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17 for 17: The most intriguing New England Patriots storylines of 2017

The year comes to an end. Let’s take a look back.

Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In a few hours (depending on where you are reading this), the year 2017 will come to an end and a new one arrives upon us. This means that now is the perfect time to look back once again at what made 2017 an interesting, exciting and – above all else – highly successful season for the New England Patriots. Without further ado, let's look back at the 17 most intriguing storylines of the year.

Dion Lewis has an all-time performance in the divisional playoffs.

After earning the AFC’s number one seed and homefield advantage throughout the postseason, the Patriots hosted the Houston Texans in the divisional round of the playoffs. The team won rather handily – 34-16 – behind an opportunistic defensive performance and a historic day by running back Dion Lewis. He became the first player in NFL history to score touchdowns on a pass, rush and kickoff return in the same playoff game.

The Patriots play their sixth straight AFC title game.

Thanks to its win one week earlier, New England advanced to its record sixth straight AFC Championship Game, hosting the number two seeded Pittsburgh Steelers. While the visitors were able to keep the game close in the first half, New England ran away in the second never to be caught again. The team, which saw wide receiver Chris Hogan gain a franchise playoff record 180 receiving yards, ultimately won 36-17 to advance to its ninth Super Bowl – breaking a tie for most ever appearances in the big game.

A comeback for the ages: New England wins Super Bowl LI.

28-3 – three numbers and a hyphen that will forever live in NFL lore. It was the score of Super Bowl LI late in the third quarter, before New England began to score 31 unanswered points against the Atlanta Falcons. After its slow and mistake-dominated start to the game, the team made big play after big play in all three phases to erase the 25-point deficit and force a 28-28 tie at the end of regulation. During the ensuing first overtime in Super Bowl history, game MVP Tom Brady and the Patriots offense marched right down the field, capping their historic comeback with a James White touchdown run – and the fifth Super Bowl title in franchise history.

Deflategate ends with Tom Brady and the Patriots receiving the Lombardi Trophy.

The 2016 season started with Tom Brady sidelined due to a four-game suspension. It ended with the man responsible for the hefty penalties imposed on Brady and the Patriots handing them the Lombardi Trophy: Under a deafening roar of boos, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell congratulated Robert Kraft and his franchise, gave them the silver trophy and left the stage while all of New England celebrated the ultimate redemption. A fitting end to one of the stupidest scandals in recent memory.

Tight ends coach Brian Daboll leaves for Alabama.

Following a Super Bowl, the winning team's players and coaches are always in high demand. Enter tight ends coach Brian Daboll, whose position group performed admirably during the 2016 season despite Rob Gronkowski ending it on injured reserve. In February, Daboll was named offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama. The vacancy he left in New England was filled quickly when the team promoted offensive assistant Nick Caley to take over coaching the team's tight ends.

The Patriots make some big moves at the start of free agency.

Not only did New England re-sign some of its core players – defensive captains Dont'a Hightower and Duron Harmon among them – when free agency started, the team also did not shy away from adding quality talent at other positions. The most notable acquisitions were signing free agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65.0 million contract and trading first and fourth round draft picks to the New Orleans Saints for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Furthermore, the Patriots brought in reinforcements at running back (Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee), tight end (Dwayne Allen) and defensive tackle (Lawrence Guy).

New England drafts only four players but just one makes the 53-man roster.

As a result of the above-mentioned offseason acquisitions and Deflategate penalties, the Patriots entered the 2017 NFL Draft with only six picks at their disposal. After further wheeling and dealing, New England ultimately made only four selections – only one of which was on the team's opening day roster this season: Deatrich Wise Jr., a fourth round defensive lineman. Two of his fellow rookies (defensive edge Derek Rivers, offensive tackle Antonio Garcia) are missing the season because of injury, while the third one (offensive tackle Conor McDermott) was cut and ultimately ended up with the Buffalo Bills.

Two long-time Patriots hang up the cleats.

In 2009, the Patriots opted to invest a second round draft pick in little-known offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer. The investment paid off and Vollmer went on to appear in 98 games for the team as a starter at tackle. After eight seasons and two Super Bowl rings, Vollmer ended his career in May. Two months later, another long-time Patriot called it quits: Rob Ninkovich, who also arrived in 2009, announced his retirement in July. As a starter on the defensive line, the former journeyman won two Super Bowls in his eight seasons with the Patriots. Overall, he played a total of 140 games for the team since joining it as a free agent.

The Patriots receive the biggest Super Bowl rings ever.

When the Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX after the 2014 season, the team received what was at that point the biggest championship rings in NFL history. The 2017 edition was even bigger: 283 diamonds – reflecting the 28-3 deficit the team faced late in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI – were incorporated as were the slogans “Greatest comeback ever” and “We are all Patriots”.

Patriots Hall of Fame quarterback Vito “Babe” Parilli dies.

After their first ever season in 1960, the then-Boston Patriots acquired 31-year old quarterback Vito “Babe” Parilli via trade. Parilli would go on to become one of the team's first big stars and one of the AFL's most productive players. The Pennsylvania native finished his career in Boston with 94 in-game appearances (83 starts) and still ranks fourth in franchise history in passing yards (16,747) and touchdowns (132). On July 15, at the age of 87, Parilli passed away.

Injuries hit hard before and during the 2017 regular season.

Entering their 2017 training camp, the Patriots had one of the deepest rosters in recent memory. However, this depth has regularly been tested because of injuries since then: Derek Rivers, who tore his ACL during a joint practice with the Houston Texans, was the first to suffer a significant injury. He was later joined by core players Julian Edelman, Dont'a Hightower, Marcus Cannon and Nate Ebner, who will all end the season on the sidelines. Beyond that, the team suffered multiple relatively minor injuries.

New England drops its fifth championship banner – and the season opener.

The 2016 season ended with a celebration, the 2017 campaign started with one – at least early on. After unveiling their fifth Super Bowl banner at Gillette Stadium, the defending world champions and the visiting Kansas City Chiefs went toe-for-toe for the first three quarters. However, it all went downhill from there as the Patriots fell apart in the final period to ultimately lose 42-27. The undefeated speculation that was swirling around before the season quickly dissipated.

The Patriots win all three of their playoff rematches.

Three of the highly anticipated matchups on the Patriots' 2017 regular season schedule were rematches of 2016 playoff games – and all three turned out to be memorable contests. While the games against the Houston Texans (week 3, 36-33) and Pittsburgh Steelers (week 15, 27-24) came down to the wire after game-winning drives led by Tom Brady, the one against the Atlanta Falcons (week 7, 23-7) saw New England play one of its most complete games of the year.

New England's defense bounces back from a rocky start.

To say that coordinator Matt Patricia's defense started slowly into the year would be an understatement – the unit was one of the league's worst through the first quarter of the season. But after New England gave up an average of 32 points from opening day through week four, the team was able to bounce back and has since become one of the best scoring defenses in the NFL. As has been the case in 2016, the 2017 version of the Patriots defense appears to start figuring things out at the right time.

Jimmy Garoppolo gets traded to San Francisco.

The Patriots made one of the biggest moves of the offseason when they acquired Brandin Cooks, and they also made one of the biggest moves of October 31st's trade deadline: New England opted to trade one of the NFL's hottest commodities – Jimmy Garoppolo – to the San Francisco 49ers for a second round draft pick. While the Patriots made a business decision that Tom Brady is both the quarterback of the present and the future, San Francisco received a starting-caliber quarterback for a relatively modest price.

Some big-name veterans join the team during the season.

After already adding linebacker David Harris in July, the Patriots continued to boost the depth on their roster with seasoned veterans throughout the season. In early November, the team brought tight end Martellus Bennett on board after his release by the Green Bay Packers. In December, former first round pick and fellow free agent Kenny Britt was added to the team before the pickup of Pittsburgh Steelers great James Harrison earlier this week.

New England wins its ninth straight AFC East title.

Last year, the Patriots set a new NFL record by winning eight straight division titles. This year, the team extended said record by adding the ninth AFC East title in a row – and the 19th overall. With the AFC East title and a first-round playoff bye already secured, the Patriots can now set their sights on the number one playoff seed and the conference title and Super Bowl after that.

2017 has been an exciting year for both the Patriots and for us at Pats Pulpit. But, in the spirit of Bill Belichick, we are on to the new year.

On to 2018 – may it be an equally successful one.