Ten weeks completed, nine games down, seven more to go until the playoffs start for the road to Tom Brady's sixth Super Bowl appearance and fifth time facing Peyton Manning in the playoffs to lead to a fourth Super Bowl victory and third quarterback to win that many times, making the choice for Greatest of All Time come down to two- Joe Montana and Brady- with Belichick becoming the number one coach ever.
Oh, I seem to have skipped eight- which I guess is when midseason evaluations were actually supposed to happen; this is more like "65% of the Season Awards!" Whatever.
So before we head down the back stretch, let's take a moment to review the first half of the season, courtesy of myself (RH), SlotMachinePlayer (SMP), and Alec Shane (AS).
1. What was the best game?
SMP: It'd be easy to go with bashing the Broncs here, but I'd go with the Bengals game. The team was running off the rails after KC and needed a lot of work to make things right. They put in the work and got the season back on track.
AS: Got to go with the low hanging fruit here and say Denver. In terms of a complete game from all three phases- offense, defense, special teams- the Broncos game was the epitome of the Patriots firing on all cylinders. Absolute statement win to put the rest of the league on notice.
RH: The Bengals game jump-started the team, while the Broncos game was possibly the most important. My vote for the best game goes to the Bears game that was complete with a noogie and a swirlie over one of the best traveling teams in the league.
2. Who was the Patriots best offensive player?
SMP: Tempted to say Brady here of course, but Rob Gronkowski declared to the world that Brady's his QB and he is a man on a mission to show how great Brady can be. Gronk's single-minded determination to get in the endzone against KC helped turn the season around, and when you talk about tight ends, it's Gronk and no one else is even close.
AS: Brady and Gronk get the nod, of course, but I'm going to think outside the box here and give Brandon LaFell his due. He obviously isn't the game changer that Gronk his, but he has been getting better and better each and every week, and his comfort level with Tommy B is growing by the day. He adds a whole new dynamic to the offense and knows how to make an impact play. I wish he was a little more consistent with his catches, but if he continues to improve each and every week the way he has, he's going to pay huge dividends late in the year.
RH: I want to be cute and give it to Ryan Wendell, but he's definitely not the best. It's got to be Gronk as he's just on a completely different field from the rest of the league. It's amazing how great he's been.
3. Who was the Patriots best defensive player?
SMP: This is tough because they are playing lights out team defense right now. I was leaning toward Revis Island, but when I think of team defense I think of Rob Ninkovich. His DE / OLB change up ability is one of the things that confused Peyton Manning. Pey Pey never knew who was coming, staying, or dropping, and for confusing Manning and getting the pick in stride, I'd go with Nink.
AS: Devin McCourty. He is one of the best safeties in the league who has the ability to cover the entire field and prevent the deep ball. Having McCourty in Cover 1 allows Pat Chung to play closer to the line, where he excels, and allows the corners to play press man against receivers and disrupt intermediate routes. McCourty's presence on the field allows every other player to play to his strengths.
RH: Vince Wilfork. The defensive line has been a carousel all year with injuries (Sealver Siliga. Chandler Jones) and new faces (Casey Walker? Akeem Ayers?) and Wilfork has been the constant. This defense thrives because of its deep secondary, but without a stout defensive front, teams would have enough time to find an open passing lane. Wilfork has been an iron man in his return from injury. Props to the big man.
4. Who was the team MVP?
SMP: Tom Brady hands down. Gronk helps other guys get better match-ups, but Brady is what keeps the team moving forward. The fact he's got most votes for league MVP right now kind of shows that.
AS: I snubbed Tommy B in the best offensive player category; I can't do it here. Brady for President.
RH: I started the Gronk for MVP hype train and I'm staying aboard until further notice.
5. Who was the best coach?
SMP: Tempted to go Dave DeGueglielmo for turning around the O-line, but I feel that would be like rewarding one of the Mannings for digging themselves in the hole for three quarters only to dig back out in the fourth. Got to go with the Hooded One for doing what he does every year and getting the team to play better down the stretch.
AS: Going to give Matt Patricia his due. He has been getting the best out of this defense, and his gameplan against Denver was superb. The defense is versatile and switches it up week to week, and while it certainly helps to have such great toys to play with, Patricia has been instrumental in making sure that those toys are running smoothly. Adjusting to life after Jerod Mayo isn't easy, and Patricia has done a fantastic job.
RH: When looking at the best coach, you have to look at which positional group best exceeded its expectations. Here's a curveball: special teams coach Scott O'Brien. Whether it's the multiple game-changing blocked kicks, or Julian Edelman's kick returns, or the fantastic field position the team has been getting and forcing, has there been a more steady group than the Teams division? And the pick-up of Don Jones to pair with Matt Slater gives one of the best gunner tandems in the entire league.
6. What was the best surprise (player, result, event, anything)?
SMP: I'd go with Patrick Chung here. He played some inspired ball against the Broncos. I was pretty much thinking he'd spend all of his time back on special teams, but he's doing fairly well in the SS role especially when spelled on bigger TEs by Browner.
AS: He hasn't been on the team long, but Akeem Ayers is already making his presence felt. New England got him for peanuts, and he has already registered two sacks in two games, including an absolute monster on Peyton Manning that completely changed the complexion of the Denver game. I thought that Ayers would be a more complimentary player, but he is making an impact right away.
RH: I want to give credit to Chung and Ayers, but Brandon LaFell is my big surprise. I thought he was going to be a small piece of the offense, someone who plays alongside Gronk and Edelman (and let's be serious, Aaron Dobson) and takes advantage of coverage mismatches. I never expected him to be forcing the mismatches on his own.
7. What would be the best play?
SMP: I already mentioned Gronk's TD against the Bengals, and Nink's pick against the Broncos. Gonna go here with Edelman's punt return TD against Denver that allowed me to relax and believe we have that game well in hand. It also gave us that special mic'd up segment between Tom and Jules that is simply priceless.
AS: Honorable mention to Gronk's one-handed grab and Chandler Jone's blocked field goal returned for a TD, but I'm going to go with the Tom Brady scramble and Danny Amendola TD catch on 3rd and goal from the 19 yard line against the Jets. A phenomenal throw and catch that the Patriots really, really needed to generate a home win against the Jets in order to keep this team trending up and the Jets trending down. If that play doesn't happen, who knows how that game turns out.
RH: I think we're overlooking one of the best plays of the season, although there have been plenty to write home about. How about Chandler Jones' field goal block, recovery, and return for a touchdown back in Week 2 against the Vikings? That was incredible and the convoy of Jones, Dont'a Hightower, and Devin McCourty shows perfectly how Bill Belichick players who can contribute as four-down players. (and if you want to find other great plays, go to our GIF of the Week section).
8. What's the biggest need for the rest of the year?
SMP: To stay healthy. Especially after the last few years, this is the top priority.
AS: Re-establish the running game. It's only going to get colder from here on out, and the Patriots can't become a one dimensional offense. Rich Hill had a great piece about how New England needs to give Jonas Gray the opportunity to prove that he can be that between the tackles, short yardage back that they lost when Stevan Ridley went down, and I couldn't agree more. Shane Vereen is great, but he's best as a passing threat/coverage mismatch as well as a runner, and the Patriots need to ensure that their offense is dangerous on the ground as well as through the air.
RH: Growth from their "leap" players. This means that Jamie Collins needs to build upon his past couple of quality weeks. Dont'a Hightower has to continue to flourish. Devin McCourty needs to make more plays as a full time safety, in addition to deterring the big throws. Bryan Stork has to develop. Jonas Gray has to grow. This team has a lot of youth or inexperience in key roles and they all have to become more reliable during the remainder of the season.
9. What's the scariest game on the remaining schedule?
SMP: I'm going with the away game against GB. When you look at tough games, I look at the QBs first.
AS: The next one: at Indy. Not only is it in a tough place to play, but Indy will be coming off the bye, their offense has been white hot, and it's likely to have big playoff implications down the stretch. The Broncos may not lose another game, so the Patriots are going to have to keep their foot on the gas; a loss to the Colts could muddle the playoff picture and put even more pressure on New England as they fight for a playoff bye.
RH: I'm with Alec- while the Patriots have had Andrew Luck's number, he's been playing very well this year. If the Patriots can take down the Colts, then they'll have defeated the three reigning divisional champs in the AFC. That does a lot for the playoff picture. I'm more scared of the tiebreaker games than the non-conference match-ups.
10. Does Tom Brady suck yet?
SMP: What happens between a man and his wife doesn't concern me. Next question.
AS: Things that Tom Brady sucks at: Acting. Dating unattractive women. Dancing at Carnival. Looking unfashionable. Living in houses without a moat. Endorsing manly shoes. The 40 yard dash. Returning my calls. Not filing a restraining order against me. Putting anything interesting in his garbage.
Things that Tom Brady does not suck at: Football.
RH: We're on to Indianapolis.
Give your superlatives in the comments!