They don’t have to be at full strength to beat the struggling Houston Texans, but if the Pats advance to the Super Bowl, every single player must play to his full potential.
Here are three Patriots who would take the team to a nearly unbeatable level if they step their game up.
3. Aaron Hernandez
From Weeks 13 to 15, Hernandez had fans forgetting about Rob Gronkowski. The tight end reeled in 26 receptions for 247 yards and a trio of touchdowns over those three contests.
In the last two, though, he has only caught six balls for 57 yards.
With Gronkowski back in the lineup, Hernandez doesn’t have to dominate. But against defenses like the Texans, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks who shut running games down, he must make an impact.
2. Chandler Jones
Only one other Patriots defender besides Jones has more than four sacks this season.
The first half of the campaign, the rookie looked like one of the league’s premier pass-rushers, recording six sacks through Week 8. But virtually the rest of the year, he has been slowed by an injury and hasn’t sacked a quarterback since.
Jones is coming off his best performance in months, though, after seven tackles and two pass deflections against the Miami Dolphins in Week 17. If he builds off of that, New England’s defense will live up to its top-10 ranking.
1. Brandon Lloyd
Lloyd isn’t quite that explosive, but he has been solid in his first year playing catch with Brady. He finished the regular season with 74 receptions for 911 yards and four touchdowns.
All too often, though, Lloyd isn’t a go-to guy, but just another receiver in the Patriots’ offense. He has failed to go over 50 receiving yards nine times this season. That shouldn’t fly for a Pro Bowler who has proven that he’s capable of more.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.