Coming off their fourth Super Bowl win, the New England Patriots started their 2015 campaign a perfect 10-0, before losing four of their final six games. Not only did the losses pile up over the course of the season, the injuries did as well. By the end of the season, the team had 19 players on an injury reserve list.
Of course, not all of those 19 players were core contributors like Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount or James Develin. In fact, some were not even locks to make New England’s 53-man roster. However, the sheer volume of players whose season ended because of injury reflects one of the major issue the 2015 Patriots had: health.
Overall, according to data collected by mangameslost.com, New England had the most-injured team in the NFL last season. Without putting into consideration players who played through injury, the defending world champions lost a total of 245 regular season games either to a reserve list or to game-day deactivation. For comparison, the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos lost "only" 91 games this way.
As a consequence of the abundance of injuries not only in 2015 but over the last few seasons – New England was the third most-injured team from 2011 to 2015 –, the Patriots let strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash go after the season. His assistant Moses Cabrera took over and, at least for this season, the results were positive.
As head coach Bill Belichick noted back in November, the team put a focus on easily preventable injuries. Especially soft-tissue ailments, as Belichick said, were addressed by Cabrera and his assistant James Hardy: "[N]on-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?’"
The numbers speak for themselves. While the 2015 Patriots were the most-injured squads in the NFL, the 2016 team was among the healthiest. While New England lost its most dangerous offensive skill position player – tight end Rob Gronkowski – to injured reserve, the majority of players were able to avoid major injury this season.
Overall, the Patriots lost "only" 122 regular season games in 2016, good enough for sixth best in the league. Their Super Bowl LI opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, were ranked eighth with 135 games – showing that health plays a key role when it comes to playing for an NFL title.