What’s the best Patriots team from this past decade?

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 13: Tom Brady /

The New England Patriots have enjoyed a return to glory and league dominance during the 2010s, with certain years standing out as clear high-water marks.

A recent article from NFL.com’s Tom Blair listed the top 10 teams from the past decade. Blair specified that each of the teams he selected could only appear on the list once, and that was probably a wise decision… because frankly, otherwise the New England Patriots would have absolutely dominated such an exercise.

Blair pegged the Patriots’ 2016 campaign at No. 4 on his list, behind the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, 2015 Carolina Panthers, and 2017 Philadelphia Eagles. The criteria he established for his rankings was given to be a combination of the following: “historical impact, seasonal and decade-long rankings and entertainment value.”

With all due respect to Blair’s opinions – and to the Seahawks, Panthers, and Eagles those three years – it’s hard to comprehend why the 2016 Patriots weren’t No. 1 on this list given his thought process in comparing all these squads. Coming back from a 25-point deficit to win a championship, while simultaneously gifting the NFL and football fans everywhere the first (and to date only) overtime game in Super Bowl history, seems like reasons enough to rank first in both the “historical impact” and “entertainment value” categories.

Granted, this list wasn’t just about the Super Bowl. Some of the teams and seasons Blair had on his list didn’t even make it that far – the 2018 Kansas City Chiefs and 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars both had their title game hopes squashed by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game, for example.

Still, the 2016 Patriots had plenty of intrigue about them from start to finish. If the incredible Super Bowl comeback was the exciting finale, then Deflategate and Tom Brady’s four-game suspension was a thrilling opening salvo. That season also saw the emergence of Jimmy Garoppolo, a story that would dramatically alter the fates of both the Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers franchises forever as it turned out.

Was it even the best Patriots season of this past decade though? Hard to say.

On the one hand, the 14-2 regular season record is tied for New England’s best record in the 2010s; they also finished 14-2 in the first year of this current decade (2010). They won the Super Bowl, just as they did following the 2014 and 2018 seasons. This team also led the league in scoring defense and had the best per-game point differential of any of the Patriots’ six Super Bowl-winning seasons.

On the other hand, even Blair points out that several Patriots stars weren’t quite at their best in 2016. Rob Gronkowski played in just eight games that year while battling a slew of different injuries and ailments. Brady served his suspension and then came back strong, particularly in terms of limiting mistakes… but he still had better statistical seasons in 2010, 2011, 2015, and 2017.

New England’s 2010 season deserves strong consideration as an alternative option for “best season of the decade.” The Patriots also went 14-2 that year; more importantly, Brady won his second league MVP trophy and arguably had his best season as a quarterback outside of 2007. The one obvious knock on that campaign is how it ultimately ended: at the hands of Mark Sanchez, Rex Ryan, and the rival New York Jets in the divisional round of the playoffs.

The Patriots’ 2011 and 2017 seasons should also merit serious consideration. The Patriots went 13-3 in 2011 and narrowly lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl for a second time. In 2017, the team posted a 13-3 record and had a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the upstart Jaguars in the conference title game before coming up short in a high-stakes shootout against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 52.

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Of course, let’s not forget that this team has one more season ahead of them before this decade comes to an end. With any luck, the 2019 New England Patriots could make this whole debate obsolete if they string together an impressive regular season run – something like going 14-2 again or better – and then punctuate it with three postseason demolition jobs en route to a record-breaking seventh Lombardi Trophy win.