We ran a poll on our Talk of Fame Network web site a few years back asking what was the NFL’s greatest dynasty.
The 1950s' Cleveland Browns won out over the 1960s' Packers, 1970s' Steelers, 1980s' 49ers and 1990s' Cowboys. And for good reason – those Browns won an NFL-record 73.3 percent of their games in a decade and went to seven NFL championship games, winning three of them. Cleveland had a Hall-of-Fame coach in Paul Brown and eight Hall-of-Fame players, including quarterback Otto Graham and fullback Jim Brown.
But the Browns have a new challenger in the discussion of best dynasty – and this may be their most formidable. The 2010s' New England Patriots have won nine division titles in the nine seasons thus far this decade. They have won five AFC championships and three Lombardi Trophies. Even more impressive, the Patriots have won an astounding 78.5 percent of their games in the decade.
The record for victories by an NFL team in a single decade is 115 by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2000s. The Patriots have already won 113 games this decade. So New England only needs three victories in 2019 to break the record – and this is a team that has strung together 16 consecutive seasons finishing in double figures in victories.
You have to go all the way back to 2002 to find the last time the Patriots failed win at least 10 games in a season. They finished 9-7 in Tom Brady’s first full season as a starter. Even when Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 2008 season opener, the Patriots still managed to win 11 games with a backup quarterback (Matt Cassel).
The nine playoff appearances by the Patriots this decade gives New England a share of the NFL record for a single decade with the Dallas Cowboys of the 1970s. The Patriots can claim the record all to themselves with another playoff berth in 2019. The nine division titles by the Patriots this decade is already a record, topping the eight by the Minnesota Vikings in the 1970s.
The five Super Bowl appearances this decade give the Patriots a share of another record in the Super Bowl era, tying the Cowboys of the 1970s. If the Patriots can win a fourth Super Bowl this season, they would match the four Lombardi Trophies won by both the Steelers of the 1970s and the 49ers of the 1980s. In the pre-Super Bowl era, the Browns went to those seven title games in the 1950s and the Packers six in the 1960s.
Now let’s put the winning percentage in perspective. If the Patriots go winless this season at 0-16, they would finish 113-47 for the decade, a winning percentage of 70.6 percent. That would still be the eighth-best winning percentage in a single decade in NFL history. If they win a minimum of 10 games, which is likely, the Patriots would leave the 2010s with a winning percentage of 76.8 percent.
The team currently in the books with the best winning percentage for a single NFL decade of the Super Bowl era is the Cowboys of the 1970s at 72.9. The Colts, by the way, posted a winning percentage of 71.8 when they won their 115 games in the 2000 decade.
The 1960s' Packers have 12 Hall-of-Fame players, the 1970s' Steelers nine, the 1970s' Cowboys seven, the 1980s' 49ers and 1990s' Cowboys five apiece. Of the players off New England’s three Super Bowl champions this decade, only three appear to be sure-fire Hall-of-Fame candidates at this point – Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Of course Bill Belichick ranks third on the NFL’s all-time coaching list with his 261 victories. So a Hall-of-Fame bust does loom in his future – just as it did for Brown, Vince Lombardi, Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh of his dynasty predecessors.
This has already been a very special decade for the Patriots. They can make it even more special in 2019. Then maybe we’ll have to run another “best dynasty” poll on our Talk of Fame Network web site.