It never fails. Anytime the Patriots encounter even the slightest rough patch, scores of NFL observers call their shot and claim that the end is nigh for the Patriots dynasty. That was especially true this season when the team suffered a pair of two-game losing streaks. Ultimately, the team sealed the deal and took down another AFC East crown, their 10th in a row and 16th in the past 18 years.
Such a phenomenal run is unheard of in the modern NFL, but the bottom line is this: the Patriots are in contention year after year, and there’s no smoke and mirrors behind it. From top to bottom, the organization is committed to excellence, and they continually and collectively deliver.
That said, something feels a little different about this year’s Patriots squad. Sure, they finished up with 11 wins and took down the #2 seed in the AFC, but they’re also not exactly dominating conversations about teams with the best chance to win Super Bowl LIII.
Is the Patriots dynasty really coming to an end or are they about to make critics look silly once again with yet another deep playoff run? Let’s take a look and see if we can find the answer.
An Epic Run of Excellence
Bill Belichick was tapped to be the head coach of the Jets in 2000, but he left his suitors at the altar to take the same gig with the Patriots. The trajectory of both franchises was forever altered, and let’s just say that the Patriots have gotten the better end of the deal. Since 2000, the Patriots have advanced to the postseason 16 times, including this season.
Each one of those appearances has been the result of the team taking down the AFC East, a trick the team has turned 10 years in a row. The Patriots have made it to the Super Bowl eight times over that span, holding a mark of 5-3 in the big game since Belichick took the reins. In four of the seven playoff years in which the team didn’t make it the final game, the team would come up just short by falling in the AFC championship game.
Quite simply, the Patriots have been the standard in the NFL since the turn of the century. Teams such as the Packers, Steelers, 49ers, and Cowboys have had stellar runs in decades past, but the Patriots wholeheartedly deserve to be in any conversation about the top dynasties in NFL history. As with the aforementioned legendary teams of the past, all good things eventually come to an end. It remains to be seen when the Patriots run will officially come to a close.
The Legendary Trio Behind it All
Naturally, Belichick deserves a ton of credit for his team’ accomplishments. Under his watch, the Patriots have a record of 225-79 in the regular season, a .740 winning percentage, and a 27-10 mark in the playoffs. In 17 of his 19 seasons as Patriots head coach, the team has delivered 10 wins or more. The 11 wins for this year’s team is being viewed as somewhat of a down year for the franchise, as this is their lowest win total since a 10 victory season in 2009.
There’s plenty of other credit to go around, as Belichick hasn’t built this dynasty on his own. Robert Kraft obtained ownership of the team in 1994, and he quickly set out to build a first-class organization which would be the envy of the league. He has accomplished that mission. The Patriots were perennial also-rans with minimal success in the decades before Kraft took the reins. The shift in the franchises standing over the past two-plus decades is nothing short of remarkable.
And the Patriots have been fortunate enough to have one in Tom Brady. From humble beginnings as a sixth-round draft choice in 2000, Brady has evolved into a signal caller who is included in the conversation of the best ever. In addition to five rings, Brady’s resume includes four Super Bowl MVP awards, three NFL MVPs, and three selections as a first-team All-Pro.
If we remove any one of the trio from this equation, it becomes unlikely that the Patriots would be in the midst of such an epic run.
This Year’s Patriots Team
As defending AFC champions, the Patriots entered the 2018 regular season with their usual lofty expectations. After taking care of business over the Texans in the opener, the team would do something that’s relatively unfathomable for them. That would be losing two games in a row, something the team had only done 11 times before during their current dynasty era.
The team was subjected to plenty of chatter that suggested their run of excellence was coming to an end, but the Patriots quelled that talk quickly by ripping off a six-game winning streak. That streak was stopped by a loss to the Titans, an embarrassing 34-10 defeat that gave rise to a new round of scuttlebutt. The Patriots won their next two from that point, but the unthinkable happened for a second time in 2018.
The last loss brought us through Week 15, and the Patriots were in the unfamiliar position of having yet to clinch their division. The team responded to win two in a row and cross another AFC East crown off of the to-do list.
Offensively, the Patriots generated 27.3 points per game, good enough for fourth in the league. The defense is giving up 20.3, which checks in at number seven. In short, this is a balanced team that one would expect from the Patriots. Brady has thrown for 29 scores, while the committee approach in the backfield has found the end zone 18 times. There are some chinks in the armor to be found on defense, but the unit is still better than many of their peers across the NFL.
The Road Ahead
As the #2 seed in the AFC, the Patriots were able to take advantage of a much-needed bye week to prepare for another postseason run. Once the Chargers pulled out the upset over the Ravens on Sunday afternoon, the Patriots dance card was full. They’ll play hosts to the Chargers in the early game this Sunday.
Oddsmakers opened things up with the Patriots installed as 4.5-point favorites, but early money on the Chargers has pushed that down to a 4-point spread. The Patriots absolutely deserve to be home favorites for this contest, but make no mistake about it: the Chargers just may be the most complete team in the AFC, and they are a legitimate threat to reach the Super Bowl as a result.
The winner of that contest will move on to the AFC title game to face off with either the Chiefs or the Colts. The Chiefs bring an explosive offense and home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs to the table, while the Colts are one of the league’s hottest teams and coming in off of a dominant win over the Texans. For the Patriots and Chargers, it’s a pick your poison kind of game on tap for the following week.
From a bottom line perspective, a case can be made for any of the four remaining AFC teams to be the ones to represent the conference in the Super Bowl. The Patriots and Chiefs are the favorites, but that status didn’t mean much for the Texans and Ravens last weekend. The potential for another upset or two this weekend is not a far-fetched scenario.
Here’s what we know. There are flaws to be found with this Patriots team, and they just haven’t looked like their typically dominant selves a number of times in 2018. That’s tempered by the fact that this is an 11-win team that currently has the fourth best odds to win the Super Bowl. Since there’s no clear-cut top team in the AFC this season, they have as good of a chance as any of the four remaining squads to make it to the big game.
We can sling arrows in the direction of the other three squads as well. The Chiefs started out the season like gangbusters, but they struggled down the stretch. The Chargers were dominated at home by the Ravens a few short weeks ago before returning the favor last week. The Colts started off a dismal 1-5 before catching fire, and cooling off at an inopportune time can’t be totally ruled out.
For the Patriots, it’s easy to envision any range of scenarios from losing a close one at home to the Chargers all the way to a surprising run to an epic sixth Super Bowl win. We’ll lean towards the former as the more likely of those two extremes, but the Patriots can absolutely get the job done at home versus the Chargers. If you add in the fact that the Patriots are being dismissed by many critics, and it’s not too hard to imagine a big game from Brady and company is coming.
If the Patriots march down the field the first time they have the ball and stuff the Chargers the first time they line up on defense, then the Patriots aren’t ready to cede their throne just yet. However, if they wind up suffering a big loss at home in the playoffs, then the plethora of Patriots critics out there may finally be onto something.
We don’t see the dynasty ending so dramatically just yet, but we will remind Patriots fans that all dynasties come to an end. That time is coming for the Patriots, whether it be in 2019 or beyond.