The NFL's playoff field has been reduced to four teams, this championship game weekend promising to feature tightly matched opponents with little margin for error. The penultimate playoff round can also be a time when depth makes all the difference.
Who can forget when Drew Bledsoe stepped in for injured Tom Brady in the 2001 AFC championship game in Pittsburgh, the former-franchise-quarterback-turned-TB12-understudy leading New England to victory one week before the Patriots would win their first Super Bowl? Or how about Broncos defensive back Jeremiah Castille, who forced "The Fumble" from Cleveland's Earnest Byner just shy of the goal line to preserve Denver's 38-33 win in the 1987 AFC title game.
Just a year ago, 49ers backup tailback Raheem Mostert rushed for a San Francisco playoff record 220 yards to go along with four touchdowns as the Niners whacked the Packers to secure the NFC crown.
Who might come off the bench this Sunday to propel his team to Super Bowl 55? Here are 10 second-stringers who could have a first-rate impact:
Bills WR Cole Beasley
Buffalo's slot receiver has been fighting a knee injury that left him in street clothes for the regular-season finale and kept him out of the starting lineup in the wild-card round. Beasley didn't even manage a catch in the divisional matchup with Baltimore after amassing a career-high 82 in the regular season. But with fellow receiver Gabriel Davis managing an ankle injury entering a game against Kansas City that could devolve into a shootout, Beasley, who was Josh Allen's most productive target this season not named Stefon Diggs, may need to have a big day.
Bills CB Josh Norman
The veteran has a penchant for being involved in dramatic plays, whether he's making them or surrendering them. Norman's role has expanded significantly over the past six weeks, a stretch where he's typically played about half the defensive snaps. He had a pick-six in Week 17 and forced a fumble last weekend against Baltimore. Given the Chiefs' tendency to air it out, don't be surprised if Norman winds up being in the spotlight.
Buccaneers TE Cameron Brate
He's only started twice all season but has produced far more than more-acclaimed Rob Gronkowski in the playoffs. Brate has eight catches for 130 yards this postseason, including a team-leading 50 yards in New Orleans last Sunday. He and Gronk could be highly effective options against Green Bay's suspect linebackers.