The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos both possess Pro Bowl talent, but each team will need some big contributions from lesser-known players if they are going to advance to the 2014 Super Bowl.
Whether it's seldom-used receivers or unheralded defenders, no team can win its conference without a boost from its role players. In what is sure to be a close, competitive game, Denver and New England will need strong performances from the following players.
Quentin Jammer, CB
The Broncos were dealt a serious blow in the divisional round when starting cornerback Chris Harris went down with a torn ACL.
Harris, who was the team's best healthy defensive player, left the game in the second half, and the Broncos defense immediately suffered.
Denver was up 17-0 before Harris left, but replacement Quentin Jammer was quickly taken to school by rookie wideout Keenan Allen. Allen beat Jammer for one touchdown, then caught a 49-yard bomb against him later in the quarter.
If the Broncos are going to outgun Tom Brady and the Patriots, they will need Jammer to play much better on Sunday.
Wes Welker, WR
Wes Welker is one of the best wide receivers of his generation, but his postseason butterfingers should be very concerning for Broncos fans.
His trouble holding on to the ball goes back to his New England days. First, there was his dropped pass late in Super Bowl XLVI that arguably cost the Patriots the game. Then there was his key drop against the Baltimore Ravens in last year's AFC Championship Game.
This year, he dropped a punt against New England that allowed it to come back and win the game, and he had another high-profile drop against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.
If Denver is going to win this game, it will need Welker to hang on to the ball in crucial situations.
New England Patriots
Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, WR
The Patriots are in a very tough spot this week. Facing perhaps the best offense in NFL history, they will surely need a big game from their offense to keep pace.
Unfortunately, they have no reliable receiving threat outside of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
Thompkins and Dobson are decent receivers, but they are both listed as questionable. Thompkins is dealing with hip and concussion issues, while Dobson is battling a foot injury. And even if they were 100 percent, there's no guarantee that either rookie receiver would make much of an impact.
Thompkins was solid when New England beat Denver earlier this season, catching six passes for 56 yards. But since that game, which was played in late November, he has caught just one pass for 16 yards.
Meanwhile, Dobson missed last week's game and hasn't had more than 38 receiving yards in a game since Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If the Patriots are going to advance to the Super Bowl, they will need at least one of the two receivers to somehow make a big contribution.
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