Before explaining why I think I should invest in New England on Sunday, even though I’ve compiled a long list of reasons that had me leaning to Philadelphia, I want to reflect on the Patriots’ unmitigated dominance since 2001.
After the Bill Belichick, Tom Brady partnership dissolves into history, we’ll never see anything like this again … not if the NFL stays with its current economic system that’s defined by player free agency and a salary cap imposed on team payrolls.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers made the postseason 11 times in 13 seasons from 1972 through 1984 — and famously winning four Super Bowls during a glorious six-year stretch — the gold-plated roster had nine future Hall of Famers: DT Joe Greene, MLB Jack Lambert, OLB Jack Ham, CB Mel Blount, QB Terry Bradshaw, RB Franco Harris, C Mike Webster, WR Lynn Swann and WR John Stallworth.
This remarkable and enduring group of nine all-time Steelers played in all four Super Bowls. They combined to make 54 Pro Bowls and earn 27 first-team All-Pro selections. Other than injury or aging, the Steelers never had to worry about their nucleus cracking. There was no free agency. There was no salary cap.
Steelers coach Chuck Noll — the 10th Hall of Famer from that epic team — could keep his Hall of Famers together until retirement. The same applies to three other outstanding Steelers — S Donnie Shell, pass rusher L.C. Greenwood and OLB Andy Russell — who combined for 15 Pro Bowl selections and a pile of Super Bowl rings.
Belichick didn’t have the advantage of keeping his best Patriots teams intact. He was losing players to free agency, or having to make tough decisions to cut veterans to avoid salary-cap trouble. It’s extremely difficult to keep the band together.
Brady, the quarterback, is the most decorated Patriot with 13 Pro Bowls. Tight end Rob Gronkowski has five Pro Bowls. Only Brady has played in the five Super Bowl winners coached by Belichick.
And how many Patriots will get voted into Canton? Not many. Brady for sure. Tight end Gronkowski is on track but injuries could derail him. Other possibilities are cornerback Ty Law, defensive lineman Richard Seymour, and kicker Adam Vinatieri.
Brady is the only Hall of Fame lock.
And Belichick, of course.
My point is, Belichick didn’t have a large cluster of Hall of Famers that he could lean on for a decade or more. There’s a chance that only one Patriot during this era of unprecedented success — Brady — will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall. Quite the contrast to the 1970s Steelers.
In Noll’s four Super Bowl championships: a total of 76 Steelers played in at least one of the four games. In Belichick’s five Super Bowl wins: 192 players suited up for at least one of the victories. That’s because Noll had a more stable roster, with far fewer changes from year to year.
With the salary cap and free-agent departures tearing into his rosters, Belichick has been amazingly resourceful in finding talent to fill vacated spots.
During Noll’s run of 11 playoff trips in 13 seasons, only 16 undrafted players started at least one game for the Steelers. Noll didn’t have to go looking for reclamation projects; he had that dominant machine in place and wasn’t scrambling for replacement parts.
This hasn’t been the case with Belichick.
Over his last 17 seasons, Belichick has started 75 undrafted players for one or more games … with 30 starting at least 11 games.
Despite the non-stop roster shuffling, here’s what Belichick (and Brady) have managed to achieve since the start of the 2001 season:
— Five Super Bowl wins, and they go for No. 6 on Sunday.
— Seven AFC championships won.
— Competed in 11 AFC title games overall … including the last seven.
— Fifteen division championships in the 17 seasons. They’ve won 14 of the last 15 AFC East titles; the only miss came in 2008 when Brady missed the final 15 games with torn knee ligaments.
— While the Patriots were winning 15 division titles since 2001, no other NFL team won its respective division more than nine times… Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit didn’t win a single division title during the 17-year stretch in which the Patriots were winning 15.
— The Patriots have 209 regular-season wins since the start of the 2001 season … that’s 30 more than the Steelers, who rank second.
— The Patriots’ worst record over the last 17 seasons was 9-7 back in ’08.
— The Patriots have lost 63 regular-season games over 17 seasons. The St. Louis Rams lost 65 games over five seasons, 2007 through 2011.
— Over the course of the last 17 seasons, only 15 NFL teams have a record above .500. The Patriots are 146 games over .500 since ’01 … and no other team is better than 100 games over since 2001.
— While the Patriots were winning those 209 reg-season games and posting a .768 winning percentage over the last 17 seasons, the Rams had 97 wins … the Jaguars had 100 … the Raiders had 107, the Lions 113 and the Browns 126.
— Since the start of the 2001 season playoffs, the Patriots are responsible for 29 percent of the postseason victory total for the entire league over that time.
— The Patriots have the most postseason wins since 2001, going 27-9. That’s 14 more than Seattle and 12 more than the Steelers, who rank second and third respectively.
— This is my favorite stat on this subject: If the Patriots win Super Bowl 52, they’ll increase their postseason victory total to 28 since 2001. Over that same 17-season stretch, New England’s 28 wins in the postseason would be as many as 16 NFL teams have combined …
Yes, I said that the Patriots — with 28 postseason triumphs — would have as many as Miami, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Washington, Kansas City, Dallas, Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Minnesota, the STL-LA Rams, Jacksonville, Houston and Chicago.
— Over the last two seasons the Patriots have won five postseason games (with a chance for six). Those five postseasons victories in two years are more wins than 17 NFL teams have had, individually, over the last 17 years.
This is ridiculous.
So who will win the 52nd Super Bowl?
When he coaches against Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, Belichick will be participating in 11th Super Bowl as a head coach or assistant — the most of any coach in NFL history. Belichick first competed in a Super Bowl back in 1986, as defensive coordinator for the champion NY Giants. Since that game, he’s coached in 34.4 percent of the Super Bowls played since the ’86 season.
The Eagles match up well with the Patriots in so many ways. They can pressure Brady inside, and on the edge. Their front four has the best pass-rush pressure percentage in the league. Their front seven is the best in the league. The Eagles like to attack — and are especially aggressive on first down, having thrown more first-down passes than any team in the league. The Patriots defense has been awful on first-down plays all season. Based on metrics the Pats have been near the bottom of the league in pass defense this season. Even in good phases, the Patriots pass-rush pressure is inconsistent, and the Philly offensive line has provided excellent pass protection. And Doug Pederson is an excellent coach. If he has the Patriots wobbled, he won’t let up and play scared with his Philadelphia play calls.
I was all over Philadelphia to win this one … but I couldn’t shake one thing…
For the Eagles to upset the Patriots, quarterback Nick Foles must deliver a good, or even great, performance. If he does, I believe it’ll be party time, and riot time, in Philadelphia. But it comes down to this: do I have more confidence in Foles? Or do I have more confidence in the Belichick and Brady track record that’s formed the greatest coach-quarterback combination in NFL history?
Gotta go with Belichick and Brady.
If Foles plays a fabulous game and defeats Belichick-Brady, the famous Rocky statue will have to move over and make room. Because they’ll be building a Foles monument in Philadelphia.
Thanks for reading … and enjoy Super Bowl Sunday!