Heard Dan Graca on Mad Dog sports the other day argue that the New England Patriots benefitted from being in a weak AFC east and wondered if they would be as dominant in another division.
It was a weird statement for a couple of reasons. Let's assume the league decided the Patriots were too dominant and gained an advantage for being in the AFC east. Where are you gonna put them? The AFC west? Can't do that since Boston is an eastern city. AFC south? Again geography prevents this. AFC north? Maybe, but it's really more of a Mid-West division.
Given these obstacles, it's not a realistic scenario.
Then comes the debate as to whether the other divisions are that much better in the first place. Sure there were teams like the Broncos, Steelers, Ravens and Colts in the conference but would they have impacted the Patriots run?
Let's start in the AFC north with the Steelers and Ravens. In the Belichick era: The Patriots are 6-3 against the Steelers in regular season play and 4-0 in the playoffs. They're 5-1 against the Ravens but are 2-2 in the post-season facing them. Nonetheless, it's a dominant edge for New England.
Moving onto to the AFC south. The key team there are the Colts (who played in the AFC east for two seasons). Regardless, different team and division same result. New England is 12-5 against the Colts in the regular seasons and 5-1 in the playoffs. Again. Dominant.
The only team to give them a run are the Broncos out in the AFC west. The Pats are 7-5 against them in the regular season but 1-3 in the playoffs.
All-combined the Pats are 23-10 against those teams in the regular season and 12-6 in the playoffs. 35-16 overall.
Not enough to weaken Graca's argument you say?
Check this out. Since 2000 the Patriots are:
77-29 against all AFC east divisional teams - .726%
70-26 against the AFC - .729%
53-17 against the NFC - .757%
That's a .737% winning percentage for those of you scoring at home.
That's a lot of cheating, eh?
Anyway. They won 74% of their games in the Brady/Belichick era. In addition, they've compiled a 25-9 record in the playoffs (.735%). In other words, they maintain their excellence in the playoffs.
The New England Patriots would likely be just as successful no matter what division they played in. The only division that *could* conceivably halted the is the NFC east. It's historically a ferociously competitive division with strong teams at different intervals. Alas, they're not an NFC team.
And they're dominant.