Tom Brady has Patriots positioned for another postseason push

The New England Patriots finished the first half of the season with a 7-2 record. Here’s a look at how they have fared, and what’s ahead.

First-half rewind: After a 1-2 start, the Patriots have won six in a row and are well positioned to make their annual charge at what they hope will be a deep run into January. It was almost like watching two different teams between the first three games and the past six. A big part of that was the return of receiver Julian Edelman from a four-game NFL suspension and integration of trade acquisition Josh Gordon into the offensive attack. The defense has been up and down, but is trending in the right direction after its best performance of the season against the Packers. Grade: Above average

What’s the biggest factor for the Patriots to make a deep playoff run? Keeping quarterback Tom Brady out of harm’s way. The Patriots have generally done a good job of that (No. 5 ranking in fewest sacks per pass play), with Brady also protecting himself at times by getting rid of the football. At 41, he remains one of the best in the game and is the one player who, if injured, would alter the team’s outlook in the most dramatic way.

MVP: James White, step right up. The ever-reliable running back is second in the AFC with 61 receptions, and when the Patriots faced a shortage of players at the position in Weeks 7-9, it was impressive to watch him morph from “passing back” to between-the-tackles grinder and still find success. He is one of the most underrated players in the NFL, shining in his first year as a Patriots captain.

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