Ah yes, the common argument that part of the Patriots greatness is due to being in the AFC East, something you might be thinking about at the Patriots set off to play Miami this weekend.
We can admit that the Dolphins, Jets, and Bills haven’t been that special since Tom Brady took over as the starting QB of the Patriots in 2001.
Since divisions reconfigured in 2002, here’s how many times the current AFC East teams have made the playoffs:
New England – 15
New York – 5
Miami – 2
Buffalo – 1
The rest of the AFC East, combined, has made the playoffs 8 times, essentially once every other season.
In the 15 seasons New England has made the playoffs, another AFC East team made the playoffs that same season 6 times (the other 2 were years the Patriots missed the playoffs, and another team won the division).
40% of the time in the history of this AFC East (2002 – present), there has been an AFC East team good enough to make the playoffs the same season the Patriots did.
The Jets even made the AFC East Championship Game two years in a row, beating the Patriots in the playoffs one year.
Between 2002 and 2018, 34 teams have appeared in the AFC Championship Game.
Here’s a fun way to look at it:
New England – 12
AFC North – 8
AFC South – 6
AFC West – 6
Rest of AFC East – 2
Did you know the Jets are one of 6 teams since 2002 to appear in the AFC Championship Game at least twice? The other five teams include New England, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Denver, and Baltimore.
Anyway, this isn’t my main argument.
Consider Tom Brady’s record in the regular season against the AFC East, rest of the AFC, and NFC since 2002:
AFC East: 75 – 19 (.798)
Rest of AFC: 73 – 24 (.753)
NFC: 49 – 14 (.778)
Well, the AFC East has the advantage.
However, if you consider the fact Brady plays 6 games against each the AFC East and the rest of the AFC per season, and you extrapolate how many wins per season he gets each based on winning percentage…
You get this:
AFC East: 4.79 wins per season
Rest of AFC: 4.52 wins per season
That’s a difference of 0.27 wins, which is roughly 1 win every 3.7 seasons.
It’s an advantage, sure, but is it significant enough to cry about if you’re a Brady hater?
Maybe, maybe not.
I found something interesting though.
I’ve heard it said that the Patriots record in the regular season at home against the AFC East is truly insane, and that the only team they’ve truly lost to at home under Brady since 2003 is the Jets in 2006.
Yes, they lost to the Dolphins (2005) and Bills (2014) during that time, but those were Week 17 losses where Brady was out of the game early and the backup QB came in.
However, there are only 3 seasons where Brady has had more losses against the rest of the AFC at home than the AFC East: 2005, 2006, 2017.
In 2002, it was equal, and in 2014 he lost more games at home to the AFC East (even if it was a throwaway game).
2005 and 2006 are the true outliers, because since 2007, Brady has been dominate at home against… well, the entire AFC.
Here are the numbers (through Week 1, 2019):
AFC East: 30 – 1 (.968)
Rest of AFC: 33 – 1 (.970)*
*counting Week 1, 2008 against Kansas City
Remove the Kansas City game in 2008, and these are nearly identical records.
Of those 32 wins, 4 came against Peyton Manning-led teams, 4 came against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, 3 came against Joe Flacco and the Ravens, 3 came against Philip Rivers and the Chargers, and one came against Patrick Mahomes and Chiefs.
17 games were against teams that made the playoffs that season, and Brady and the Patriots were 16-1 (.941) in those games.
Sounds equal and proportionate to me (if you’re wondering, Brady and the Patriots were 17 – 6 versus the NFC during this time, with a winning percentage of .739)
After seeing that, I was curious what his regular season road record against the AFC East and the rest of the AFC was in that time. SURELY it had to be SIGNIFICANTLY worse against the rest of the AFC… rigtht!?
AFC East: 22 – 11 (.667)
Rest of AFC: 21 – 12 (.636)
A one game difference… that’s it.
6 of Brady’s 11 regular season road losses versus the AFC East since 2007 have come against the Miami Dolphins.
4 have come against the New York Jets (2 in the years they made the AFC Championship Game).
1 was against the Buffalo Bills.
How about the rest of the AFC?
In 2009, Brady and the Patriots lost to the Broncos, Colts, and Texans
In 2010, they lost to the Browns.
In 2011, they lost to the Steelers.
In 2012, they lost to the Ravens.
In 2013, they lost to the Begnals.
In 2014, they lost to the Chiefs.
In 2015, they lost to the Broncos.
In 2018, they lost to the Jaguars, Titans, and Steelers.
3 losses came against teams coached by former Patriot assistant coaches/players, while 5 came against teams that made the playoffs that season (3 of those teams made the Super Bowl, and 2 won).
(Once again, in case you’re curious, in games started by Brady since 2007, the Patriots are 15 -5 against the NFC on the road)
Add it all up, and how have Brady and the Patriots done in this time?
AFC East: 52-12 ( .813)
Rest of the AFC: 54-13 ( .806)
NFC: 32 – 11 (.744)
“But I thought Brady and the Patriots got automatic wins against the AFC East every year!”
Well they do… they also just beat the rest of the AFC every year too.
The times Brady and the Patriots arguably benefited from beating up on the AFC East were during the early days of the dynasty.
Here is the team’s record versus the AFC East, rest of the AFC, and NFC between 2002 and 2006:
AFC East: 23 – 7 (.767)
Rest of AFC: 19 – 11 (.663)
NFC: 17 – 3 (.850)
The Pats really beat up on the NFC those years.
In this 5-year interval, the Patriots lost 4 more games to the AFC East than the rest of the AFC, roughly 0.8 more games per season.
They missed the playoffs in 2002 regardless, nothing really changes in 2003 and 2004, nor 2006. Maybe it helps them sneak into the playoffs in 2005, but even then they got blown out on the road, so if anything their demise occurs sooner.
Thank goodness the AFC East stinks, because without that division, the 2005 Patriots don’t make the playoffs!
Here’s the home and away breakdown those years:
Brady and the Patriots at home (2002-2006) versus the…
AFC East: 12 – 3 (.800)
Rest of AFC: 10 – 5 (.667)
NFC: 9 – 1 (.900)
Starting QBs of the teams to win at Gillette during this time?
Brett Favre, Brian Griese, Chad Pennington, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Gus Frerotte, and Jake Plummer
Brady and the Patriots on the road (2002-2006) versus the…
AFC East: 11 – 4 (.773)
Rest of AFC: 9 – 6 (.600)
NFC: 8 – 2 (.800)
Starting QBs of the teams to beat the Patriots on the road during this time?
Drew Brees, Jay Fiedler, 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon, former Patriot Drew Bledsoe, Patrick Ramsey, Ben Roethlisberger, A.J. Feeley, Jake Delhomme, Jake Plummer, Trent Green, and Joey Harrington.
Alright, now you have all the information.
You can argue Tom Brady and the Patriots beat up on the AFC East a little harder between 2002 and 2006 compared to the rest of the AFC, but the only year you could argue that had a true impact was 2005.
In games started by Tom Brady since 2007, the Patriots essentially have the same record against the AFC East and rest of the AFC.
Maybe the AFC East could have put up a better fight over the years, or maybe they’re just unlucky because they each have to face the Patriots twice a season, versus the rest of the AFC, where some teams are able to face the Patriots only once every three seasons (if they do, that means they probably stink).
You could argue that if some of the teams over the years in the AFC East didn’t have to face the Patriots for a specific season (or if they did, only at home), they could have made it into the playoffs.
Maybe we’re not looking at a run like the Steelers have had over these years, but a little more success for a team, one that you can at least respect a little bit more.
However, you can’t blame the Patriots for the rest of the division not having figured out a way to get over the hump and solve this problem.
Anyway, here is the last piece of information I’ll share with you: Tom Brady’s record in the regular season versus teams in the AFC since 2002.
Buffalo Bills: 28 – 3 (.903)
Houston Texans: 7 – 1 (.875)
Baltimore Ravens: 6 – 1 (.857)
Cincinnati Bengals: 6 – 1 (.857)
Cleveland Browns: 5 – 1 (.833)
Jacksonville Jaguars: 5 – 1 (.833)
New York Jets: 26 – 6 (.813)
Oakland Raiders: 4 – 1 (.800)
Indianapolis Colts: 9 – 3 (.750)
Pittsburgh Steelers: 9 – 3 (.750)
San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers: 5 – 2 (.714)
Tennessee Titans: 5 – 2 (.714)
Miami Dolphins: 21 – 10 (.625)
Kansas City Chiefs: 5 – 3 (.625)
Denver Broncos: 7 – 5 (.583)
For those keeping track at home, Brady is 26 – 6 in the regular season against the AFC North since 2002, which is exactly the same as his record against the New York Jets (26 – 6) in that time.
Funny, because that’s the division people think he’d really struggle in.
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