What to look for in 2018

The New England Patriots enter the 2018 season having won an NFL record nine consecutive AFC Eastern Division championships while also reaching an NFL record seven straight conference championships games and appearing in the playoffs in nine consecutive seasons. The team’s 17 straight winning seasons is the most since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. So while the team has been on an historic run since winning its first Super Bowl back in 2001, it hopes to extend some of those streaks while some of its individuals also look to leave their marks in 2018.

Start with head coach Bill Belichick, who sits third on the all-time wins list with 278. He remains 46 wins behind George Halas for second, but his 250 regular seasons wins are tied with Tom Landry for third best all time. With one win this season, Belichick moves into sole possession of third.

He already holds many of the NFL coaching records and will look to extend some of those in 2018. Those records are on display in The Hall’s new Recording Artists exhibit. Two of his notable records include most Super Bowls reached by a head coach and most Super Bowls wins with five. He currently holds the records for most division titles, most consecutive division titles, most consecutive 10-win seasons, most 11-win seasons, most 12-win seasons, most 13-win seasons and most 14-win seasons. He also enters the 2018 season with highest ever winning percentage among head coaches at .683 (278-129) – one percentage point of Halas (.682).

Tom Brady could certainly reach more milestone moments in 2018 as well. If he throws 35 touchdown passes in 2018, he will become the first quarterback to do so five times, although Drew Brees could also reach that mark this season. He has also led the league in TD passes four times, which is tied for most all time.

Brady enters the season with 223 career victories, which is two behind record holder Adam Vinatieri, who remains active for the Colts. Since both Brady and Vinatieri have surpassed their 40th birthdays, it’s interesting to note that Brady’s 13 wins at age 40-plus are tied with Brett Favre for the most in the league history. He will break that record with one win in 2018.

His new corps of receivers could also help him reach a milestone. Brady has thrown touchdown passes to 68 different players in his career — two behind Vinny Testaverde’s record of 70 different TD targets.

While he won’t set the NFL’s all-time passing yardage and touchdown records in 2018, he could certainly reach major milestones in both categories. His 488 career touchdown passes leave him just 12 shy of 500. Brees also has 488, but only two players have reached the 500-mark – Favre (508) and Peyton Manning (539). Brady also enters the season 3,841 yards shy of 70,000 passing yards. Manning (71,940), Favre (71,838) and Brees (70,445) are the only three quarterbacks to have surpassed 70,000 yards, and Brady has thrown for 3,900 or more yards in every 16-game season he has played since 2007. He averages more than 4,000 yards when he plays a full season.

From a longevity standpoint, Brady is entering his 19th season with the Patriots. Only five players in history have spent 19 or more seasons with one franchise – Jim Marshall (19-Vikings), Bruce Matthews (19-Oilers/Titans), Darrell Green (20-Redskins), Jackie Slater (20-Rams) and Jason Hansen (21-Lions).

If Brady earns his 14th Pro Bowl berth in 2018, he will tie Tony Gonzalez, Merlin Olsen, Manning and Matthews for most all time.

Other Patriots can also leave indelible marks in 2018. Julian Edelman enters the season with 425 receptions – six behind Kevin Faulk for sixth place. He also needs only 40 receiving yards to pass Patriots Hall of Famer Gino Cappelletti for ninth place on the receiving yards list.

With a 1,000-yard season, Rob Gronkowski would become the first tight end in history to reach that plateau in five different seasons. He already holds the record for 10-touchdown seasons by a tight end (5). His 7,149 receiving yards is ninth all-time among tight ends. With 80 yards in 2018, Gronkowski will move into the top five. He also sits 281 yards behind Wes Welker for second place all time for franchise receiving yards. Patriots Hall of Famer Stanley Morgan is the franchise leader with 10,352. Gronkowski’s 474 receptions are fifth in team history and second among tight ends behind Patriots Hall of Famer Ben Coates’ 490.

Special teams ace Matthew Slater’s seven straight Pro Bowl berths as a special teamer are the most consecutive in that role all time. He also is tied overall for most Pro Bowls as a special teamer with Steve Tasker.

Speaking of special teams, if place-kicker Stephen Gostkowski leads the league in scoring in 2018, he will set the NFL record for most seasons leading the league with six. He also needs one more 30-field goal season for the most in NFL history with six.

Gostkowski made 92.5 percent of his field goal attempts last season and he is tied with Vinatieri for most seasons with 90 percent accuracy rate (5). He also enters the season as the Patriots all-time leading scorer (1,613 points), which is 18th in league history. He is 10 field goals shy of becoming the 19th kicker in history to convert 350 career field goals.