Sunday night’s game in New England is a rematch of Super Bowl XLIX.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
2016 record: 7-1, 1st in AFC East.
Coach: Bill Belichick (230-114 in 22 years overall, 194-70 in 17 years coaching the Patriots).
Series record: The regular season series is tied 8-8 with the Seahawks having won six of the last eight. That includes a 24-23 win at CenturyLink Field in 2012. The teams have only played three times in the regular season since 1993, which is also the last time the Seahawks won in New England (17-14 on Sept. 19). Not included in the official series record is New England’s 28-24 win in Super Bowl XLIX.
By the numbers
13 Consecutive 10-win seasons for the Patriots dating to a 9-7 record in 2002. That’s second all-time behind the 16 of the 49ers from 1983-98.
8.9 Yards per pass for the Patriots, second in the NFL behind the 9.5 of Atlanta.
36 Pass defenses credited for the Patriots on defense on 315 attempts. Opponents have 16 on 249 New England attempts.
Early line: Patriots by 7½.
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QB Tom Brady: One of the best QBs in NFL history, Brady shows no signs of slowing down at age 39. After returning from a four-game suspension due to Deflategate, Brady has looked as sharp as ever, throwing 12 touchdowns against no interceptions, completing 73.1 percent of his passes and averaging 9.8 yards per attempt — which would be a career high — and with a QB rating of a whopping 133.9. Brady has also rushed for 44 yards, which gives him just 10 less than Russell Wilson.
TE Rob Gronkowski: Still only 27 years old, Gronk set the franchise record for career touchdown receptions on Oct. 30 against Buffalo with 69. After missing the team’s first two games of the season due to a hamstring injury, he has looked like his old self in the last four games with 21 receptions for 473 yards — averaging 118.3 yards per game — and three touchdowns.
TE Martellus Bennett: The older brother of Seattle defensive tackle Michael Bennett, Martellus is in his first season with the Patriots after three with the Bears and has teamed with Gronkowski to give New England maybe the most dangerous tight end duo in the NFL. The 6-6, 275-pound Bennett has 31 receptions for 402 yards and three touchdowns having played in all eight games.
CB Malcolm Butler: The hero of the Super Bowl win for the Patriots as a rookie reserve who made the unfathomable interception of Wilson’s unlikely pass, Butler is now a starter for New England and regarded as maybe the team’s best player at that position. According to NESN.com, over the last six games Butler has given up just 12 catches on 34 targets for 145 yards with a touchdown allowed, an interception and eight pass breakups, good for a passer rating of 46.8.
THE PATRIOTS’ KEYS TO SUCCESS
While a few names have changed since the Patriots beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl 21 months ago, the key pieces remain the same in Belichick, Brady and a defense that while not dominant statistically plays heady enough that New England is now second in the NFL in points allowed per game at 16.5, moving ahead of Seattle, which is now at 16.8.
The Patriots are about as balanced as a team can be offensively, raking ninth in passing at 263.9 (a total that would likely be demonstrably higher if not for the four games Brady sat out) and eighth in rushing at 116.4, resulting in 27.1 points per game. The Patriots have somewhat astonishingly yet to throw an interception in 249 attempts spread across three different quarterbacks. They can become the first team since the 1960 Cleveland Browns to go the first nine games of a season without a pick unless the Seahawks get an interception on Sunday. Brady has also thrown two or more touchdowns in four straight games. The running game remains led by former Oregon star LeGarrette Blount, who is tied for the NFL lead in rushing touchdowns with nine and has 609 yards for the season.