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AFC Championship Game X-Factors: Patriots vs. Broncos

Which players will stand to play key roles for the Patriots against the Broncos?

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots will need another strong effort from the same players who stepped up in the first Denver game. The Patriots are more healthy now than they were in Week 12, but the venue is still in Denver. Traveling for the AFC Championship Game can be tough, which is remarkable when considering the Patriots have three wins against the #1 seed on the road with two of them coming in the AFCCG. The Patriots will need to be able to shut down Peyton Manning's weapons on the perimeter and be able to extend drives when the primary read is not there for Tom Brady. These are the two players that will play a key role on Sunday:

RB James White: The Patriots could try to attack the Broncos underneath with the RB if they focus on trying to stop Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. White will be tasked with picking up blitzes in case the hot read is covered and chipping the edge rush at times. White isn't going to be asked to provide much of a running threat, but if the Broncos leave him alone he will torch them for big gains. If all the downfield options are covered, White presents a good check-down target with good run after catch ability and also to force missed 1-on-1 tackles in space. The Patriots will likely need White to convert a few 3rd downs in the game.

CB Logan Ryan: Ryan will once again likely draw the matchup against Demaryius Thomas. In the first game, Ryan was able to contain Thomas until the last two minutes of the 4th quarter. In order to slow down Thomas, Ryan must be able to jam Thomas at the line and frustrate him early because Thomas will take himself out of games at times. This can be a challenge, since there is an obvious speed mismatch between the two players. The Patriots will likely keep a safety over the top of Sanders, who has more deep speed than Thomas, so Ryan may end up being on an island until the Patriots are able to substitute Duron Harmon in their dime packages.