Just How Great Have Brady-Pats Been?

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

After the Patriots won their first Super Bowl in 2001, the NFL was ready to add another team in 2002. This is what the divisions looked like in 2001.

This was not the case in 2002, when the addition of the expansion franchise Houston Texans caused the league to change to a much more easy to understand divisional system for the 32 teams they now had.

Since the realignment, the Patriots have had a winning season every year and enjoyed eleven division titles. Many attribute this success to the perceived weakness of the Patriots division. This isn't about debating the merits of the divisional strengths and weaknesses of the AFC East. This is about pointing out that the Patriots have outperformed every other division in the NFL since 2001.

To begin, I looked at regular season dominance. To do this, I took every Patriots season and compared it to each division's best record in each season. Here is an example of how I calculated wins for a division:

NFC West Team Wins
2001 Rams 14
2002 49ers 10
2003 Rams 12
2004 Seahawks 9
2005 Seahawks 13
2006 Seahawks 9
2007 Seahawks 10
2008 Cardinals 9
2009 Cardinals 10
2010 Seahawks 7
2011 49ers 13
2012 49ers 11
2013 Seahawks 13
2014 Seahawks 12
Total 152

When this is done for every division and compared to the Patriots, the results are pretty awesome.

Divisions Wins Since 2002 Wins Since 2001
Patriots 159 170
AFC South 155
AFC West 151 161
NFC North 148
AFC North 147
NFC South 147
NFC East 145 156
NFC West 138 152

Since the North and South divisions did not exist in 2001, and were a combination of teams known as the Central, I did not try to credit wins to either one in the second column. No team in the AFC Central won the necessary 15 games to make up the difference between the AFC South and the Patriots, so it can safely be said that the Patriots were the best since 2001 as well.

The Patriots regular season dominance doesn't make them better than other divisions though. As the divisional arguments go, the Patriots success is often attributed to the weakness of the rest of the AFC East. Are the Patriots really so dominant of a team that they have had more success in the playoffs than entire divisions? Here is a chart showing the Patriots playoff success compared to every other division since 2002. Since Super Bowl wins are what ultimately mattered, they are sorted by those first.

Divisions SB Wins* SB Appearances* CG Appearances
AFC North 3 4 7
Patriots 2 4 8
NFC South 2 3 7
NFC East 2 3 6
NFC West 1 4 7
NFC North 1 2 6
AFC South 1 2 5
AFC West 0 2 4

Here are the 2001 playoff results.

2001 CG Appearances SB Appearances SB Wins
Patriots 1 1 1
AFC Central 1 0 0
AFC West 0 0 0
NFC East 1 0 0
NFC Central 0 0 0
NFC West 1 1 0

The AFC Central representative was the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFC Central team was irrelevant. I have placed the Steelers in the AFC North to give an overall picture of the best divisions since 2001.

Divisions SB Wins* SB Appearances* CG Appearances
Patriots 3 5 9
AFC North 3 4 8
NFC South 2 3 7
NFC East 2 3 7
NFC West 1 5 8
NFC North 1 2 6
AFC South 1 2 5
AFC West 0 2 4

*2014 Championship Games have not been played yet

The Patriots have more Championship Game and Super Bowl appearances since 2001 than any entire division combined. They are tied with the AFC North for the most Super Bowl victories. They have had the most regular season success even when pitted against every division's best performers.

When the Patriots beat the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday they eliminated the AFC North from the playoffs. Every multiple time Super Bowl winning division is out of the playoffs right now, except for the Patriots. This means that regardless of how this season comes to and end, the Patriots will have outperformed every other division in the NFL since 2001. In other words, the Patriots are the league's most successful division since 2001.

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