• New England might not be the favorites to win the Super Bowl this season, but the team will remain relevant as long as Belichick is running the show.
By Michael Rosenberg
December 18, 2018

If you think your NFL team has had its share of misery, bad luck and bad decision-making, check out the New England Patriots.

Their franchise quarterback got drilled by a Jets linebacker while trying to pick up a first down he had no chance of picking up and almost died because of it. They gave up a first-round pick for the privilege of hiring a coach with a 36–44 record, another first-rounder when they got caught illegally videotaping other teams’ signals and a third first-rounder when they allegedly/possibly might have gotten caught illegally deflating footballs. One star tight end went to prison for murder, where he later committed suicide, and another star tight end hinted at retirement before the age of 30. They lost a Super Bowl largely because of the most ridiculous catch in NFL history, by a guy nobody had ever heard of who never caught another pass, then lost another one to the same team after another ridiculous catch, and almost lost a third after a catch that rivaled the first.

They also won five Super Bowls, of course, and that’s the point here. All of the mistakes and bad luck are just a reminder of how great the Patriots have been.

New England’s incredible run is going to end eventually—next month, or perhaps next year, or in any of the 10 seasons after that. Nobody knows. Father Time is undefeated, but Bill Belichick has saved his timeouts.

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In the meantime, let’s appreciate this: Right now the Patriots are 9–5 with the Bills and Jets coming to town to close out the 2018 season, which means they will likely finish 11–5 as the AFC East champions for the 10th straight season. In some towns, this would warrant a parade. In New England, finishing 11–5 supposed to signify The End.

Talk to enough people in football, and you will hear a lot of theories about the Patriots’ success. They win because they lucked into Brady, because they bend the rules, because the AFC East has been an enormous litter box for most of their run, because Brady takes below-market contracts. There is some truth to each theory: they did get lucky grabbing Brady with the 199th pick of the 2000 NFL draft, were caught breaking rules and have benefited from the rest of the AFC East specializing in lousy quarterbacking for most of this century.

But mostly, the Patriots have won because they have the best coach in the history of the sport.

Of all the amazing facts about Belichick, the fact that he was employed by both the Lions (as an assistant coach early in his career) and the Browns (as their head coach) sticks with me most. Those are the only two franchises that have been around for all 52 years of the Super Bowl era and never played in the game. They both had the best coach in history under contract, and neither took full advantage of it.

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Under Belichick, the Patriots have served as an annual reminder that you make your own luck. Belichick is famously committed to doing exactly what he thinks is right for his organization, no matter what anybody else says, how it will look or whatever happened in the past. There is an old NFL debate about who is more important to the Patriots’ success: Belichick or Brady. The marketplace tells you it’s Brady (elite quarterbacks get paid a lot more than elite coaches, through Brady gives the Pats a discount), and the head says it’s harder to find a great quarterback than a great head coach.

But let’s ask it another way: If you’re a Patriots fan, and you knew one of them would retire this year, which one would you choose?

I think the answer is Brady, and here’s why: Brady can’t find Belichick’s replacement, but Belichick can find Brady’s. Give Belichick two years to find and mold a quarterback he likes, and I’m pretty sure you will see them both in the playoffs.

So let’s hold off on the obituaries. Will Patriots win the Super Bowl this year? Probably not. There are a half-dozen teams that have a better shot than the Patriots. But as long as Belichick is running the show in New England, it will be a hell of a show.

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