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The Patriots Season Begins Now

Belichick checks to see if it’s AFCCG time yet

There’s no denying that New England is the greatest regular season team in modern NFL history. From 2001 to 2017, the Patriots have had a 0.768 winning percentage in the regular season; that’s over 10% higher than the second-best team, the Steelers at 0.660.

That’s also the best winning percentage over any 17-year period in history, better than the 1946-1962 Browns (an AAFC-aided 0.756), the 1933-1949 Bears (0.749), and the 1966-1983 Raiders (0.743).

Oh, and the last 8 years? The Patriots have won 80% of their games, the best of any NFL team in any 8-year stretch (the AAFC-aided Browns posted a 0.865 winning percentage from 1946-1953). More incredibly, the Patriots are now going to their 7th-straight AFC Championship Game.

Since losing to Mark Sanchez and the Jets in the Division Round of the playoffs to end the 2010 season, the Patriots have:Won at least 12 games and the AFC East in each of the last 7 seasons.

  • Earned a first round bye and a home game in the Division Round.
  • Been, on average, a 10-point favorite in the Division Round.
  • Covered in 6 of those 7 games, and won those games by an average score of 37-20.

So yeah, the Patriots season really begins now.  New England is 3-3 in those AFCCGs, with a 3-1 mark at home (beating the Steelers and Colts, splitting with the Ravens) and 0-2 in Denver. For all the drama in the modern NFL, parity hasn’t quite reached Massachusetts. The Patriots win most of their games, win the AFC East, take a rest, beat up on a weak opponent at home, and then are in the AFC Championship Game. Year after year.

The Patriots are in the AFC Championship Game for a record 7th consecutive year.  Before the Brady/Belichick Patriots, the Oakland Raiders set the record for consecutive conference championship game appearances at 5 (1973-1977), followed by the Eagles (2001-2004), Cowboys (1992-1995), Bills (1990-1993), and Cowboys (1970-1973).

So yeah, seven straight AFC Championship Games is a lot.  But you know what else? This is going to be the 12th time the Patriots have made the AFC Championship Game with Brady and Belichick in 16 tries (omitting the 2008 season).  New England missed the playoffs once, lost once in the Wild Card round to the Ravens, and twice in the division round (Broncos, Jets).

Drew Brees set an NFL record by completing 72% of his passes this year, but the Brady/Belichick Patriots are more likely to make the AFCCG (75%) than 2017 Brees was to complete a pass. Let that sink in.

This is Brady’s 12th conference championship game, which is the same as the top two other players in AFC history (Elway, Bradshaw).  Below are all quarterbacks to start at least 3 conference championship games since the merger:

It’s easy to become numb to the fact that the Patriots season only starts in the AFC Championship Game. That doesn’t make it less remarkable; in fact, it might make it even more.

  • >the top two other players in AFC history (Staubach, Bradshaw)

    I’m gonna guess you meant Elway? Staubach and Bradshaw in the same conference would’ve made for some EXCELLENT AFC Championships though.

    • This is what happens when I write before finishing my morning coffee. Fixed!

  • Corey

    From 1966-1982, the Cowboys also made 12/17 conference championship games, with four different QBs (Meredith, Morton, Staubach, White).

    The 49ers’ best stretches were 6/7 (1998-1994), 9/13 (1981-1994), and 10/17 (1981-97).

    The Raiders had five in a row (as you point out) and 9/11 (and one of the two they missed was due to the Immaculate Reception).

    • sacramento gold miners

      The real test for the Patriots will be when Brady leaves, or his play degrades. The road to the AFC TG will become more difficult, even with the continued mediocrity of the AFC East. Aside from the 2009-2010 Jets, nobody has remotely challenged the Patriots in that division.

      • someguy

        What would this real test be about at that point? The Patriots of this century have already solidified their place in NFL history.

        • sacramento gold miners

          Sustainability without Brady is the real test for the Patriots. I think Belichick will be motivated to try and have postseason success minus Brady, and that’s going to be a problem.

          • Tom

            I see what you’re saying, but to me it’s “too late” for there to be any “problem”. The “game” is already over and they won: they are the most successful franchise in history.

            • Josh Sanford

              Agreed. It’s embarrassing.

          • McGeorge

            Would Belichick retire when Brady goes?
            If he can’t come up with a decent QB would he want to struggle with a so-so one?

        • Tom

          That was my first reaction…a test of what? There is nothing that needs to be found out or tested, they’re simply the most successful franchise we’ve ever seen. I’m certainly not going to be thinking when Bill and Tom are gone “Well, hmm, I wonder how they do now?” Who cares? It’s all gravy…it doesn’t matter if they never win another playoff game after those guys are gone. It’s over, they’re the best, and it’s going to be a looooong time before we see anything like this again.

    • Travis Jones

      This is a very good post, thank you. I kept thinking about the Landry-Cowboys when Chase was talking about best winning percentages over 17-year periods in NFL history. I was surprised those Cowboys weren’t on there, especially if they made 12 out of 17, and with 4 different QB’s! I think this is actually more impressive than what the Patriots have done. In one season without Tom Brady (Matt Cassel), they didn’t even make the playoffs.

      So yes, the Patriots still have something to prove if they want to be the definitive best dynasty ever – they must win, IMO, without Brady to be on par with those Cowboys with 12/17 and something like 20-straight winning seasons. They don’t need to necessarily win a SB without TB12, because that’s their obvious superiority over those ’66-’82 Cowboys: 8 SB appearances vs. 5 for Cowboys. But I think we need to see at least another AFCCG. Look at Belichick in the small sample-size without Brady – both Cleveland and the 2008 season – just not the same level of success. It’s a lot easier with the GOAT running your team.

      Oh also, this is good fuel for my long held belief than Tom Landry is in fact the greatest head coach in NFL history. No one did more with completely different rosters, over entirely different eras of football. Lombardi basically had his “core”, including Bart Starr, throughout his entire dynasty. I don’t see how that tops Landry, despite the two very close victories in NFL championships they had over Landry and ‘Boys.

  • Richie

    “This is going to be the 12th time the Patriots have made the AFC Championship Game with Brady and Belichick in 16 tries (omitting the 2008 season).”

    This is absurd.

    • Tom

      It really is…it’s just out of control absurd. There’s the Patriots and then there’s all these other teams, good one year, not so good the next, floating in and out of the playoffs, having their little runs. The closest “dynasty” in recent times is the Steelers, which is actually pretty good, but it’s insignificant next to the Pats. Man, I can’t stand them.

    • Josh Sanford


  • jgov05

    I was thinking a lot last weekend about how absurd it is that the Patriots have made 7 consecutive AFC championship games. Even a team as good as the recent Seahawks only made two championship games this decade. It is hard to picture that record ever being broken, unless the Pats do it themselves next year by making an 8th. To find something comparable I have to think of other sports, like LeBron’s current streak of 7 straight NBA finals