WASHINGTON — NFL parity is dead — and the New England Patriots killed it.
There are plenty of numbers to support the notion that NFL parity is a myth. The easy (and dismissive) thing to do is simply chalk this up to the Patriots playing in an easy division. Quite frankly, I’m not going to tell you those notions are wrong. But I will say the Pats are able to buck conventional wisdom by having the greatest QB-coach tandem of all time.
The Pats are headed to their NFL-record ninth Super Bowl, and it’s also an NFL-record seventh in the 16 years Boston has been spoiled rotten by the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick Era. A victory in Houston would be a league-record fifth championship for the duo, and they already own the NFL record for most postseason wins together (24).
Belichick’s numbers alone are staggering. His career postseason winning percentage is up to .714, which puts him ahead of Joe Gibbs and ties him with Bill Walsh for the highest postseason winning percentage among coaches with at least 10 postseason games coached. The only other coach with 20 playoff wins is Tom Landry, and it took him 23 years to get them. Belichick has 25 in 22 seasons.
Nobody in the Super Bowl era has done what New England is doing for as long as they’ve done it. The Cowboys, 49ers, and Steelers have had some epic runs but never for the better part of a decade and a half. After all, way back in the day NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle set up the NFL to avoid one team dominating for an extended period of time.
Apparently, the memo hasn’t reached Foxborough yet.
What the Patriots are doing goes far beyond an easy schedule. Yes, they share a division with a Buffalo Bills franchise stuck in a 17-year playoff drought, a Miami Dolphins team that hasn’t been truly relevant since Dan Marino’s retirement in 1999, and a dysfunctional New York Jets franchise that hasn’t even played for a title since it was called the AFL-NFL Super Bowl championship. But the 2000s Colts — the poster child for beating up a bad division and cruising to a gaudy record — frequently fell short when blessed with home field advantage, and their lone Super Bowl victory of the decade came as a Wild Card 10 years ago.
Just look at what happened Sunday night against the red hot Steelers: Le’Veon Bell entered the AFC Championship Game having rewritten the Pittsburgh Steelers’ record books with 337 rushing yards in his first two postseason games. In Foxborough? How about 20 yards on just six carries before leaving with a groin injury. Pittsburgh’s Killer B’s were the ones that got stung, and you can just add them to the list of championship-worthy teams with future Hall-of-Fame QBs the Pats have beaten over the years.
Which reminds me:
#Patriots are champions of 16-team AFC for 7th time in 15 years. In the 9-team CFL, no team has won more than 3 titles over last 15 years
— Ben Raby (@BenRaby31) January 23, 2017
When you look at it like that, the Patriots really have no peer in the NFL since the turn of the century. You’d have to look to the NBA, where the Los Angeles Lakers have won five championships in seven NBA Finals appearances. The San Antonio Spurs have four titles in five trips to the Finals.
Even then, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison because NBA teams can literally win a lottery and be set for decades. You can only have sustained success in the NFL by doing less with more, which is something the Patriots have an uncanny ability to do.
Sunday night, some guy named Chris Hogan — an undrafted, one-time-lacrosse-player from Monmouth — had nine catches for 180 yards and the first two of Brady’s three touchdowns. Folks, that’s the most receiving yards by an undrafted player in playoff history. It took this monster game to remind us that Hogan led the NFL with 17.9 yards per catch in the regular season. Leading rusher LeGarrette Blount was also undrafted (albeit for other reasons). Leading receiver Julian Edelman was a seventh-round pick as a college quarterback. Let us not forget that Brady himself was a sixth-round afterthought before becoming a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
This doesn’t even feel fair to the rest of the league. Coordinators take head coaching jobs elsewhere? Take ‘em, we have more good coaches. First-round picks, late round picks, undrafted guys — it doesn’t matter to Belichick who’s on the field. To borrow a phrase the great Bum Phillips used to describe rival coaches on more than one occasion, “He can take his’n and beat your’n and take your’n and beat his’n.” Brady and Belichick always seem to come out on top, as if they’re playing a video game with all the cheat codes, or have the only copy of the recipe for some secret football sauce.
Speaking of which … don’t talk to me about cheating. Spygate and Deflategate were not only lousy names, they were low-level infractions that got blown way out of proportion. You can’t have the sustained excellence New England has enjoyed without indeed being excellent. If anything, the greatness of Belichick and Brady has been reinforced by those scandals. Spygate fueled the Patriots’ 16-0 regular season, and Brady & Co. were clearly so pissed off about Deflategate they reeled off 14 regular season wins and cruised through their AFC playoff slate by an average of 18.5 points. Not since Michael Jordan has there been an athlete and/or coach that can seemingly will their team to victory using perceived slights as prime motivation.
There was a time when fans in any NFL city could say “this is our year” and it wasn’t completely out of the question. Somewhere along the way, New England became the only place that phrase is annually plausible.