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New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: X-Factors

Which unheralded players could wind up having a big impact for the New England Patriots?

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

For this exercise, I will leave out the relatively obvious impact players for the Patriots. Instead I will go with players who are largely unheralded, but are primed for a big game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Scott Chandler, TE, #88- The Patriots will have Rob Gronkowski as their primary receiving threat and the Steelers are going to send a lot of coverage his way. That likely leaves 1-on-1 matchups for Scott Chandler against either a safety or a linebacker. Even though the Patriots receiving corps isn't 100% healthy, they have a lot of weapons to throw at the Pittsburgh defense.

Brandon Bolden, RB, #38- Brandon Bolden is probably the most complete running back for the Patriots going into Week 1. He can run it inside and outside while also doing well as a receiver and pass protector. I'm not sure how the Patriots will divvy up their snaps at the RB position. I could see the Patriots rotating in Bolden, Lewis, White, and Cadet for the receiving back role because the role still hasn't been settled yet. The one thing that works in favor for Bolden is that he is already a very good pass protector in case the Patriots want to pass the ball on early downs.

Aaron Dobson, WR, #17- With Brandon LaFell sidelined, that will allow the team to play Aaron Dobson for six weeks without him having to look over his shoulder. Dobson had 5 catches for 130 yards and 2 TD against the Steelers in 2013 and their secondary is not any better than it was two years ago. With Gronk and Julian Edelman demanding attention, the Steelers will likely slip a CB on Dobson. Dobson will likely draw the Steelers' top CB so they can bracket Edelman and Gronk. If Dobson can show his early camp form, he should be able to beat even the Steelers' top corner.

Dominique Easley, DT, #99- The Steelers are without their starting center Maurkice Pouncey, who was placed on IR with the designation to return. The player who benefits from this the most is 2nd year defensive lineman Dominique Easley. With the drop off from a All-Pro caliber center to a backup, the Patriots are going to attack that weakness. That likely means that Easley will line up across from the center the most and told to put him on skates. We've seen Easley perform some amazing feats of strength this preseason, including sacking Cam Newton with just one arm. The Patriots need Easley to have a strong game in order to beat the Steelers in Week 1. He should be up for the challenge.