots have gone through so much this season. It all started when they let Wes Welker go, then Aaron Hernandez was arrested for an alleged murder, Rob Gronkowski battled injuries, the rookie receivers had a difficult time getting on the same page with Tom Brady, and the defense lost their two leaders, Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork. Despite all that has gone wrong for this team, they still hold the number two seed and have won 10 games. However, with Gronkowski out, many speculate his injury will be the tipping point for the New England Patriots. But, the Patriots have proven that they can overcome adversity, and look to make a strong playoff push once again.

The Patriots remain to be a dangerous team, but they are flawed in many aspects. Two areas of concern include the Red Zone offense and the defense. Gronk’s injury is detrimental to the Patriots’ offense in goal line situations. The loss of key defensive leaders and the banged up secondary has led the defense to falter.

The offense has done well moving the ball up field, but fail to put seven on the board throughout the game. The defense failed to make critical stops at the end of games, and as a result, put more pressure on Tom Brady to come out with the victory. New England’s defense has been atrocious of late and can’t seem to put it together. The first nine game of the season, the Pats defense only gave up about 16 points a game. In the last six, it has given up nearly 28 points a game. Some of these games included the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns. The only premier offensive team they've played in that stretch is the Denver Broncos. The defensive consistency needs to change come playoff time.

The Patriots need more efficiently and consistency in order to make a run at a fourth Super Bowl in 13 years. To achieve this goal, the Patriots are going to need key players to step up in the post-season. Tom Brady is obviously the most important piece going forward, but to be successful, more guys will have to play on a whole other level.

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5. Stevan Ridley

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If Stevan Ridley can put his fumbling problems behind him, there is no doubt he will be a dangerous weapon for the Patriots. Ridley is not only effective running the ball, but he opens up the passing game as well with that ground success. When Ridley is explosive on the ground, Tom Brady can use the play-action more effectively. Ridley is also a terrifc goal line back. With the red-zone production struggling due to Rob Gronkowski’s injury, Ridley can add another dynamic to the goal line offense and attack the end zone on the ground.

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4. Dont'a Hightower

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Don’t’a Hightower has had a rough season to say the least. The absence of Jerod Mayo has exposed his weakness. He blows coverage, takes bad angles on tackles and has not been consistent bringing pressure up the middle. The last two games have been promising, however, he did give up the game-winning touchdown against the Miami Dolphins. Hightower needs to step up and be more of a leader on this defense. What he does on the field is critical going forward.

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3. Shane Vereen

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With Rob Gronkowski out, Shane Vereen’s role is increased. He’s a matchup nightmare for the opponent, and his versatility is an effective weapon for the Patriots’ offense. However, if the Pats are going to go deep in the playoffs, he cannot have a game like he did in Miami again. He touched the ball three times and only gained 21 total yards. It is critical for him to be a big part of the offense each and every game, especially in the postseason. He can run the ball, catch the ball and make plays in the open field. He could be the key to the offense.

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2. Aqib Talib

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When Aqib Talib does well, the whole defense does well,it is that simple. The corner back had an outstanding start to the season. Since his injury, he has not been the same. He needs to take the form of a shut-down corner once again in the playoffs. He is clearly a leader on the field, and his play dictates the opponent’s offensive flow. He needs to be that guy in the post season.

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1. Aaron Dobson and/or Kenbrell Thompkins

Dobs and Thomps
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We know how terrific Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola can be. But, they’re both under 6-feet tall and not viable red-zone threats. With Gronk out, Tom Brady needs big targets that can stretch the field and make plays outside the numbers. The offense does well moving the ball up the field, but goal line situations are a problem. Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins have been out with injuries, and their return may be just what the Patriots need going forward. The Pats need one of these rookie receivers to emerge to make a run in the playoffs.