The New England Patriots are one of the NFL's preeminent franchises, with ten consecutive seasons of double-digit victories. That astounding streak is made possible by the consistent yearly contributions from their depth players. Superstars like Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork are undoubtedly the most critical Patriots, but their stardom would be worthless without a steady supporting cast through the years.
2013 may prove to challenge New England's depth more than ever, as a tumultuous offseason has thinned the ranks at several positions. The starting 11 looks formidable on both sides, but for the first time in several years it's wholly unclear whether or not the Patriot machine will continue humming when injuries inevitably strike.
The following players are all established contributors, and the Patriots will lean on them to varying degrees throughout the season. However, victory often requires second-tier players to play like stars, if only for a few situational snaps per game.
Roles will fluctuate throughout the season, but entering Week 1, here are six players who look like the biggest X-factors for the Patriots this season.