The Patriots finish a strong 2016 campaign with a convincing win over the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots were able to exorcise demons from last year that included a monumental collapse (losing 4 of final 6 games) that turned a 10-0 start into the #2 seed and losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. The Patriots instead finished the regular season with 7 straight wins, by an average score of 28-13 and only two of them being under 10 points. In that winning streak, they ended the seasons for both the Ravens and Broncos. The end result is the Patriots will have Home Field Advantage in the AFC playoffs and are the league’s hottest team.
Patriots start 3-1 without Tom Brady: The Patriots needed a little bit of luck to win their first game, needing a missed FG from Chandler Catanzarro to beat the Arizona Cardinals 23-21. For the first six quarters of the season, backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo showed that he can handle the offense at a high level. Unfortunately an injury ended his four-game audition and the Patriots were forced to rely on 3rd round rookie Jacoby Brissett. The Patriots were able to split both of Brissett’s starts and finished 3-1. You couldn’t ask for a better start with the team missing their best two players on offense.
Brady puts up MVP caliber numbers: Brady in 12 games averaged just under 300 yards a game, posted the league’s best TD/INT ratio over a single season (28/2). Brady completed over 2⁄3 of his pass attempts for an NFL passer rating of 116.2. That passer rating marks stands to be the 2nd highest mark of the career, just below his 117.2 mark from the 2007 season. His final stat line is: 268 for 400, 3554 yards, 28 TD, and 2 INT. The Patriots set an NFL record with only 2 INT over a 16-game season.
Offensive Line stays healthy, plays much better: One of the underrated story lines of the season is the play of the offensive line. The Patriots brought back long time OL coach Dante Scarnecchia from retirement and was able to aid the development of young OL in Shaq Mason, David Andrews, and Marcus Cannon. The Patriots also spent a 3rd round pick on LG Joe Thuney, who’s been very good despite his weekly holding penalties. The starting five of Nate Solder, Thuney, Andrews, Mason, and Cannon started 14/16 regular season games and each lineman starting in at least 15 games. The OL only allowed 15 sacks of Brady (average of 20 per 16 games) while opening up holes for the backs. The Patriots rewarded Marcus Cannon with a 5-year extension.
LeGarrette Blount sets franchise record in rushing TDs: The domino effect of a better offensive line has been with LeGarrette Blount putting up the best season of his career. Blount ran for 1161 yards on 299 carries and 18 touchdowns. Even though the efficiency metrics this season aren’t as good as in year’s past, his impact on the offense has never been greater. The Patriots running game has been a real weapon for the offense to either run downhill behind James Develin or the shifty back Dion Lewis. The Patriots have a nice three-headed monster in the backfield with the powerful Blount, the shifty Lewis, and James White as a receiver.
Patriots sweep road schedule: On paper, the road schedule looked very daunting on paper. The Patriots had the Steelers, Broncos, and Cardinals on the road for out of division match-ups. The Patriots managed to luck through those games with the Steelers missing Roethlisberger in Week 7, the Broncos offense being inept all season, and the Cardinals following Arizona Sports tradition for 2016 of disappointing in all phases. The Patriots proved to be a mentally tough team, winning 7 of 8 by 10+ points. They won’t be traveling for another game this season unless they advance to Super Bowl LII in Houston.
Defense answers challenge in final 7 games: Even against an easy schedule, the Patriots defense did what it needed to do. The defense forced 14 turnovers, held their opponents to under 13 points a game, and near the top of the league in fewest yards allowed per game. That strong run is why the Patriots will finish with the league’s top scoring defense. The defense is going to be a difference between a Super Bowl win or going home early. The biggest challenge would be a potential AFCCG against the Pittsburgh Steelers and their Killer B’s.