Oct. 15, 2019
The Team of the 2010's: New Boss Same As The Old Boss
The team of the 2010 decade has already been ascertained, and it's not even close.
In 2019, the National Football League will be celebrating their centennial season, and all that goes with it. But this coming season holds historical distinction as it will conclude the decade, which has proven to be a significant marker in NFL circles. Teams have been crowned the best in a given ten year span for many years, as well as the NFL's media partners selecting an All-Decade team to recognize the best players throughout that time period.
But as we close in on 2019, the team for this decade has been decided. No debate. No argument. And no doubt.
That team is, you guessed it, the New England Patriots.
For those who consider themselves rivals to this franchise, there will be some push back on the notion, unwilling to concede defeat to this ball club. Most assuredly, some would ask bemoaningly so, how can you say there is no debate? What about [place team here]? Why can't they be the Team of the Decade?
And this is where your humble scribe replies, "There is no other team that can lay a legitimate claim to that title, regardless of what metric you choose."
To prove that, let's go by each one of those metrics that the Patriots have accomplished.
Super Bowl Titles: 3 The winners of Super Bowls XLIX, LI, & LIII, the Patriots shut out any other team's ability to stake a claim as the best in the 2010's with their defeat of the Los Angeles Rams this past February. Simple math dictates this one, as no other team has more than one Lombardi Trophy throughout this time frame (2010, XLV: Green Bay; 2011, XLVI: New York Giants; 2012, XLVII: Baltimore; 2013, XLVII: Seattle; 2015, 50: Denver; 2017, LII: Philadelphia). The collection of league championships may be the most simplistic of all metrics in determining the greatest team in any era, but when one team is the last one standing on a consistent basis over a measure of time, it's difficult to make a valid argument for others when they don't exist. But this is only one factor that has the Patriots stand head and shoulders above their contemporaries.
Conference Championships: 5 To first win those Lombardi Trophys, the Pats had to qualify for the big game. And they did, five times over in this decade. More remarkable still has been their recent frequency. Entering the 2019 season, they will be the defending AFC champions for three straight years, and have won the Lamar Hunt Trophy four out of the last five years. New England has become the first franchise to win 5 conference championships in a single decade since the 1970's Dallas Cowboys (1970-71, '75, '78-'79). The level of dominance in the American Football Conference by the Patriots is mind numbing when one also takes into consideration that they have played in an unprecedented eight consecutive AFC Championship Games. Since 2011, New England has been within one game of the Super Bowl, only losing three times; once to the Baltimore Ravens and twice to the Denver Broncos. It is unfathomable for a singular team to be this domineering, in a league that has prided itself on parity. But these Patriots have defied long odds to cement their place in history.
Division Titles: 9 This particular metric may be underappreciated by the everyday football fan. Either due to the fact that 8 division champions are crowned every year or it is a baseline expectation for fans whose rooting interest is postseason success, its importance is often understated thanks in part to some notable teams winning the Super Bowl from the wild card position. A division champion is guaranteed at least one home playoff game, where the host carries a better winning percentage in the postseason. Plus, the two teams in each conference with the best records while winning their respective divisions are also afforded a week off in the form of a first round bye, which can be advantageous in healing injuries and getting a mental breather after a long season. The Patriots have taken full advantage of this, never ceding control of the AFC East over this decade. In fact, the last time the Patriots did not win the AFC East was the last time they missed the playoffs, in 2008. The unprecedented ten year streak of division championships is the foundation for their remarkable success in the 2010's. What's more, throughout this decade, the Patriots have qualified for a first round bye every season, and holding home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs five times (2010, '11, '14, '16-'17). The road to the Super Bowl is a lot smoother when a team's first opponent in that high pressure situation is traveling to Massachusetts in January after playing the wild card game one week prior while arguably the game's greatest tactical mind in head coach Bill Belichick has that same week to give his players rest and be able to prepare for whichever opponent advances. This also holds true in the conference championship round, as the Patriots have only been required to travel three times in their eight year appearance streak. While many scoff at the notion of a team winning their division, the Pats have proven just how big of an edge that simple accomplishment can provide. And they have shown the potential of placing a team in higher seeds on a perennial basis.
Regular Season Record: 113-31 (.785) While having a lopsided win-loss record is part and parcel to being the best decennial team, it's worth noting two things. One, with a year to go, the Patriots hold a near insurmountable lead over the rest of the lead pack. Second place are the Philadelphia Eagles at 98-46 (.681) For the Eagles to overtake New England, Philly would have to go undefeated and the Pats would need to turn in a record of 2-14 or worse. All others are out of reach. Those rounding out the top 5 are the Pittsburgh Steelers (94-50, .653), Green Bay Packers (89-53-2, .625), & Seattle Seahawks (89-54-1, .622). Second, the winning percentage is outright ridiculous. The Pats average a little better than 12.5 wins a season. The 11 wins they tallied in 2018 was the lowest (lowest!) New England has garnered in a single season since 2009. It is a testament to Belichick to keep his team focused week in, week out, season in, & season out on the prize of climbing Mount Lombardi to its summit to hold that seven pounds of sterling silver as the last team standing.
The New England Patriots of the 2010's have ensured their place in the annals of NFL history as this decade's dynasty, becoming the first franchise to repeat the feat. When one looks at NFL dynasties, each one carried its own signature style throughout their respective reigns. The Green Bay Packers of the '60's are Vince Lombardi and flawless execution. The Pittsburgh Steelers of the '70's are the Steel Curtain defense and their dynamic offense. The San Francisco 49ers of the '80's are of innovative offense. The Dallas Cowboys of the '90's are of bold & brash personality loaded with stars and talent. The Patriots of the turn of the century are the definition of synergy, that uncanny ability where the entire team is greater than the sum of its parts. That has been the mystifying component to New England's incredible run: outside of coach Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, everyone on the roster and coaching staff has been cycled out. Yet, they keep coming back as the team to beat, as the standard bearer of the league, and as the gatekeeper to the NFL championship.
Are the New England Patriots the NFL's greatest dynasty? That is a discussion for another time.