Though the New England Patriots and their fans are used to a "Super Bowl or bust" mentality, it's hard not to reflect and appreciate what the Pats accomplished this regular season. While teams like the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans crumbled amid crippling injuries, New England is somehow 12-4 and the second seed in the AFC, in spite of similarly debilitating circumstances.
Still, with such a wide-open field this season, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Patriots could capture an unlikely championship. After years of coming up short as the favorites, it would only be fitting for the Pats to finally break through and win their fourth ring as the rare underdogs.
The road starts this Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts, where the Pats will still assume the familiar role of favorites. The Colts have depth issues in certain areas but also a handful of game-changing playmakers who could shift the rhythm of the game. It will be up to a handful of Patriots role players to ensure that Indy's stars do not take control of the game.
With that in mind, here are five X-factors most critical to a Patriots victory this weekend and what specific matchups and tasks they will undertake.
*All stats courtesy Pro Football Focus (subscription required).