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The AFC East has been so bad because the Patriots are so good

The old go-to for Patriots detractors is that their division has been a cake walk for 20 years, but some digging proves that the AFC East has been so bad because of the Patriots being so good, not the other way around.

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

We’ve all heard it before. “Of course the Patriots are always in the playoffs, their division is terrible.” Ignoring the fact that they have a better record versus the rest of the AFC and the NFC than they do against their division, I’ve never felt that even part of this statement was true. The Dolphins, Jets, and Bills have all had their years of incompetence, and minimal (if any) years where they felt like true contenders, but in any given year it seems like at least one generates buzz as the “Patriots dethroner”. Yes, dethroner is a word don’t look it up just trust me baby.

On a Sunday plagued by intermittent thunderstorms and torrential downpours, I decided to actually dig into my theory and see whether the AFC East has been that bad over the Patriots dynasty, or whether the Patriots dynasty has blocked some pretty solid AFC East teams from making some noise. Turns out, it was more the latter than the former.

I took a look at all of the seasons the Bills, Dolphins, and Jets have played since 2001 (the start of the dynasty, obviously) where they finished between 7-9 and 10-6. This is the range of wins that puts a team as a “playoff contender”, but not a “playoff lock”. Only one 11-win team has ever missed the playoffs and it was, of course, the Patriots under Matt Cassel. It is safe to assume that adding one or two wins (aka if the Patriots were awful and an easy two wins every year) to a team in any of these seasons gives them at least an outside chance at the playoffs.

In 54 total seasons between the other three AFC East teams since 2001, there have been 28 where at least seven games were won (already a number high enough to generally disprove the idea that the AFC East is a train wreck).

As you can see in the graphic above, of those 28, seven were already playoff seasons. Six of those were wild card seasons and one was a division title. In all six of the wild card seasons, going 2-0 against the Patriots would’ve won the division. Of the 21 that didn’t make the playoffs, seven would’ve resulted in outright playoff births and five would’ve resulted in ties of some sort where a tiebreaker could or could not have gotten the team in. In total, the Patriots blocked ten division titles among these seasons and eight wild card berths.

So, the Patriots not only dominate the AFC East, they’ve blocked some pretty solid teams from even making the playoffs during their reign. Next time you hear a salty Steelers or dumb Raiders fan try to bring up the division, feel free to laugh in their face.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryan_keiran and see the original thread of this information here. Ryan will also be doing live twitch streams during the year, breaking down the previous and coming weeks matchups and any other Patriots news that comes along. Follow the stream here.