Below, we rank the 16 Brady-Belichick teams, leaving out 2008 (when Matt Cassel played most of the year after Brady’s ACL injury). We started with Football Outsiders’ Dvoa ratings for the entire regular season. (That’s defense-adjusted value over average, as explained here.) Those are listed below, along with each team’s rank in the league that season. Then we added on playoff performance by DVOA, giving it twice as much value as the regular season. We penalized teams for games they never played, subtracting 2.5 percentage points of DVOA for each playoff round the team didn’t reach. Finally, we added an additional 2.5 percentage point bonus for winning the Super Bowl.
Readers might be surprised to see so many of the non-championship teams near the top of our list, including three of our top four. One of the oddities of the Brady-Belichick run is that the best teams during the regular season aren’t necessarily the ones that won Super Bowls. Even after adjusting for playoff performance, these teams still come out ahead of the ones that took home the Vince Lombardi Trophy. That starts with the team that did everything right until the final two minutes of the final game of the season.
Note: Click on Total DVOA for each team to see where the Patriots ranked among all 31 or 32 teams in each season.
1. 2007 Patriots (16-0, lost Super Bowl, New York Giants)
Total DVOA: 52.9 percent (1)
Adjusted with playoffs: 50.3 percent
Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings go back to 1986, and in 32 years, only two teams have topped 50 percent in a single season: the 1991 Washington Redskins and the 2007 New England Patriots. The Patriots slowed down in the second half of the season, but even after their Week 10 bye, their average win (including the first two playoff games) came by two touchdowns (32-18). This is the highest-rated offense in DVOA history, but the Patriots also ranked 11th that year on defense and seventh on special teams. One three-point loss doesn’t change the fact that this was the best of all the Brady-Belichick teams.
2. 2004 Patriots (14-2, won Super Bowl, Philadelphia Eagles)
Total DVOA: 34.2 percent (2)
Adjusted with playoffs: 42.1 percent
The Patriots weren’t even the best regular-season team of 2004, finishing second in DVOA and wins behind the 15-1 Pittsburgh Steelers. But the Patriots went 14-2 despite the No. 6 toughest schedule in the league by average DVOA of opponent. (The Bills and Jets ranked third and fourth in DVOA that season.) Then the Patriots dominated in the playoffs, defeating three teams (Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia) that were a combined 40-8 and all ranked sixth or higher in DVOA. It’s one of the most difficult postseason runs a team has ever gone through to win a Super Bowl, and the Patriots won the first two games by two touchdowns or more before their close 24-21 win in Super Bowl XXXIX.
3. 2010 Patriots (14-2, lost in divisional round, New York Jets)
Total DVOA: 44.6 percent (1)
Adjusted with playoffs: 35.6 percent
This is the No. 2 offense in DVOA history, even though the Patriots traded away Randy Moss early in the season. The divisional-round loss to the Jets was almost as big an upset as Super Bowl XLII, because the Patriots had home-field advantage and were red hot coming into the game. They had beaten the Jets 45-3 just six weeks before. In fact, in four of their final five games, this Patriots team scored at least 34 points while allowing seven or fewer points. In terms of weighted DVOA, which lowers the strength of games more than two months old, the 2010 Patriots finished the regular season as the strongest team of the last 32 years: higher than either the 2007 Patriots or the 1991 Redskins.
Then Rex Ryan devised a strategy with nine defensive backs active on game day and seven of them on the field most of the time. It confused Tom Brady enough to limit the Patriots to just a field goal in the first half. Meanwhile, Mark Sanchez completed 16 of 25 passes and threw for three touchdowns. The Jets recovered two onside kicks in the final two minutes, returning the first one for 23 yards and scoring again, and that scuttled the Patriots’ attempt at a last-minute comeback.
4. 2012 Patriots (12-4, lost AFC Championship Game, Baltimore Ravens)
Total DVOA: 34.9 percent (3)
Adjusted with playoffs: 32.3 percent
This was a season with great teams, one of five seasons in which five different teams managed a DVOA of 25 percent or more. However, none of those teams — Seattle, Denver, New England, San Francisco and Green Bay, in order — actually won the Super Bowl. Instead, the title went to the Baltimore Ravens.
It was another dominating offensive season for New England; the Patriots scored more than 40 points six different times, including in a 41-28 win over Houston in the divisional round. Their biggest regular-season loss (to San Francisco) came by just a touchdown, and their other three losses were by a combined four points. But one of those early-season losses came to Baltimore, a preview of what was to come in the postseason. The underdog Ravens forced three turnovers in the AFC Championship Game to end New England’s season, 28-13.
5. 2016 Patriots (14-2, won Super Bowl, Atlanta Falcons)
Total DVOA: 24.9 percent (1)
Adjusted with playoffs: 30.4 percent
The Patriots were the No. 1 team of 2016, a year with no great teams in the regular season. They tied the 1993 Dallas Cowboys as the lowest-rated teams to ever finish the year No. 1 in DVOA. But there was a reason for that, of course: Just as the 1993 Cowboys had to start the year without holdout Emmitt Smith, the 2016 Patriots had a lower rating because they started the year without Tom Brady. But the Pats got hotter at the end of the year, easily winning their first two playoff games before the legendary comeback that gave them a 34-28 Super Bowl victory in overtime.
Though many Patriots haters criticize the Pats for getting easy schedules each year, the average schedule strength of the Brady-Belichick teams is 16th. This is the only team on this list that Football Outsiders rated with the easiest schedule in the league that season.
6. 2017 Patriots (13-3, will play Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII)
Total DVOA: 22.6 percent (6)
Adjusted with playoffs: 29.3 percent (win) or 26.8 percent (lose)
We ranked the 2017 Patriots sixth based on giving them half-credit for winning Super Bowl LII. A win moves them up to No. 5, while a loss drops them to No. 8.
All of Belichick’s defenses have been known as “bend but don’t break” defenses, but the 2017 Patriots have taken this to an absurd level. The Patriots ranked 32nd this year in yards allowed per drive but sixth in points allowed per drive. Our drive stats go back to 1993, and no defense that finished last in yards per drive had ever finished better than 21st in points allowed per drive. No team that finished in the top 10 for points per drive had ever finished worse than 25th in yards per drive. And it’s not like any other Belichick defense even comes close to this year’s defense. The 2014 Patriots are the only other Patriots defense to rank in the bottom 10 of yards per drive (23rd) and the top 10 of points per drive (eighth).
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