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Pats Receivers to Pose Big Challenge in SBLI

The Falcons took off from Atlanta on Sunday afternoon and arrived in Houston one week ahead of Super Bowl LI. The players received a Bose Care Package on the plane.

Heading into Super Bowl LI, MVP candidate Tom Brady is receiving a lot of praise for his ability to lead one of the best offenses in the NFL. TE Martellus Bennett, who earned a team-high seven touchdown catches during the regular season, has enjoyed the spotlight, too.

That acclaim is well-deserved, but New England's wide receivers, who have mostly flown under the radar, have played a significant role in that success.

WRs Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell all reached at least 400 receiving yards in the regular season. Edelman led the way with 1,106, Hogan had 680 and Mitchell, a UGA product, reached 401 with just four starts. The trio combined for 11 touchdowns, and Danny Amendola, who has amassed 600 receiving yards in five of eight NFL campaigns, added four.

Hogan and Edelman have led the way in the playoffs with 275 and 255 receiving yards, respectively, and Hogan had the best day of his career in the AFC Championship Game, notching nine receptions for 180 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

None of these four would be confused with Julio Jones, but together, they helped New England create the third-best scoring offense in football.

"That is the kind of team you want to build," Brady said about his receiving corps. "You want to build a team that is very difficult to defend. If they are going to cover one guy, then you have to throw it to the other guy and we have to make the plays. If they are going to stop the pass, then you have to hand it off and make yards in the run game. That is what makes it challenging for defenses and that is the kind of pressure we need to put on them."

Though Brady's wideouts lack ideal size, they make up for that deficiency with a number of key traits. All of them have reliable hands. They're known for their quickness, which makes them dangerous on short and intermediate throws and allows them to exploit zone coverage. And, like many of their counterparts in Atlanta, they're excellent route-runners.

Those characteristics make Edelman, Amendola and Hogan strong fits in the Patriots' scheme.

"(The Pats like) smaller guys with quickness/change of direction, who can adjust/catch the ball well," one NFC personnel man told the New York Daily News. "(Guys who) also have confidence/tuffs/competes — maybe even a little 'chip on their shoulders' for always (having) been told they were always too small/slow."

Some analysts, including former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson, believe these wideouts are thriving because of their environment. Johnson went as far as to say some of them don't have what it takes to make other clubs' 53-man rosters.

The Patriots naturally disagree with this sentiment. And it's easy to see why. Working with Brady doesn't hurt, of course, but even though many of his targets were unknown commodities before joining New England, no system or quarterback can make an athlete consistently beat the world's best defensive backs.

1,100-plus-yard seasons like Edelman's, and dominating postseason outings like Hogan's, cannot be put together by any replacement-level player. It takes a lot of talent to accomplish those feats, and while others may not have recognized that skill in the past, Bill Belichick certainly has.

And by doing so, he's presented Atlanta's secondary with a formidable challenge in SBLI.

"I think that it the reason why we are at where we are at," Edelman said about the Patriots' offensive weapons. "Anytime you have a lot of guys who can makes plays, just through the years of playing that is usually the teams that go further. It is a good thing to have that."

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