New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick likes to say that one day in the future he’ll have time to discuss the history that his team makes on a seemingly annual basis, but that he is strictly focused on his upcoming opponent in the here and now.
While Belichick won’t reflect on what his team has accomplished presently, it remains to be seen how any franchise–past or present–will be able to challenge the dynasty that is the 2001-present New England Patriots.
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After the Patriots 34-16 win over the Houston Texans Saturday night in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, New England has now clinched a record sixth straight appearance in the conference title game, breaking a tie they shared with the 1973-77 Oakland Raiders. And while what the Raiders did back in the 1970s was impressive, let’s not forget that was well before the time of NFL free agency and the revolving doors of player turnover permeated on every team.
But even in a present time of record player movement, the Patriots remain the constant. They are the Alpha to the NFL’s Omega: an immovable object in hurricane forced winds. They have jettisoned some of their greatest players (Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour, Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins) and have turned other team’s castoffs (Corey Dillion, Rodney Harrison, Randy Moss) in players with legendary connotations in any New England zip code (except for western CT, of course).
But most importantly, they continue to win.
The Patriots have averaged just over 12 wins per season since the start of 2001, by far the best in the NFL. In fact the next closest team? Th Indianapolis Colts at just over 10 wins. Most teams don’t even get to see twelve win seasons in the NFL. The Patriots? They have 11–since 2001! Even more impressive is that the Patriots have had five season of 14 or more wins, the most in NFL history. Their winning has become so prevalent, they’ve only lost the division twice over that span–2002 when they lost it on a tiebreaker, and 2008 when they lost on another tiebreaker with Matt Cassel leading the team almost all of the season after Tom Brady torn his ACL in the opener.
But while all of these regular season stats are jaw dropping, they are only further validated when it comes to the postseason.
New England has become so accustomed to playing playoff games, Patriots fans often look at the regular season slate as an extended, 16 game preseason. Many teams are content with a playoff run and hope for a chance at the Super Bowl, but in New England it is expected. Anything less is seen as a failure, no matter how successful the regular season has been.
And while the Patriots have certainly suffered heartbreaking losses in the playoffs (anyone heard of an Eli Manning around here? Or Peyton?), their success and voluminous body of work speak far better of their resume than a few handful of losses over the last decade and a half.
The Patriots have won a record 23 playoff games over the last 16 seasons, a season and half worth of victories in January and February. In fact, in the Belichick-Brady era, the Patriots have failed to reach the AFC Championship game only three times in which they qualified for the postseason: they are 11/14 in chances at reaching the conference title game, a staggering 79% clip. When you factor in the six Super Bowls New England has participated in, they are averaging a trip to the big game once every three seasons–and winning the game once every four years.
To the Patriots, this postseason trip, like all of the others, will only be a success if they’ve able to finish it off with their fifth Lombardi Trophy. But while they prepare to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game for the third time during this remarkable run, it’s always nice to sit back and think about how historic this run by the Patriots really has been.
And if Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are concerned, this history book is still being written.