By Ben Eagle
January 15, 2014

Damian Strohmeyer for SI (Damian Strohmeyer for SI)

With Championship Sunday upon us, this week's issue of Sports Illustrated features the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos.

The Patriots entered the season plagued by question marks on offense. But several unheralded contributors stepped up amid that uncertainty, propelling New England to an AFC title game meeting with the Broncos. Senior writer Tim Layden details those players in this week's cover story.

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“These Patriots are the unlikeliest AFC finalists of the Bill Belichick era, a team that went 12–4 despite being steadily thinned by personnel losses [injuries and otherwise] from June into January," Layden writes. LeGarrette Blount, who emerged from the bottom of the depth chart, ran for a franchise-best four touchdowns and 166 yards in New England's 43-22 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round.

(Robert Beck/SI) (Robert Beck/SI)

Although Seattle is known more for its 12th man and read-option offense, its defense has become legendary under coach Pete Carroll. Senior writer Jim Trotter details the evolution of that defense, specifically the front seven.

"[Carroll's] motto is Always compete -- another way of saying Never be complacent. So instead of waiting for the defense to improve with experience and familiarity, he and new coordinator Dan Quinn asked six of their 10 returning starters to line up at new positions or to play new roles.”

(Jed Jacobsohn for SI) (Jed Jacobsohn for SI)
Wes Welker

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