I drafted this originally after the New England Patriots won their fourth Superbowl. I’m still salty about it and with Tom Brady’s suspension being overturned yesterday, that sour taste has returned. The Pats will kickoff the NFL season against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, Sept. 10th but I feel this piece still has relevance until proven otherwise. Enjoy (all three of you).
“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” – Desiderius Erasmus
Everybody’s talking ‘bout the greatness of the Pats but [they’re] still telling lies to me. C’mon, surely we can all see that sometimes there is greatness and sometimes there is just being better than those who aren’t so good? Notice I didn’t say as good. In a conference that has only sent 4.5 teams to the Superbowl since the 2003 season, it’s pretty easy to appear omnipotent. I say 4.5 teams because I’m combining the Colts and the Broncos, both of which were quarterbacked by Peyton Manning in their Superbowl appearances. If that seems like too much of a cop out then I’ll re-word it this way, the AFC has sent four quarterbacks to the Superbowl since 2004 (Brady, Manning, Flacco, and Roethlisberger) versus ten for the NFC (Rogers, Wilson, Brees, Manning, Warner, Kaepernick, Grossman, Hasselbeck, Delhomme, and McNabb). To further drive this point home, if not for Flacco sneaking in there in 2012, if you can call a 28-13 victory sneaking, there would only be three AFC quarterbacks in the last twelve Superbowls instead of four because the quarterback who played opposite Flacco in the AFC Championship was Brady. Now either this means that the NFC needs to get their act together and try to be more homogenous like the AFC, or, perhaps there’s more parity on the NFC side than there is on the AFC side.
I know what you’re thinking, it’s not New England’s fault that their conference sucks ass. Agreed. Any team that doesn’t take advantage of a perennial mismatch is foolish. I’m merely adding context to perceived greatness. To be fair, beginning in 2003 the Patriots have beaten NFC teams with a combined record over .500 five of the twelve seasons. That does count for something. However, six of those twelve seasons where the Patriots won their NFC matchups were against NFC teams that had a combined record below .500. In the 2012 season the Patriots did not win their NFC matchups which came at the hands of an above .500 division (NFC West). What does all this mean? It means that an easier road to the playoffs and the Superbowl can make anyone look great. I decided not to include an analysis of the AFC East because I don’t think it’s necessary. The Patriots have won their division eleven of the twelve seasons being discussed and while on its face that sounds impressive, it would be more impressive if they were in say the AFC North. No team in the history of the NFL has dominated their division as consistently as the Patriots have. Granted, while there is a first time for everything, it’s more likely that the Patriots’ dominance is at least partially because no division has wallowed in mediocrity quite like the AFC East (although the AFC South is in contention). Yes, I know, we can’t forget that the Jets went to two consecutive AFC conference championships, still they never made it to the dance because again, that dance was reserved for one of the four AFC quarterbacks referenced above, none of which the Jets had the privilege of employing. I welcome anyone to perform an analysis of the AFC East to present a case that it’s not as “easy” as it looks. I won’t say that anything in the NFL is easy, that would be ridiculous and without merit. Some things are easier though. The Patriots combined AFC record in those twelve seasons is 111-33 and 39-9 in the NFC. If I was more of a statistician I would have researched the combined records of all of the teams the Patriots have beaten but to me that’s doing too much. I’ll draw my conclusion about the AFC’s lack of virility based on who wins the opportunity to represent their conference in the championship. Oh and one final stat, the Patriots combined record for the two seasons which they lost the Superbowl was 29-3 coming at the hands of a team with a combined record of 19-13. Perhaps those 19 wins were harder fought than the Patriots’ 29.