New England Patriots: Where does 2017-18 team rank in Tom Brady era?

Tom Brady will appear in his eighth Super Bowl this weekend. Where does this team rank among the other seven he’s taken to the Big Game?

Since taking over for an injured Drew Bledsoe as the New England Patriots’ quarterback in 2001, Tom Brady has now reached the NFL’s Big Game eight times. That represents 47 percent of all Super Bowls during that time.

It’s not quite the 1947-64 New York Yankees, who participated in 15 out of 18 World Series. Or the 1951-60 Montreal Canadiens and 1957-66 Boston Celtics, who reached 10 consecutive championship series in the NHL and NBA, respectively. But as far as football goes, what the Patriots have done is truly remarkable. No other franchise has played in more Super Bowls than Tom Brady.

So how does this year’s New England squad match up against the others that Brady has led to football’s biggest stage? Here’s a brief look, listed from worst to best:

8. It says a lot about New England’s dominance over the past 17 seasons that the 2001 Patriots would be the “worst” on any list. They were third in the AFC in both points scored and points allowed during the regular season. But they also played the league’s easiest schedule, according to Pro Football Reference. This was the year when the New York Jets injured Drew Bledsoe and the Tuck Rule became a thing.

In the Super Bowl, the Patriots raced out to a 14-3 halftime lead against a St. Louis Rams team that had scored 503 points en route to a 14-2 record. After Kurt Warner brought his team all the way back to a 17-17 tie with 90 seconds remaining, Brady calmly led New England into field goal range. Kicker, Adam Vinatieri, then booted the game-winning 48-yard field goal as time expired.

7. The 2003 Patriots had, perhaps, the greatest defense of any Brady-led team. They led the entire NFL in points allowed, which helped to overcome a relatively mediocre offense (17th in total yards). Interestingly, the Pats’ only two losses all year were to Buffalo and Washington, who were a combined 11-21 on the year. In Week 1, New England was shutout in western New York, 31-0, and three weeks later, they fell in overtime in the nation’s capital. The Patriots then won 17 of their final 18 games, culminating in a three-point victory over Jake Delhomme and the Carolina Panthers.

Just as they had done two years earlier, New England blew a double-digit, second-half lead. And once again, Vinatieri’s leg saved the day — this time via a 41-yarder with four seconds remaining in the game.

6. Despite losing wide receiver Julian Edelman during the preseason, the 2017 Patriots barely missed a beat. Brady led the league with 4,577 passing yards and threw 32 touchdown passes against just eight interceptions. New England won the AFC East by four games over the Buffalo Bills and reached its seventh straight Conference Championship game.

After crushing the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round, 35-14, the Pats needed a late touchdown pass from Brady to Danny Amendola to overcome the Jacksonville Jaguars, 24-20 and advance to this week’s Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles.

5. Super Bowl XLVI was the second time Brady took on, and lost to, the New York Giants in a title game. During the regular season, the 2011 Patriots led an offensively-challenged AFC in points scored (seven of the nine top-scoring teams were in the NFC), but their defense was middle-of-the-pack. In Week 9, New England lost to the Giants, 24-20, snapping a 20-game home winning streak (regular season) that had begun in 2008.

The Super Bowl featured the same two teams and was a game of swings. The Giants raced out to a 9-0 lead, the Pats answered with 17 straight points and then New York scored the game’s final 12 points en route to a 21-17 victory.

4. The 2016 Patriots famously trailed the Super Bowl, 28-3, to the Atlanta Falcons and somehow won the game in overtime, 34-28. This was a matchup between the league’s highest-scoring offense (Atlanta’s 540 regular season points were 71 more than any other team had posted) and its stingiest defensive team (New England led the NFL in points allowed).

But while only five teams surrendered more points than the Falcons all year, the Pats were well-balanced; they led the AFC in both points scored and points allowed. Before reaching the Super Bowl, both teams combined to defeat four division winners by a combined 76 points during the Divisional and Conference Championship rounds.

3. Though they won two fewer games than the 2016 team, the 2014 Patriots had a stronger season. This was due to their schedule being much tougher. New England was 12-4, while playing only five games against teams below .500. They defeated four 10+ win teams by over 20 points each. That included a 42-20 drubbing in Indianapolis, who they’d later beat in the AFC Conference Championship game by an even larger margin, 45-7.

In the Super Bowl, the Pats faced the Seattle Seahawks, who had been the league’s best defensive team during the regular season. The line in Las Vegas for the Big Game was “Pick,” which was appropriate, as the game was decided on an end zone interception by Malcolm Butler.

2. This weekend, New England and Philadelphia will face off in the Super Bowl for a second time. The 2004 Patriots won the initial championship meeting between these clubs, 24-21. Brady only threw for just 236 yards in that game, but it was just enough to defeat an Eagles team that featured quarterback, Donovan McNabb, who had trouble keeping his lunch down and head coach, Andy Reid, who had trouble understanding what a “two-possession game” meant.

The AFC East division featured three teams with a winning record, a rarity during Brady’s career. Given the relatively strong strength of schedule and a defense that was tied for Philly as the second-toughest to score against, the 14-2 Pats were one of the best squads in the Super Bowl era. But it wasn’t the best…

1. No, they didn’t win the championship, but the 2007 Patriots were clearly the greatest team Tom Brady has ever played for. Their 589 points scored was an NFL record until Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos topped it six years later. And New England wasn’t just a great offensive team; they yielded the fourth-fewest points in the entire league.

They won 12 of their 16 regular season games by double-digits. Brady threw for 50 touchdowns and had just eight picks. Wide receiver, Randy Moss, caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and 23 TDs and counterpart, Wes Welker, posted 112 catches for 1,175 yards and eight scores. New York benefitted from the infamous “helmet catch” (by a special teams player, no less) and five sacks by a formidable defensive line to eke out the 17-14 win in Super Bowl XLII.

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