Between 2001 and 2019, no team came close to reaching the same level of consistent success as the New England Patriots.
Led by head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, the team won six Super Bowls over that 19-year span, as well as nine conference titles and 17 division crowns. Along the way, they manufactured the league’s first 16-0 regular season, pulled off the most significant comeback in league history, and generally defied common logic by building a dynasty despite salary cap and free agency actively trying to promote parity.
Add it all up and you get not just one of the great runs pro football has ever seen, but the greatest there ever was. That statement in itself can be disputed as subjective, of course, which is why Football Outsiders’ recent dynasty rankings come in handy: FO’s Bryan Knowles ran the numbers to award dynasty points to each team that had a prolonged run of success since the National Football League started its operations 100 years ago.
The rating system is explained in great detail here, but essentially works like this: a team is able to earn dynasty points based on the success it had during a season. Winning a championship and having a win-percentage of above .8125 earns you six points, winning a championship with a lower win-percentage earns you five, losing a championship game with a win-percentage of .8125 or higher gets you four, and so on, down to getting one point for either making the playoffs or missing them with a record of .643 or above.
Add rules about extending or ending dynasties — losing seasons, too many consecutive uneventful playoff appearances etc. — and you get the rankings based on the dynasty points mentioned above and other factors such as longevity and DVOA. And who ended up in the top spot, if not the Brady/Belichick Patriots?
In total, 56 teams qualified for the list by having earned more than 10 dynasty points at one point. As can be seen, none of them came close to reaching the same level of success as the Patriots’ run from 2001 through 2019 (one that could theoretically continue even with Tom Brady having left the team in free agency earlier this year): the Brady/Belichick Patriots earned 59 points based on their unprecedented success over the last two decades.
Knowles wrote the following in his write-up about the Patriots’ dynastic run:
Over the past two decades, we got to watch the greatest dynasty to ever play the game. This is not supposed to be a thing in the modern era. Since modern free agency began in 1993 and the salary cap was put into place in 1994, ultra-long-term dynasties were supposed to be a thing of the past. Good players become too expensive and move on. Tough decisions force great teams to rely on untested rookies. Parity is the name of the game. Fourteen teams on this table started in 1994 or later; only four of them had a run longer than five years. And none, of course, approach the two decades of success that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have brought to New England.
As was also noted, however, an argument could be made to split New England’s 19-year dynasty into two separate eras: Brady’s ACL tear in 2008 and the team’s wild card playoff exit one year later would serve as a de facto interregnum on the dynastic scale in this scenario. What you would get if you indeed split the franchise’s historic run in two, according to FO’s calculations, would be the 10th best dynasty (2001-2007) as well as the fifth-best (2010-2019).
No matter how you slice it, though, the gist remains: over the past two decades, we were able to witness the greatest run pro football has ever seen. Don’t be sad if it is indeed over, be happy that it happened.