9. Strong play of interior defensive line
Entering Week 1, everybody and their mother was concerned about the interior of the defensive line after the departure of Vince Wilfork in the offseason. Those worries were not only put to rest, but also transformed into relief; the Patriots are better off without Wilfork.
2015 first rounder Malcom Brown was a stud. His combination of size, athleticism and instincts should lead to at least one Pro Bowl berth over the course of his career.
From the Malcom Brown vault: Malcom Brown says the word “work” 38 times in press conference
In addition, midseason pickup Akiem Hicks was everything the Patriots hoped he could be and more, forcing his way up the depth chart to the No. 3 spot by postseason. He had a few nice run stuffs on Sunday afternoon.
And of course there’s trusty veteran Alan Branch, who made a big sack in the AFC Championship. Branch knows what it takes to win it all, as he was instrumental in the Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX victory.
Last but not least, don’t forget about Dominique Easley, who was on fire before getting injured in Week 14. Easley and Brown represent the future of the Patriots’ defensive line.
Next: 8. Slippery RBs Lewis, White