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The New England Patriots clinched their fifth Vince Lombardi trophy in the 2016 season by staging the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history to defeat the Atlanta Falcons.
The Patriots trailed 28-3 midway through the third quarter of the match, but Tom Brady further enhanced his legacy as the greatest quarterback of all-time by leading his side back to clinch the victory.
Bill Belichick became the first head coach to win five Vince Lombardi trophies, breaking his tie with Chuck Noll on top of the all-time list.
New England have already put the pieces in place for another surge for the title – in their bid to become the first side since the 2004 Patriots to win back-to-back crowns.
Belichick knows the difficulties ahead, but with Brady showing no signs of decline and with a loaded roster for the 2017 season – there is no reason why the Patriots cannot remain at the top of the NFL.
We’ll now look back at their triumphant campaign and look ahead to the 2017 season in their bid for a sixth Super Bowl since 2001.
The deflategate scandal saw Brady lose his battle with the NFL and the reinstatement of his four-match suspension that had been stymied for the 2015 season.
The ban pressed backup Jimmy Garoppolo into action for the opening month of the campaign, beginning with a hard test on the road against the Arizona Cardinals.
Garoppolo played extremely well in his first start, hitting a strike to Chris Hogan, while plays later in the game allowed the Patriots to take a 23-21 lead in the fourth quarter. Chandler Catanzaro had the chance to snatch the win for Arizona, but he missed from 41 yards, securing the victory for the Pats.
The 25-year-old carved apart the Dolphins to fire New England into a comfortable lead before disaster struck as he sustained a shoulder injury. Rookie Jacoby Brissett was pressed into action and did enough to guide Belichick’s men over the line.
Brissett was forced to start against the Houston Texans, but did everything asked of him and more as the Patriots crushed the AFC South side, shutting them out at Gillette Stadium.
The clash against the Buffalo Bills was a game too far for the rookie as Garoppolo failed to recover. New England were shut out for the first time in 10 years, but Brady’s return was on the horizon against the Cleveland Browns.
Brady was seamless in his return to action as did not miss a beat, easing his side to victory with three touchdown strikes to Martellus Bennett before leaving the field to chants of his name.
His rout of the AFC North continued home and away over the next two weeks, firing in the second half to see off the Cincinnati Bengals. Without Ben Roethlisberger the Pittsburgh Steelers proved no match for Brady and Rob Gronkowski, connecting for a score to take the match away from the hosts.
A four-touchdown display followed against the Buffalo Bills, avenging their defeat earlier in the campaign; with Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Hogan and Gronkowski all finding the endzone.
Belichick made the controversial decision to trade Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins during the bye week, and that appeared to affect the defense in the club’s second and final defeat of the season in a 31-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
New England also lost Gronkowski to injury as he played only once more in the campaign due to a back injury. However, despite those losses – Belichick’s men righted the ship by easing past three inferior teams in the form of the San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets and the Los Angeles Rams.
Special teams’ errors almost gave the Baltimore Ravens a sniff at competing in their next clash, despite the Patriots’ dominance. However, Brady’s late pass to Hogan ended any notion of a comeback.
Perhaps their most important regular-season win came on the road against the Denver Broncos – the sight of their AFC Championship defeat in 2015. Brady was harassed last term in the loss, but on this occasion New England’s defense limited Denver to just three points in an 11-point victory.
Back-to-back wins over the Jets and Dolphins secured home-field advantage for Belichick’s men and they were handed a gift when Derek Carr’s injury saw the Texans advance over the Oakland Raiders in the wildcard round.
Although Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus gave Brady issues in the first half, Dion Lewis and the quarterback managed to guide their side into the AFC Championship game for the sixth season on the spin.
The title game was a formality against the Steelers, who had perennially struggled against Brady. He carved apart Pittsburgh’s defense with Hogan recording 180 yards and two touchdowns in a comfortable win at Gillette Stadium.
New England broke the NFL record for most Super Bowl appearances by reaching their ninth. Many pundits expected them to defeat the Atlanta Falcons due to their experience.
However, they would have to do it the hard way as turnovers from LeGarrette Blount and Brady left them in a 21-3 deficit at the break. Tevin Coleman’s early touchdown in the third quarter appeared to be the club’s death knell.
James White emerged as the Super Bowl hero, notching his side’s first touchdown of the game before Stephen Gostkowski made it a two-score game with 12 minutes remaining.
Dont’a Hightower produced his second huge play in the title game by strip-sacking Matt Ryan, setting up Danny Amendola’s touchdown before White converted the two-pointer.
The Falcons looked to have secured the win when Ryan and Julio Jones connected, but Trey Flowers sacked the quarterback, allowing Brady to lead the Patriots downfield to tie the match with White scoring the touchdown before Amendola notched the two-pointer.
In the first Super Bowl over-time – Brady scythed through the Falcons’ tiring defense before White rushed in from two yards to secure the historic win.
The Patriots have already made their intentions clear for the 2017 season by splashing out big to bolster their roster.
New England traded their first-round pick in this year’s draft to acquire Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints.
The 23-year-old has recorded over 2,000 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns in his past two seasons and will add a new dimension to the Patriots’ offense. The club also traded for defensive end Kony Ealy from the Carolina Panthers and tight end Dwayne Allen from the Indianapolis Colts.
In free agency, Belichick made one of the biggest moves in the club’s history by handing a lucrative five-year deal to Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore from the Buffalo Bills.
His signing offset the loss of Logan Ryan to the Tennessee Titans, although Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler’s future looks uncertain, with the 27-year-old seemingly unwilling to play under his restricted tender deal of $3.91m.
The cornerback could still be traded as the Saints have been interested in acquiring his services.
Elsewhere, the Patriots have managed to keep the majority of their roster intact by re-signing Hightower, Alan Branch and Duron Harmon. Meanwhile, running back Rex Burkehead and defensive lineman Lawrence Guy were also added to the team to bolster the depth at both positions.
Further additions will be made in the draft, although they are currently without their first and second-round picks due to their off-season trades. Garoppolo could still be moved on with the Browns interested in his services, but for now the Pats are keeping their insurance policy for Brady.
The Patriots are far and away the favourite for the Super Bowl next season due to their off-season moves and already boasting a title-winning roster. Worryingly for the rest of the NFL they won without All-Pro tight end Gronkowski – who appears to be working his way back to full fitness.
Many pundits are already backing the Patriots to match their 16-0 season of 2007, but this time Belichick and Brady will be determined to seal the deal after seeing perfection cruelly snatched away from them by the New York Giants.
It’s hard to see any team in the AFC challenging their dominance, especially in light of Tony Romo’s decision to retire. That leaves the Texans and the Broncos without a quality quarterback, while the Steelers and the Raiders don’t appear to have the defenses capable of keeping Brady at bay.
Therefore backing New England at 21/10 3.10 +210 2.10 2.10 -0.48 at TopBet sportsbook to win the conference is a smart option to take, while the Super Bowl price of 4/1 5.00 +400 4.00 4.00 -0.25 is also a must take just for the excellent value.
New England Patriots To Win AFC Conference
Odds: 21/10 3.10 +210 2.10 2.10 -0.48
New England Patriots To Win Super Bowl
Odds: 4/1 5.00 +400 4.00 4.00 -0.25