There are 28 players who recorded snaps for the New England Patriots in the 2018 AFC Championship Game on the active roster for this year’s.
That tally does not include the likes of wide receiver Julian Edelman, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, linebacker Dont’a Hightower or core special-teamer Nate Ebner, as all resided on injured reserve when New England survived the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-20, at Gillette Stadium to advance to Super Bowl LII.
The tally also doesn’t include then-rookie offensive lineman Cole Croston, who checked into the kicking game versus Jacksonville and now is a member of the practice squad.
It doesn’t include cornerback Eric Rowe, who was in for 62 percent of New England’s defensive duties that day, either. He was placed on IR this October.
“This team is completely different than any team I’ve been on that’s been here in New England,” Edelman, in his 10th campaign, said during his Friday press conference. “We’ve got a lot of young guys. There’s some veterans. I’m sure they have some veterans that have played in important ball games, as well.”
Experience won’t be the be-all, end-all as Sunday’s 6:40 p.m. ET kickoff versus the Kansas City Chiefs gets underway. But there remains a long list of Patriots holdovers who’ve been here before as the organization heads to Arrowhead Stadium for its eighth consecutive conference title appearance.
Some have seen the field under head coach Bill Belichick for each of the previous seven. Some have missed one January and returned for another. Some have known nothing different since entering the league.
“You don’t know if this will happen every year, and it kind of seems crazy because we say it every time we get this opportunity,” safety Devin McCourty, a first-round pick in 2010 who had only his rookie season end in the divisional round, told reporters Wednesday. “But it’s a special thing to be able to play in this game.”
“When you’re a young buck, really young, you feel like you’re going to be here for a little,” tight end Rob Gronkowski, a second-rounder from the same draft class, said Thursday. “I would say now, seeing everything, seeing how fast it goes, you know how much work it takes to put in to get to this level. As you get older, you’ve got to put more work into it to get this far, to get to this stage, to get to the championship game.”
While there are 28 players on New England’s current 53-man roster who saw snaps in last year’s AFC title game, let’s extrapolate back to when the streak began.
From the 2017 AFC title game, there are 25.
- Tom Brady, James White, James Develin, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Marcus Cannon, Shaq Mason, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Ted Karras, Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, Matthew Slater, Joe Cardona, Ryan Allen, Stephen Gostkowski
From the 2016 AFC title game, there are 18.
- Tom Brady, James White, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Marcus Cannon, Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Malcom Brown, Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Brandon King, Matthew Slater, Joe Cardona, Ryan Allen, Stephen Gostkowski
From the 2015 AFC title game, there are 13.
- Tom Brady, James Develin, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Marcus Cannon, Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Matthew Slater, Ryan Allen, Stephen Gostkowski
From the 2014 AFC title game, there are 11.
- Tom Brady, James Develin, Julian Edelman, Marcus Cannon, Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Nate Ebner, Matthew Slater, Ryan Allen, Stephen Gostkowski
From the 2013 AFC title game, there are eight.
- Tom Brady, Marcus Cannon, Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Nate Ebner, Matthew Slater, Stephen Gostkowski
And from the 2012 AFC title game, there are a slightly different eight.
- Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Marcus Cannon, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Matthew Slater, Stephen Gostkowski
The Oakland Raiders hold the NFL’s second-longest stretch of conference championship appearances, reaching the AFC title bout from 1973 through 1978. And with a win in Kansas City, New England would join the 1990-1993 Buffalo Bills and 1971-1973 Miami Dolphins as the lone franchises to appear in at least three consecutive Super Bowls since the era began.
For the Patriots, the lone certainty is that more snaps will be accrued Sunday.
And by some of the same, familiar names as the seven Januaries prior.