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After five years of bad injury luck, Patriots are finally one of the healthiest in NFL

The Patriots changed their strength and conditioning coach this offseason and it’s paying off.

Everyone knock on wood, find your lucky four-leaf clover, and cross your fingers as you read this article because we’re about to laugh in the face of the football gods.

Ready? The Patriots have benefit from an exceptional bill of health in 2016.

RB Dion Lewis, OG Tre Jackson, and OT Sebastian Vollmer started the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, with Lewis returning to live action in the next week or two. TE Michael Williams suffered a torn ACL over the summer.

QB Jacoby Brissett needed hand surgery after NT Vince Wilfork awkwardly landed on him. LB Jonathan Freeny tore both of his shoulders and won’t return in 2016. TE Greg Scruggs suffered a knee injury in practice. These are the three players on the injured reserve, with Brissett the only candidate likely to return to the roster.

Want to get a little nauseous?

At this point last season, the Patriots were down LB Dane Fletcher, DT Chris Jones, FB James Develin, WR Brandon Gibson, CB Darryl Roberts, WR Brian Tyms, OT Nate Solder, CB Tarell Brown, ED Rufus Johnson, OL Ryan Wendell, and RB Dion Lewis.

OT Marcus Cannon, OL Bryan Stork, WR Brandon LaFell, ED Jabaal Sheard, WR Keshawn Martin, and ED Trey Flowers all missed at least 3 of the first 8 games of the season. This year? Just CB Eric Rowe (ankle, new to the team) and OG Jonathan Cooper (cut).

So what’s changed?

“I’d say the thing we try to concentrate the most on are the injuries that we feel are most preventable,” head coach Bill Belichick said over the bye week, “and those being predominantly soft tissue injuries that are a function of training and hydration and nutrition, rest, and things like that. A broken bone or an impact hit that causes a problem, it’s hard to prevent those. Some of those are going to happen, although I do think there is an element of training that comes into play there, too.

“But non-contact injuries, injuries that occur from, again, pulled muscle, from dehydration or fatigue or whatever happens, those are the ones that I think as a coach and as a staff you look back on and say, ‘Could we have done things differently there?’ So yes, some of that involves the individual player, his specific body composition and skill set and demands, and some of it is probably the training that we put him through and so forth, and how we best prepare the players for the workloads that they’re going to have on game day. It’s a long conversation and one that we’ve spent a lot of time on.”

No team was hit harder by the injury bug in 2015 than the Patriots, and New England suffered the 3rd most injuries in the NFL between 2011-15. You have to imagine the Patriots might have another Super Bowl or two in the trophy case if they had been just slightly healthier.

This past offseason, the Patriots parted ways with strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash and promoted Moses Cabrera to the lead role. It would seem like the change is paying off.

“Well, we’re halfway through the season and at this point, you can look at the numbers, I’m sure you have, relative to where we were a year ago, and see there is a significant improvement,” Belichick said. “Hopefully we will be able to maintain that through the second half of the season when we ran into some trouble last year. I think we’ve always worked hard. We’ve tried every year to work a little bit harder, try to do things a little bit better, and hopefully some of those little things are paying off.

“I know the players work extremely hard on their training as well as their nutrition, hydration, rest, recovery, all the things that go into performance. We’re always looking to fine tune those for each individual because they’re all different. We all have different makeups and different little things that can help different players in unique ways, so always trying to stay on top of that. I think our staff has done a good job and the players have done a good job, so hopefully we’ll be able to continue that over the next eight regular season games.”

It’s clear that the Patriots have experienced a little bit of luck, but it’s also fair to say that the coaching staff has made the necessary changes to remain healthy throughout the season. Whether that’s by limiting snaps in games or not returning a player too quickly from injury, or by intentionally getting your quarterback suspended for four games to limit wear and tear, the Patriots have done a good job on the preventative side of injury management.

The players on the injury report for week 8 include WR Julian Edelman (foot, added week 5), DT Vincent Valentine (back, week 5), TE Martellus Bennett (ankle, week 6), WR Malcolm Mitchell (hamstring, week 6), DT Woodrow Hamilton (shoulder, week 7), LB Elandon Roberts (ankle, week 7), and CB Jonathan Jones (hip, week 8).

RB Dion Lewis will probably feature on the list when he is activated, but I would expect the week 10 injury report to be the Patriots shortest all season- including week 1.

If the Patriots can maintain their level of health of the second half of the season, there’s no reason Bill Belichick and company won’t be able to compete for another Lombardi trophy.