The New England Patriots have made many large acquisitions during the offseason, making themselves the favorite of many to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
However, for every "big name" player there is also an under-the-radar player who will be just as crucial to the team's success. These five unsung heroes might not receive the publicity that Chad Ochocinco and Tom Brady do, but if the Patriots do win the Super Bowl, these players will deserve to hoist the Lombardi trophy just as much.
With the Patriots seemingly switching to the 4-3 scheme on defense, Brandon Spikes likely will get the job as the starting middle linebacker.
Last year as a rookie, the 6'2", 250 pound linebacker recorded 61 tackles in 12 games played. With the switch on defense, Spikes will receive the featured role of patrolling the middle of the field and he will play a major role the Patriots' success in the 2011-2012 season.
During the 2011-2012 season look for Patrick Chung to make great plays in the New England secondary. The third year ball-hawking safety out of Oregon finished T-12 among safeties in tackles with 96 and only played 14 games.
There is uncertainty as to who will start alongside him at safety but Chung should be a steady force in the Patriots' defensive backfield. Bottom line, look for number 25 to have a Pro Bowl season in New England.
At 6'8", 315 pound Sebastian Vollmer is a "house." During the 2011-2012 season, Vollmer will likely start at right tackle and share the job of protecting reigning MVP Tom Brady with the rest of the offensive line.
With the Patriots' recent playoff struggles due to lack of pass protection dating back to what many New England fans call the "unmentionable" (Super Bowl XLII), the Pats will need Vollmer to play well. If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, Sebastian Vollmer will play a major role.
Rob Ninkovich will be a key player on the Patriots' defense this season at outside linebacker.
Last year Ninkovich had timely production in the pass rush along with solid pass coverage, including a two interception game against Miami. Ninkovich should be a reliable player for Bill Belichick and the vastly improving Patriot defense.
Kick returner and wide receiver Brandon Tate should play a vital role in the Patriots' offensive success in his third year out of North Carolina.
Tate had two return touchdowns and averaged 25.8 yards per kick return, which was sixth in the league. The speedy Tate has also been a consistent deep threat for Tom Brady averaging 18.0 yards per reception last year.
If Brandon Tate can consistently give the Patriot offensive good field position as well as stretch the field, the Patriots will be very difficult to beat.