In a league built on the principles of parity, no team has been as much of an outlier as the New England Patriots: The franchise has won 15 of 18 division titles since the turn of the century, won five of its eight Super Bowls appearances, and has set a new NFL record by going to the conference title game seven years in a row and counting – one of the most impressive streaks in the league.
NFL.com's Adam Rank recently wrote about current streaks and whether or not they will be sustained in 2018. Of course, the Patriots' consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances are also mentioned – and Rank believes that the team will add one more this season:
I’m not going to be the person who picks against the Patriots. Because you know it’s going to happen. It’s automatic. Like how every millennial male will have his bachelor party in Austin, Texas. It’s not my way, it’s just the way it is. But the competition seems to be heating up. The Jaguars should be just as good this year, as that defense remains loaded. The Chargers could be considered the best team in the AFC, if you base this on rosters alone. (Though that Hunter Henry injury is a big hit.) And then you have upstart teams like the Titans, who made the playoffs (and got a win) last season. It seems like AFC counterparts are gaining on the Patriots. But no, I’m not betting against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
Rank lists some valid points as the AFC as a whole has shown improvements over the last year to a point where the Jacksonville Jaguars came close to eliminating the Patriots from the playoffs. However, none of the teams mentioned – plus other top competitors in the conference like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs – has shown an ability yet to consistently challenge the Patriots' position in the AFC.
No matter if it is playoff seeding or actually performing in the postseason, New England is still the class of the conference. Believing that they reach the title game for an eighth straight year is therefore no bold prediction – even though it just takes one bad game or one injury to potentially derail the entire operation. Until this happens, though, counting on the Patriots to deliver seems to be the smart move.