FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Vince Wilfork advised and encouraged teammates on the sideline during last year’s playoffs.

Not exactly where the five-time Pro Bowler wanted to be, but a torn right Achilles tendon kept him from clogging the middle for the New England Patriots.

The defensive tackle is back doing that this season, ready for the postseason after playing all 16 games for the AFC’s top-seeded team.

“I worked my tail off just to get back and play football like I know how to play, and I never take anything for granted,” Wilfork said. “It’s fun to come to work with the group of guys that I have in this locker room.”

He missed just six games in his first nine seasons and often occupied two blockers, opening space for teammates to stop ball carriers. But he played in only four games last season.

As a rookie in 2004, he played every game and was part of a team that won the Patriots’ third NFL championship in four years. But since then they’ve lost the two Super Bowls they’ve reached.

They might have reached a third if Wilfork had been healthy for the Patriots’ 26-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in last year’s AFC championship game. He still tried to contribute while watching.

“When I was coming off the field he would say, ‘all right, they’re doing this and you go back out there and do this,’ ” said defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, a midseason pickup last year and a backup this season.

Of course, Wilfork would much rather be on the field tackling runners.

That’s where he’ll be Jan. 10 when the Patriots host Indianapolis, Cincinnati or Baltimore in an AFC divisional playoff game.

“Every season means a lot to me,” Wilfork said. “The passion I have for the game, it means a lot just being where I came from, especially last year.”

His presence was critical this season in victories against two of the worst teams when he made plays rare for defensive tackles.

With just over five minutes left in a 17-16 win over the New York Jets, Wilfork tipped a 52-yard field-goal attempt by Nick Folk in the 15th game of the season.

And in a 16-9 victory in the third game, Oakland had the ball at the Patriots’ 12 with 59 seconds left. That’s when Wilfork intercepted Derek Carr’s pass.

That led safety Devin McCourty, who worked out with him in the offseason, to dub him “Air Wilfork.”

Wilfork, a remarkable athlete for a 325-pounder, had a more simple label.

“I just look at it as capitalizing on opportunities,” he said. “Throughout the course of the season, you’re going to have a couple of opportunities where you can make a game-changing play and I’ve been able to make a couple of them in my career.”

Cornerback Brandon Browner also is returning to the playoffs after being suspended last season when his Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl.

Does that make his return sweeter?

“I’ve talked about the Super Bowl all offseason,” Browner said. “That’s been my goal. I want it bad. I don’t know if it’s sweeter but I want it bad because I didn’t get to play in it.”

Darrelle Revis, the other free-agent cornerback signed by the Patriots before the season, was in the playoffs just twice in his previous seven seasons and none in the last three.

“You talk to guys who have playoff experience and guys who never, who’ve played 12-13 years and have never even touched the playoffs,” he said. “It’s great.”

Revis also came back from a serious injury. He missed most of the 2012 season with the Jets with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and wasn’t at full strength in 2013 with Tampa Bay, which missed the playoffs. But this year he was chosen for the Pro Bowl.

“There’s a lot of appreciation just for (Wilfork) to get back to playing at a high level,” Revis said. “He’s been one of the top players in the league at his position.”

Revis and Browner are two big reasons for the Patriots’ defensive improvement this season. Wilfork is a third.

“He’s held up well this year,” Coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s a powerful guy. He’s very smart and instinctive. It’s hard to fool him on those type of plays, screens or traps or misdirection plays, those kind of things. He’s a hard guy to block.”

In this year’s playoffs, that’s what offensive linemen must face.

“He didn’t sulk last year when he was injured. He did what he could to help make us a better defensive line by giving advice,” Siliga said. “Now he’s back and I’m excited to go into the postseason with him.”