The Miami Dolphins made the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons but the New England Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship game for the sixth season in a row.
That surely isn’t a stat that the Miami Dolphins care to see. It’s also not a stat that Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas want’s to see either. The Patriots advancement doesn’t sit well with Thomas.
Thomas is for the most part correct. New England has won the division every year since 2008. In the 17 years since Bill Belichick has been the coach of the Patriots, the Patriots have won the division 14 times. In his first season they were 5-11 but won the Super Bowl the following year. They followed that up with a 9-7 season and then it was their division for the taking until 2008. When Tom Brady missed the year with a knee injury.
They still finished 11-5 tied with the Dolphins.
During this time, especially since Tom Brady became the starting quarterback, the AFC East has not given the Patriots much competition since 2001.
Of the three teams in the East, the Jets have given the Patriots the most competition as it relates solely to the post-season. In that time frame they have advanced to the playoffs six times including two trips to the AFC conference title game. But the Jets only finished 1st in the division one time and only 5 times did they post a record with double-digit wins totals.
The Bills haven’t given the Patriots much competition either. They haven’t been to the post-season since 1999 have finished 2nd in the division twice with records of 9-7 and even 7-9. They have posted no double-digit win seasons since 2001.
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Finally there is the Dolphins. Miami has won the division one time as mentioned. 2008 with Chad Pennington, the Wild Cat, and a Brady-less Patriots team who finished 11-5 with their back-up. Miami finished 2nd in 2001 when they made the post-season at 11-5 but lost in the wild card round. Since then the Dolphins have finished 2nd in the division 5 times but have only recorded double-digit winning seasons four times including 2016 and 2001. In 2003 the Dolphins had 10 wins but missed the post-season.
A huge factor in all of this is the coaching carousel that has hit the AFC East. The Dolphins have had nine head coaches including interim head coaches. The Bills have had eight and just hired their 9th head coach. The Jets have are on their 4th head coach in that time.
Continuity is key because while all of those coaches have changed the franchises, each has brought in their own quarterbacks and the turnover of QB’s in the AFC East since 2001 is ridiculous. The Patriots? One head coach and for all but two seasons, one quarterback.
The real lack of competition however can not fully be understood until you look at the actual head to head games between the Patriots and the rest of the AFC East. It’s a sickening revelation.
Since 2001 the New York Jets have won a total of 9 games against the Patriots. The Bills have won four games including earlier in 2016 when they beat the Patriots without Tom Brady. The Dolphins have won 10 times in that time period.
Most NFL pundits will tell you that you need to win against your division if you are going to be successful in the NFL. Of the 96 games played between the Patriots and the other three teams in the division, New England has won 73 of those games. As Earl Thomas has pointed out, it’s a free ticket to the post-season.
Of course none of this takes into consideration the four times New England was accused of cheating and punished for that. In fact, you could argue that if they have been caught three or four times, how many times have they not been caught?
Pointing a finger at New England for cheating is the easy way out but regardless the results within the division are stark reminders of how bad the AFC East has been in the last 17 years and frankly the lack of competition in the East is far more relevant.
As for the Miami Dolphins, this season was a big surprise but if the Dolphins are going to challenge the Patriots for the division and knock them off their pedestal, waiting for Brady or Belichick to retire is the lazy way out. They need to take control of the division.