NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
No. 12 Tom Brady, QB
League MVP who set passing record with 50 touchdowns … Is 3-0 in Super Bowls since becoming starter in 2001 … Former sixth-round draft pick (2000) … Threw a TD pass in all but one game this season, compiling 117.2 rating … Completed 69 percent of his throws … Had only eight passes intercepted during season, but Chargers picked off three in AFC title game … Comes off slight ankle sprain that required walking boot last week.
No. 39 Laurence Maroney, RB Has taken charge of running game lately … Rushed for 835 yards and six TDs in regular season, has 122 yards in each of two postseason games … Also has scored twice in playoffs … First-round draft choice in 2006 … Often comes out on passing downs for veteran Kevin Faulk, his mentor with Patriots.
No. 44 Heath Evans, FB
Signed as free agent in 2005 … Also played for Seattle and Miami … Infrequent receiver and runner, almost totally a blocking back … Scored three TDs in regular season.
No. 81 Randy Moss, WR
Key addition to receiving corps who disproved critics about his selfish attitude with sensational year … Broke Jerry Rice’s single-season mark by one with 23 TD catches … Uses size and speed so well he can’t be single-covered by fast or by tall cornerbacks … Has caught just two passes in playoffs while double- or triple-teamed … Acquired from Oakland for fourth-round pick, Moss had 98 receptions for 1,493 yards.
No. 83 Wes Welker, WR
Another important newcomer, Welker led team with 112 receptions … Gained 1,175 yards and scored eight times during season, has 16 catches and two TDs in playoffs … Hurt Giants with 11 catches for 122 yards … Perfect slot receiver who complements Moss and other speedy wideouts … Also can return punts … Patriots sent second-round draft pick and seventh-rounder to Miami for Welker last year.
No. 84 Benjamin Watson,TE Final pick of first round in 2004, Watson has become favored red zone target for Brady … Missed four games with injuries, still had 36 catches and six TDs … Already has two postseason touchdowns … Excels getting free over the middle, especially when covered by linebackers.
No. 72 Matt Light, LT
All-Pro player who is smart and mobile but not real powerful … Second-round pick in 2001 who has started 95 of 97 career games … Very steady blocker.
No. 67 Dan Koppen, C
Has become one of league’s best and most versatile centers … Heads to first Pro Bowl next week … Fifth-round pick in 2003 from school that excels at developing pro linemen … Has started 72 of 72 games he’s appeared in.
No. 75 Vince Wilfork, DT
Pro Bowl nose tackle who does a lot more than take up space … Really came into his own in last 2 1/2 seasons … Had 70 tackles during season and two sacks, already has 13 tackles in postseason … First-round pick in 2004, 21st overall.
No. 93 Richard Seymour, DE
Frequent Pro Bowler who was slow to recover from knee injury … Spent first half of season on physically unable to perform list … When fit, a strong sack threat who also knock down passes … Has not been a major factor in passing game this season.
No. 50 Mike Vrabel, OLB
One of NFL’s most versatile linebackers, can also play inside, rush the passer or drop in coverage … Made All-Pro team for first time … Had 77 tackles, 12 1/2 sacks and four forced fumbles in one of his best season of seven with Patriots. .
No. 96 Adalius Thomas, OLB
Top defensive free-agent signing, versatile Thomas can rush from the line, drop in coverage, and is tough against the run … Made 82 tackles, added 6 1/2 sacks and two forced fumbles in 2007.
No. 55 Junior Seau, ILB
Potential Hall of Famer for great career in San Diego, was lured out of retirement by Patriots in 2006, but injured arm in latter part of season … Has appeared in every game this season and wound up with 76 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks and three interceptions.
No. 54 Tedy Bruschi, ILB
Most inspirational player on Patriots, recovered from stroke suffered in February 2005 to return to team late October … Had 99 tackles to lead Pats … Already has 15 tackles in postseason.
No. 22 Asante Samuel, CB
One of the NFL’s top cover cornerbacks. … Fourth-round pick in 2003 who tied for NFL lead with 10 INTs in 2006, Samuel had six picks this season and one in playoffs.
No. 37 Rodney Harrison, SS
One of NFL’s hardest hitters – and perhaps dirtiest players – Harrison has been fined for more than $200,000 in his career … Still, he’s one of better safeties in recent history … Does best work over the middle, particularly against the run.
No. 3 Stephen Gostkowski, PK
Made all 74 extra points, an NFL mark, and was 21 of 24 on field goals.
No. 6 Chris Hanson, P
One of the most underused players in the NFL, Hanson had five games with just one punt, including vs. Jacksonville in playoffs … Not one of the higher-ranked punters in league, maybe because of rust.
No. 27 Ellis Hobbs, KR
Broke a 108-yard kickoff return, tying longest play in NFL history (since surpassed) against Jets … A gambler who will take most kicks out of end zone. … Did not do much on kick returns in latter part of season or in playoffs.
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