It was one of the best years in franchise history for the New England Patriots. The team battled suspensions and injuries to top players but still managed to put up a 14-2 record. After a couple of years of going 12-4, which isn’t bad at all, it was nice to see the Patriots not lose more than 2 games. This team reminds me of the Super Bowl winning teams of the past because their dominance both offensively and defensively has gone unmatched in the whole league. The Pats grabbed the number 1 seed in the AFC and home field advantage throughout the playoffs for a record sixth time this season. The playoffs are just on the horizon for the guys in blue and it is time to look at how the team did throughout their 2016 campaign.
The one constant that has remained with the Patriots throughout the entire Brady-Belichick era is the great offensive game plan they always run. The Patriots have always believed in next man up and that moto has remained true this season. They finished the year with the 4th ranked offense in the league. The most dominant tight end in the league Rob Gronkowski went down with yet another knee injury but did that faze the Patriots? Nope. The team looked to first year Patriot Martellus Bennett to shoulder some of the load of the offense. Bennett finished the year with 77 receptions, 701 yards and 7 touchdowns. He is one of the Pats top targets in the red zone because he is yet another big body that can get open. The one surprise of the regular season was the play of RB LeGarrette Blount. Blount finished the year with 1,161 yards and a NFL leading 18 touchdowns. Now the drop between yards and touchdowns for Blount shouldn’t really come as a surprise because Blount really doesn’t have the basic RB qualities most of the other backs in the league have. Blount is a big body that just runs over people which is why he finished with 18 touchdowns. Once the Patriots get into the red zone they usually look to Blount to steam roll over defenders and score.
The MVP of the offense this year (and the rightful MVP of the league) is without a doubt Tom Brady. After serving his four game suspension and putting an end to deflategate Brady came back with a vengeance. In Brady’s first game back against the Cleveland Browns he was 28/40 with 406 yards and 3 touchdowns. Once Brady asserted he was on the revenge tour and looking for a fifth Super Bowl title it put the whole league on notice. Tom Brady finished the year going 291/432, 3,554 yards, 28 TDs, 2 INTs, a completion percentage of 67.4%, a QBR of 82.8 and a rating of 112.2. Those are some RIDICULOUS numbers but it shouldn’t come as a shock as surprising as that sounds. Brady has dominated for his whole career so these stats shouldn’t come as a shock but they do considering he is 39 years old. Brady looks like he can play for another 5 years and with numbers like these that seems like a reality.
Offensive grade: A
Probably the biggest surprise of the year is the play of the Patriots defense. This has always been a top 15 maybe even top 20 defense in the league but this year they managed to crack the top 10. They finished the year with the 8th best defense in the league and some of the stats they put up are very surprising. They allowed 326.4 YPG, 237.9 Pass YPG, 88.6 Rush YPG and let up a league best 15.6 PPG. The last couple of games of the season were the team’s strongest point as they didn’t let up a TD until week 17 against Miami. The last time they let up a TD up until that point was the second quarter of week 14. Matt Patricia deserves all the credits as he has established the Patriots as one of the dominant defenses in the league.
The MVP of the defense has to be Malcolm Butler who has proven to be a top 5 corner in the league. He is definitely one of the best Pro Bowl snubs out of the AFC. Butler grabbed 4 INTs this year and allowed 28 yards. I am more than confident with Butler lining up against the best WR in the AFC playoffs like Antonio Brown, Tyreke Hill, DeAndre Hopkins and Amari Cooper. Butler always plays the top WRs tough because he knows he has something to prove and doesn’t like when he gets beat. Throughout the playoffs the Patriots will see some great offenses and it is imperative that the defense keeps it up because the last thing Pats fans want is for the defense to not live up to the regular season numbers.
Defense grade: A-
This part of the Patriots was the weakest all season. Stephen Gostowski had a very down year and it made a lot of fans question if the team needs to find a new kicker. Gostowski was 27/32 which was good enough for 84.4% but he also missed some key extra points. His play throughout the season makes me nervous because if the Pats are in a situation where they need a last second field goal, my trust in Gostowski to make that field goal is severely down.
Other than Gostowski, Cyrus Jones has had a rough go with returning kicks. He has fumbled a few times which has costs the Pats a few possessions but those are just bad rookie mistakes that need to be corrected. Jones will certainly pick it up next season.
Special Teams grade: C-