BOSTON (CBS) — The New England Patriots are no strangers to the postseason, as has been well documented since they secured their spot in the Super Bowl for a record ninth time in franchise history.
Many of their core players have plenty of playoff and Super Bowl experience, led by quarterback Tom Brady who will play in his seventh Super Bowl next weekend, and 23 players on their current roster have rings from their last championship two years ago.
While the importance of experience can’t be measured, amazing stories and crazy things happen on Super Bowl Sunday, and they often happen to players who have no title game experience. The Patriots know this very well, from Brady’s surgical drive at the end of Super Bowl XXXVI to set up Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal against the St. Louis Rams to undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler saving the day against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.
The Patriots have plenty of players who will soon get their first taste of everything surrounding the big game. In all, 19 players on the New England roster had never been to the playoffs before this season. Some of those postseason rookies have already made a major impact in New England’s road to Houston, and are primed to do the same when the Pats and Falcons kick off next Sunday.
Here’s a look at seven players making their Super Bowl debut who could come up big for the Patriots:
The dynamic running back is a game-changer when healthy, and proved that in the first playoff game of his career. Lewis had three touchdowns against the Texans in the AFC Divisional Round and did so in three different ways, rushing for a touchdown, catching a touchdown and returning a kickoff for a touchdown. That had never been done before in NFL postseason history.
He had just 19 total yards on six carries and a pair of catches in the AFC Championship, but he wasn’t really needed as the New England passing game torched the Steelers with big plays. Lewis and his playmaking ability should be on full display against the Falcons.
We should also note that the Patriots have never lost a game when Lewis is on their active game day roster.
Hogan was the man against the Steelers, hauling in a pair of touchdowns on nine catches for 180 yards. He’s become a reliable option for Brady and one who can stretch the field.
If Julian Edelman is drawing most of the attention of the Atlanta secondary, look for Hogan to have another huge game.
The rookie looked like a rookie in the AFC Championship Game, but he played with the poise of a veteran down the stretch in the regular season before a knee injury kept him out of Week 17 and the Divisional Round. If Mitchell is healthy, he could make some big catches on Super Bowl Sunday.
Rob Gronkowski is out and Martellus Bennett is banged up. Bennett could be a big contributor in his first Super Bowl, whether it be in the passing game or the blocking game, but he’ll have a lot of company in black and red on him in the red zone. That could open the door for Matt Lengel to catch some passes.
He has just two career catches, one of which was a touchdown on Christmas Eve against the New York Jets. Maybe he’ll add a Super Bowl touchdown to his resume next weekend.
The second-year defensive lineman led the Patriots with seven sacks during the regular season. He has 10 combined tackles so far in the playoffs, with seven of them coming in the Divisional Round against the Texans.
If the Patriots want to get after Matt Ryan, Flowers is a good candidate to apply that pressure.
Another player who could be chasing down Ryan is nine-year NFL veteran Chris Long. He is part of a winning team for the first time in his career, and has expressed on numerous occasions how happy he is to be in this situation.
It’s an opportunity he doesn’t want to let slip away, so look for Long to bring the energy and high-powered motor we saw during the regular season. Then multiply it by 10.
We had to throw a corner on this list, given what happened two years ago. Rowe has elevated himself into a top-3 corner role as of late, and may be tasked with covering Julio Jones or Mohamed Sanu (with plenty of help, of course). It’s going to take an all-around effort from the New England defense to stop (or slow) a high-powered Falcons offense, and Rowe will have an opportunity to make his own impact.