The Patriots will be counting on Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski again this season.
SportsCenter is at Patriots training camp Friday. Here are the top things to know leading up to the 2014 season.
1. The Patriots have won the AFC East in 5 straight and 10 of the last 11 seasons. New England is the only team since the merger to win 10 division titles over 11 seasons. Some potential milestones for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady this season:
• Belichick needs 1 postseason win to tie Tom Landry for most all-time
• Brady needs 1 regular-season win to break a tie with John Elway for third-most in NFL history
• Patriots can become first team to win 6 straight division titles since mid-1970s (Steelers – 1974-79; Rams – 1973-79)
• Patriots can become second team to win at least 10 games in 12 straight seasons (49ers – 1983-98)
2. Since Tom Brady’s first season as a starter in 2001, the Patriots have been the NFL’s most successful team with 158 regular-season wins (19 more than any other team), 18 playoff wins (6 more than any other team), 11 division titles (3 more than any other team) and 3 Super Bowl wins (1 more than any other team). However, since Brady and Belichick went 9-0 in the postseason en route to winning Super Bowls following the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons, they’re just 9-8 in the playoffs.
3. Last season, Tom Brady had his lowest completion percentage since 2003 (60.5) and his fewest yards per attempt since 2006 (6.9) and ranked outside the top 20 in the NFL in both categories for the first time in his career. Brady was the league’s 11th-highest rated QB last season, with his lowest Total QBR (61.1) since 2006 (first season for which data is available).
4. One reason for Brady’s relatively average (for him) 2013 could be that he threw a career-high 163 passes to rookies, 35 more than any other QB in the NFL. When throwing to rookies last year, Brady completed 48 percent of his passes. When throwing to veterans, he completed 67 percent of his passes. Patriots rookies dropped 8 percent of Brady’s passes last year. Patriots veterans dropped just 5 percent of Brady’s passes.
5. Along with more experience at wide receiver, a healthy Rob Gronkowski should help Brady be more productive in 2014. Gronkowski, coming off surgery to repair torn knee ligaments suffered in Week 14 last season, led all tight ends with 85 receiving yards per game last year. In his 4 seasons with the team, Brady has 42 touchdowns vs just 6 interceptions when targeting Gronkowski. Over that span, Gronkowski’s 42 receiving TDs are the most by a TE in the NFL and second most by any player behind Calvin Johnson.
6. After appearing in 16 games in each of his first 2 seasons, Gronkowski has missed 14 games with injuries over the last 2 years. Over that span, Brady has a Total QBR of 78 with 33 touchdowns and 8 interceptions when Gronkowski is on the field and a Total QBR of 60 with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions when he is off the field. He’s missed even more in the red zone, where Brady has a Total QBR of 94 over the last 2 years with Gronkowski in the game and a Total QBR of 67 with him on the sideline.
7. The Patriots “bend but don’t break” defense has allowed the most yards in the NFL over the last 3 seasons (386 per game) but ranks seventh in the league in points allowed over that span (21.1 per game). A key for the unit is the ability to generate turnovers. Over the last 3 years, the Patriots lead the league in takeaways (104) and turnover margin (+51).
8. Less than a week after Pro Bowl CB Aqib Talib left for the Broncos via free agency, the Patriots signed 5-time Pro Bowl CB Darrelle Revis to a 2-year deal with $11.5M in guaranteed money. New England also signed former Pro Bowl CB Brandon Browner, who will be suspended for the first 4 games of the season, from the Seahawks. The Patriots allowed Peyton Manning to pass for 400 yards in last year’s AFC Championship loss.
9. Returning to the Patriots defense will be nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who tore his Achilles in Week 4 last season and missed the rest of the year, and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who tore his ACL in Week 5. From Weeks 6-17, the Patriots allowed the fourth most rush yards per game (142) and fifth most yards per rush (4.6) in the NFL. Rookie first-round pick Dominique Easley, coming off his own season-ending injury (torn ACL at Florida), is expected to push for playing time on the defensive line.
10. Patriots Top Transactions This Offseason