The New England Patriots had one of the most successful seasons in franchise history in 2016 despite being without starting quarterback Tom Brady for four games.
The Patriots also lost their biggest offensive weapon, Rob Gronkowski, to a back injury in Week 12 but kept chugging along to finish with a 14-2 record.
Let’s go through the Patriots’ year-end awards and superlatives to find out how they were able to win another AFC East title and clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
Doug Kyed: Tom Brady
Sure, the Patriots went 3-1 without Brady in the lineup, but they then went 11-1 with him in the offense. He completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 3,554 yards with 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
Zack Cox: Tom Brady
There’s a strong case to be made that Brady is the MVP of the entire NFL. He certainly deserves that honor within his own team.
Offensive Player of the Year
Doug Kyed: LeGarrette Blount
This easily could go to Brady, but Blount deserves recognition for his 18 touchdowns, a new Patriots single-season franchise rushing record.
Zack Cox: Tom Brady
For the same reason he should be team MVP. But if we’re excluding Brady from this conversation, I’ll go with Blount, who broke Curtis Martin’s touchdown record while posting career highs in all three rushing categories.
Defensive Player of the Year
Doug Kyed: Malcolm Butler
I wavered between Butler and safety Devin McCourty. It likely would have gone to McCourty before Butler finished strong with four interceptions on the season.
Zack Cox: Malcolm Butler
Butler should have been a Pro Bowler this season. Dont’a Hightower was, but I give the edge to Butler for his reliability. Hightower missed too much time this season. McCourty also would be a worthy pick here.
Rookie of the Year
Doug Kyed: Joe Thuney
Thuney was the weak link on the Patriots’ offensive line, but the unit was so good that even the weakest link was still a very solid player. Thuney started all 16 games and played nearly every snap in his rookie campaign.
Zack Cox: Joe Thuney
You could make the case for either Thuney or Malcolm Mitchell, but almost all of Mitchell’s production came in the second half of the season. Thuney was a starter from Day 1 and should be a staple on the Pats’ O-line for years to come.
Most Improved Player of the Year
Doug Kyed: Marcus Cannon
Patriots fans freaked out when it became obvious Cannon would be the team’s starting right tackle with Sebastian Vollmer out. Cannon lost 15 pounds over the offseason and looked like a different player under offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Cannon was rewarded with a hefty contract extension.
Zack Cox: Trey Flowers
After missing almost the entirety of his rookie season, Flowers came out of nowhere to lead the Patriots in sacks.A close second would be Cannon, who earned himself a well-deserved contract extension. Shaq Mason, who developed into a wrecking ball at right guard after a slow start to the season, deserves consideration, too.
Doug Kyed: Trey Flowers
Flowers had a monster second half after missing the majority of his rookie season with a shoulder injury.
Zack Cox: All of Jamie Collins’ replacements
Sure, this is a bit of a cop-out, but New England’s ability to improve on defense after trading away one of its best players was remarkable.
Doug Kyed: Jamie Collins
It easily could have been Cyrus Jones, but Collins was supposed to be a defensive player of the year candidate and was traded for a conditional draft pick. That’s rough.
Zack Cox: Cyrus Jones
Jones is the clear pick here. He struggled both in coverage and especially on special teams after the Patriots used their top pick in the 2016 draft on him.
Doug Kyed: Alan Branch
The big 32-year-old defensive tackle was called the Patriots’ most consistent interior lineman by Bill Belichick recently. His space-eating has helped keep rushing attacks in check all season.
Zack Cox: LeGarrette Blount
There are plenty of candidates for this honor, but I’m giving it to the big bull, who started strong and never slowed down, even after Dion Lewis returned to the fray. His 18 rushing touchdowns this season were the most by any player since 2009. Maybe Blount is a bit too “sung” for this one, but I’m giving it to him anyway.
Doug Kyed: Dante Scarnecchia
The offensive line has improved tenfold this season under Coach Scar.
Zack Cox: Dante Scarnecchia
No one else even comes close.
Best Offseason Addition
Doug Kyed: Martellus Bennett
Chris Long and Chris Hogan also have been solid for the Patriots this season, but New England’s offense might have fallen apart after Rob Gronkowski’s injury without Bennett.
Zack Cox: Martellus Bennett
The Patriots should seriously consider re-signing the big tight end after his productive — and highly entertaining — first season in Foxboro.
Best In-Season Addition
Doug Kyed: Eric Rowe
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy has been solid, as well, but Rowe led Patriots cornerbacks in passer rating against this season.
Zack Cox: Eric Rowe
Though he spent some time out of the lineup, Rowe’s presence went a long way toward stabilizing the Patriots’ previously unstable secondary.
Play of the Year
Doug Kyed: Michael Floyd’s block on Julian Edelman’s 77-yard Week 17 touchdown
Floyd’s block on Dolphins cornerback Tony Lippett was devastating. There isn’t another highlight like it from the Patriots’ 2016 season.
Zack Cox: Michael Floyd’s block
Maybe it’s just recency bias talking here, but I can’t stop watching Floyd absolutely demolish Lippett. One of the biggest blocks I’ve seen in years.
Thumbnail photo via Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports Images