You might not have heard, but the New England Patriots are back in the Super Bowl. I know -- weird, right? Oh man, it's so great to have some new blood in the big game. Actually, this is the Pats' 10th trip to the Super Bowl. Just a shade under a fifth of all Super Bowls played. Which seems amazing. Even more so when you consider New England participated in one of the first 20. And just two of the first 35. But now it's seemingly an every-year occurrence. Like comic book movies. But which PatriotsSuper Bowl squad reigns supreme? Glad you (I) asked, because I have the definitive rankings right here:
These Patriots have to take the 10-spot, if only because they are currently incomplete. The story hasn't been finished. I'm curious as to how history will look at this team. These guys are good and efficient, but nothing extraordinary. This group's like a blue blazer and khaki pants: a good look, but not something super stylish you'd see James Jones or Nate Burleson rocking on TV, if you know what I mean.
History hasn't been too kind to this team because of how it was dismantled in the Super Bowl. But what do you expect when you go up against the greatest team in NFL history? Still, the '85 Pats boasted top-10 units on offense and defense. Running back Craig James likes to say, "If we had tried to run the ball against the Bears in that opening series ..." But no. Just no. You started Tony Eason.
Another good team that got swallowed up by an irresistible force. Although I remember being confident (hopeful) Bill Parcells was going to pull this one off. This was a good offensive team, finishing second in points per game. Drew Bledsoe eclipsed 4,000 yards passing for the second time in three years. Second-year back Curtis Martin had 14 rushing touchdowns. And then you had Terry Glenn as the leading receiver. This was a good team. Cover a kick, guys.
The 2011 Patriots fell to 5-3 after back-to-back losses, and I feel this was the first time the "Is this the end of the Patriots dynasty?" thinkpieces began to surface. Then New England rode a 10-game winning streak into the Super Bowl ... before dropping another heartbreaker to the Giants. This team was all Tom Brady, though. He threw for 5,235 yards -- the first (and only) time he's topped 5,000. Nope, he did not do it in 2007. Trust me, I looked. Hold on, I'll look again. Nope. Only time.
Just days before the 2003 campaign kicked off, the Patriots released Lawyer Milloy ... who then signed with the Bills and ended up whooping the Patriots 31-0 in the season-opener. Most thought Bill Belichick had lost his damn mind, and that the team's Super Bowl title in 2001 might've been a bit of a fluke. The Patriots managed to go 14-1 down the stretch and limp into the Super Bowl for the win. Yes, I'm being facetious. This was the first lesson to not doubt Belichick when he cuts somebody. It would become a running theme during the dynasty. This second Super Bowl win started to make people realize the Patriots were about to be a thing.
Listen, this was the original. The one that started it all. And it's a story we know all too well. Drew Bledsoe goes down. Unheralded backup Tom Brady comes in to save the day. I know, Jon Gruden likes to talk about the Tuck Rule at great length. But this was the hallmark Belichick team that put the "next man up" mantra in motion and launched the Patriot Way. So many unsung heroes on this roster. This team ranked 24th in total defense and 19th in total offense ... but sixth in scoring offense and defense. Bend, don't break!
The Patriots were blown the freak out in Kansas City to drop to 2-2, and many proclaimed the dynasty dead. Again. But Belichick was "on to Cincinnati" and the squad would win its first Super Bowl since the 2004 campaign. My favorite part? In the prior Super Bowl, Seattle's defense humiliated one-time Brady rival Peyton Manning. In Super Bowl XLIX, Brady threw for 328 yards and four touchdowns against the 'Hawks. Some will say Seattle choked this game away -- citing the inexplicable decision to throw the football at the goal line, leading to Malcolm Butler's pick -- but hey, you need to make the plays. Belichick's refusal to call a timeout flummoxed the Seahawks, who made a bad play call. That's classic Belichick.
I can hear it now ... "You're only putting this team here because of the comeback." Well, you say that like it's a bad thing. Also, this team did go 14-2 with the No. 3 scoring offense and No. 1 scoring defense in the league. And these Pats accomplished so much without all-everything tight end Rob Gronkowski, who played in just eight games. This season also cemented Brady as the greatest quarterback of all time. There is no more debate. (Although, I would like to throw out that I believe the 2015 Patriots might have been the best of this stretch.)
The Patriot dynasty has stretched an astounding 17 years -- helping make it the greatest sports dynasty ever -- but this particular club was the end of a mini-dynasty. Like a band that had all of its original members for one last album before splitting up. The "Use Your Illusion" Patriots. New England finished the regular season at 14-2, ranking fourth in scoring offense and second in scoring D. Corey Dillon rushed for 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns. This was the final time Belichick had coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel together. You could tell during the Super Bowl celebration that this was going to be it for a while. Don't worry, the Patriots would continue to go on strong.
Obviously, some wouldn't consider this the best team of the Brady-Belichick era because it finished the season with a loss. But this group was so darn dominant in the regular season, breaking records all over the place ... How can it rank anything other than No. 1? Right, the whole Super Bowl thing. But hot damn, peak angry-Brady. Vintage Randy Moss. Running up the score on teams. It was great. Tell me: If you absolutely needed to win one football game, which of these 10 squads would you want? That's what I thought.