From 2010 to 2011, the New England Patriots offense has undergone a transformation.
Instead of quarterback Tom Brady focusing his attentions on a traditional wideout, such as he did with Randy Moss, he's spreading the ball around to tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and revolutionizing the idea of a modern NFL offense in the process.
Slot receiver Wes Welker is still a major weapon for the team, leading the Patriots in targets, receptions and receiving yards this season, but his other receivers, Deion Branch and Chad Ochocinco, have had a minimal role this year.
While it's clear the pair will be involved in the Patriots' Super Bowl offensive game plan, it's not likely to be much, if their regular-season numbers are any indicator.
Branch fared better than Ochocinco in the regular season, with 51 receptions on 90 targets, for 702 yards and five scores. It's still down from his 2010 season, in which he had 61 receptions for 818 yards and six scores, however, as his production has clearly suffered by the emergence of Gronkowski and Hernandez.
Ochocinco was pegged to have a career year this season after he was picked up by the Patriots. He had seven seasons with over 1,000 receiving yards as a Cincinnati Bengal but had a down year in 2010, with 67 catches for 831 yards and four scores, as fellow receiver Terrell Owens became quarterback Carson Palmer's most frequent target.
Ochocinco's time with the Patriots hasn't produced the career renaissance that was expected. It took him a long time to feel comfortable with his new offensive structure and it's clear that he never fully mastered the Patriot way.
He had just 15 receptions on 32 targets this year, for a mere 276 yards and a single score, averaging 18.4 yards per game.
In the postseason, Branch had a total of seven targets, with five catches for 103 yards and a touchdown.
Ochocinco, on the other hand, played just a single snap in the Patriots' divisional-round playoff game against the Denver Broncos with zero targets, and was a healthy scratch against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC championship game after his father passed away that week.
Ochocinco simply hasn't fit into what the Patriots have been doing on offense this year, even though they apparently believed he had the ability to do so before the season began, prompting his addition to the roster.
As late in the season as October, Ochocinco still needed to be told by his teammates where to line up and he hasn't been involved in a single play utilizing the no-huddle. His snaps continued to decline to the point where he is now, a non-factor on a team that once thought they had found themselves a playmaker.
Chances are that Ochocinco is scratched from the roster yet again in the Super Bowl. If not, don't expect him on the field for more than a play or two, and he's not likely to get any targets. He's simply not reliable enough.
Even if he still has the innate skills he once displayed in Cincinnati, they aren't enough to make up for his struggles to understand the more complex Patriots playbook.
Branch, however, should find himself with as many as six targets and if he can pull down four of them, should have a respectable day. He averaged 46.8 yards per game in the regular season, which sounds about right for Branch's production in the Super Bowl.
It seems strange to think that a team with Brady under center and wideouts like Branch and Ochocinco on its roster would focus its passing game on two tight ends and a small slot receiver.
But that strategy is at the core of the Patriots' success this season, and while it comes at the expense of Branch's and Ochocinco's stat lines, it could lead to something vastly more valuable—another Super Bowl championship.