Cory's Corner: Does the AFC East hurt the Patriots' legacy?

I think that Tom Brady is an all-timer. He has beaten the odds by being a skinny sixth round pick that barely displayed any measurables at the NFL Combine to being one of the best leaders in sports.

But I have a hard time saying that the Patriots are one of the best franchises ever. And the reason lies within the soft underbelly of the AFC East. The Patriots’ feasting on that division each year is like putting Alabama in the Mid-American Conference.

In the last four years, a team not named the Patriots earned a playoff berth just once — and that was last year’s Dolphins. In that same span, the Patriots have gone 50-14 and have claimed four division titles.

Now, there are other weak divisions. The NFC North comes to mind. But even that division saw the Vikings and two Lions’ teams advance to the playoffs in the last four years. And conversely, the Packers’ cumulative record in that span is 40-23-1. Green Bay won a division title with a .531 winning percentage. The lowest winning percentage the Patriots won the AFC East in the Tom Brady era has been .625.

The Dolphins, Jets and Bills literally have not been able to get out of their own way to the point that the AFC East has turned into the NBA regular season. It’s not even worth paying attention to because even with adversity brought on by Deflategate. The Patriots showed how superior they are by maintaining a division lead with backup quarterbacks.

This doesn’t diminish Brady’s legacy as a champion and leader. How he’s been able to hurl fastballs in the Foxboro winters has been amazing. However, it does speak volumes about the Patriots as a team. Does this team win that much in the AFC North? No way. How about the NFC East? Not a chance. New England would be happy with splits against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Dallas, New York and Washington.

The reason why this is interesting is because the regular season affects the playoffs. The Patriots have built a postseason fortress at Gillette Stadium by going 9-1 dating all the way back to 2010. That’s absurd. And the reason they are getting all those home games is because they get six division games against teams that never had a chance to begin with.

The last AFC Championship Game the Patriots played away from Massachusetts was in 2015. The swarming Denver defense was too much. That was no coincidence because the Patriots also lost at Denver in 2013. The Patriots are 6-1 in home AFC Championship Games, proving that the regular season does matter and the mundane late September laughers make a difference.

The AFC East has been one of the oddest divisions in all of pro sports because it has one of the best quarterbacks on a team that continues to get better. That is juxtaposed against a division that continues to search for an elite quarterback. The Jets are guessing at this point as they brought in a 37-year-old Cleveland Browns retread, the Dolphins are still waiting for Ryan Tannehill to return the investment of an eighth overall pick in 2012 and the Bills appear ready to hit the reset button even though Tyrod Taylor finally has ample weapons this year.

It’s hard enough to beat middling teams like the Chargers with those quarterbacks. When you have to face Brady twice a year, forget it. The Patriots have won that sorry division 13 of the last 14 years and easy money says they’ll make it 14 of 15.

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Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Comments (36)

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The TKstinator's picture

May 30, 2017 at 07:12 am

My neighbors have a very odd way of baking bread. They actually pin part of it to their clothesline out behind their house on a windy day. So I guess...crust swayin'!

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worztik's picture

May 30, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Wow... what a clever man!!! Just sayin'!!! NOT!!!!!!

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worztik's picture

May 30, 2017 at 07:25 pm

I've pondered your statements all day as to why and what you were trying to accomplish? Apparently you have a number of TKWeaselton groupies that find you to be the 2nd coming of Bill Cosby... seems quite appropriate!!! I don't care to stoop to your level as I'm flattered that I piss you off as mimicry is a nice form of flattery!!! I'm certain that you didn't intend it to be flattering but, you surely couldn't have intended it to be laughable!!! All it did was to show your lack of creativity and how small your mind has become from all the head injuries suffered riding your pig!!! Stick a foot in your spokes so that we can ALL have a good laugh!!! Just sayin' dipshit!!!

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The TKstinator's picture

June 01, 2017 at 07:16 pm

Lighten up, Francis.

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worztik's picture

June 02, 2017 at 06:36 pm

Just thought I'd say so long to you experts!!! I get shit every day and if you WANNA BEES were nearly as smart as you think you arrived, this could be fun but, it's NOT so I'm out for good!!! Hope ya don't swallow a deer!!!

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NickPerry's picture

May 30, 2017 at 07:24 am

Yes the Patriots play in a weak division which obviously plays a huge role in determining playoff seeds. But they also NEVER stand pat with the roster they start the season with in September, always looking for ways to improve. Last season they acquired Eric Rowe in September and Kyle Van Noy before the trade deadline.

This season Brandin Cooks was their 1st round pick.
Kony Elay was their 2nd round pick AND they picked up a extra 3rd round pick in the trade.
Dwayne Allan was their 4th/6th round pick.

At the end of the day with moves like these it won't matter what division they play in. The Patriots are possibly better than the team that won the SB 4 months ago.

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croatpackfan's picture

May 31, 2017 at 04:16 am

It matters. Because Patriots players are much more spared after 16 season games. They have better health than many other team they'll face through postseason. Also, they may lose few games here and there, but they starts with 6-0 record.
Only AFC North and AFC West brings some challenges to them, like Steeler and either Ravens or Bengals and Chiefs, Raiders or Broncos... AFC South is almost incompetent as AFC East.
Look now at NFC. NFC South has some very dangerous offenses, NFC West is built on premium defenses, NFC East contains "never know which type of team shows" teams like Giants, Cowboys, Redskins and maybe this year Eagles. NFC North is much stronger than AFC East so Packers can not always calculate with 6 certain wins...
I think all this is real advantage Patriots posses...
But, they also have HC and QB who knows how to explore this advantage and that is very important fact why they have so good record...

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dobber's picture

May 31, 2017 at 08:31 am

"They have better health than many other team they'll face through postseason. "

They played the bulk of last season without their second most important player: Gronk. He shows up on the stat sheet in two games where he barely played...so really only 6 games last season. Look at what happened to the Packers in 2015 without their top offensive weapon (aside from #12). The Pats adjust and move on...most flexible team in football in a long time.

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croatpackfan's picture

May 31, 2017 at 11:36 am

Wow, they have one (ONE!) important player who was injured? Well, they have more than capable replacement. To remind you: Marty Bennett...

Nobody said that they are not high quality team. They are. But that is the reason why it is even easier to reach postseason...

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Handsback's picture

May 30, 2017 at 07:36 am

Jets, Miami, Buffalo, all have had one thing in common....disruptions in their front office. It shows on the field and with turnovers in coaches and players. It's a credit to the Pats and Packers that both teams have been steady and successful. I hope they play against each other in the SB this year!

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RCPackerFan's picture

May 30, 2017 at 07:41 am

I have wondered for a while how different the Patriots would be if they had stronger competition from their own division.
There is a reason why for many years it was the Patriots and Colts as the 2 teams competing the most in the AFC. Both played in very weak divisions, and it allowed the teams from the AFC North to beat up on themselves.

I would also argue that in the last however many years the NFC has been much stronger then the AFC.

Not taking away from the Patriots at all, but like Cory I do wonder how much the weak AFC East has benefited the Patriots over the years.

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Bearmeat's picture

May 30, 2017 at 07:42 am

GB's personnel office and possibly defensive coaches are the reason that GB isn't in the same league as the Pats, despite having a better QB. Yeah, I said it.

That said, NE does play in an all-time awful division, and that does matter. There's a HUGE difference between 11-5 and 14-2. That's the difference between sweeping your division annually, or going 3-3 in a good division. That absolutely does help with playoff seeding, which helps you get to the championship game at the very least.

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Since'61's picture

May 30, 2017 at 08:16 am

The Pats have been the best team of the free agency era. But when you review their Super Bowl play we find that they are one play away from winning all seven SBs or losing all 7 of their SBs. They should have lost their last two SBs but the games were handed to them by abominabal coaching decisions. Having said that they still needed to make the plays to win. Brady has been the differentiator for the Patriots and he has been there since the beginning of their playoff/SB run. The difference between the Pats and the Packers is that the Pats seem to do just enough to win the SB as indicated by their narrow margin of victory while the Packers do just a little bit less than necessary when you look at how they have lost in the playoffs. OT losses in '07, '09,'14 and '15. Each one play from victory. In regulation, one play away again in '13. Rodgers is the better QB IMO but Brady has been surrounded by a slightly better supporting cast, especially on the defensive side of the ball. As for legacies it depends on how and when you define/determine the legacy. Now we debate the strength of the AFC East vs. other divisions. But 20, 30, 50 years from now (if the NFL still exists) fans will only look back and see the 5 SBs (at least) that the Pats and Brady have won. Thanks, Since '61

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RCPackerFan's picture

May 30, 2017 at 08:53 am

Completely agree.

They could have easily won all 7 or lost all 7. The last 2 they should have lost for sure.
And your right that 50 years from now, no one is going to really think about the interception that Seattle threw at the goal line which cost them the Super Bowl. They will mostly look at who won and that Tom Brady won his however many rings it was at the time.

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dobber's picture

May 30, 2017 at 10:29 am

" The last 2 they should have lost for sure."

The bottom line is: they didn't.

We can talk about a lousy AFC-East and say it gave the Pats a leg up on the way to their success, but in the end, they still needed to win those games in January and February. THAT's where their success really is defined over this past many years. Usually at least one first-round bye team drops their first game in the playoffs every year. How often is it the Patriots?

Compare this to the Packers. I think the NFC-North is better for just the reasons cited above: over the course of the Packers 8-year playoff streak, in only two of them were the Packers the only NFC-N team in the post-season. Did that level of competition better prepare the Packers for post-season success? Do the Packers, despite having an HOF-level QB and an elite offense, have the same track record in January and February?

Nope.

It could be about the division. It's more about being good, flexible, and focused.

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Christopher Gennaro's picture

May 30, 2017 at 03:06 pm

Couldn't have said it better, my only addition would be that they still have to play 10 games a season outside their division. That usually means playing top teams in other divisions. In 50 years we will hear the name Brady, way more than Rodgers, unless the team can get him a few more rings. Doesn't matter about talent anymore, we live in a show me the hardware society.

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TarynsEyes's picture

May 30, 2017 at 08:37 am

Manning had the AFCS, Brees had the the NFCS, Rodgers had the NFCN, Elway had the AFCN, Brady gas the AFCE, Aikman had the NFCE, but none of them were able to do what the Patriots are doing though some will always find a bs " cheat " in the discussion to erase their jealously.

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Bert's picture

May 30, 2017 at 09:20 am

While I agree that the Pats have benefited by playing in the weak AFC East the NFC North hasn't exactly been a powerhouse either.

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dobber's picture

May 30, 2017 at 10:44 am

I think the true test of whether or not a division is good or poor is in the divisional scheduling and the group results...meaning: last year the NFC-N scheduled, across the board, the NFC-East and the AFC-South. All of a sudden, the trainwreck that was the NFC-East in 2015 was pretty good...and teams like Tennessee and Houston (without a credible QB) were playoff contenders, and even Indy made a run for awhile.

Keep in mind that the NFC-East also got fat on the AFC-N, which was a colossal trainwreck, but the AFC-South had to play the AFC-West. This is part of modern scheduling in the NFL and its impact.

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rajahking's picture

May 30, 2017 at 09:46 am

The Patriots have been to 7 Super Bowls and won 5 in the Tom Brady era. They are one of the best franchises ever.

To write "hard time saying that the Patriots are one of the best franchises ever" is Skip Bayless level silliness.

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BPEARSON21's picture

May 30, 2017 at 10:14 am

Here's a different take on their "weak division." Ever consider that it's weak because the dominant organization has made it weak? In other words, the Patriots have a created a "weak" division because the other teams are trying so hard to play catch up. Take the Pats out of the AFC East and the BIlls and Dolphins are 2 games better immediately.

I can draw comparisons from other sports. Look at college football. Everyone says the SEC has been "down" recently. Well that's not true the SEC has gone 65-32 in bowl games the last 10 years but they're over shadowed by the dominance of Alabama. Take Alabama out of the SEC and it instantly becomes the undisputed best college football conference.

People say the Eastern conference in basketball is weak because the Cavs win it every year (or the Heat before them). Well no, the East isn't weak (the Celtics were the 1 seed this year) but the Cavs dominance makes the rest of the East look so helpless. Take Lebron out of the East and the conference is totally up for grabs (go Bucks).

The Pats play in a weak division that they created through their dominance. Put them in the NFC East and the Redskins, Giants and Ravens turn into sub par teams because you can tak on 2 extra losses a year, basically every year.

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dobber's picture

May 30, 2017 at 10:45 am

"Look at college football. Everyone says the SEC has been "down" recently. "

The SEC has been down. The top of the SEC is still the best of college football, but it used to be that the bottom-feeders in the SEC were still better than the average teams in other power conferences. That's not the case the last couple seasons...the addition of Mizzou, TAMU, etc., have not benefitted the SEC. Bret Bielema is draggin' them down, too... ;)

"People say the Eastern conference in basketball is weak because the Cavs win it every year (or the Heat before them)."

People say the Eastern Conference is weak because for the last 15 years, 8 of the top 10 records in the NBA have come out of the West...and most of the weak sisters of the poor were in the East.

Who watches the NBA, anyway? With the preferential treatment star players get and the isolation game that dominates, it's like watching ice dancing.

"Put them in the NFC East and the Redskins, Giants and Ravens turn into sub par teams because you can tak on 2 extra losses a year,..."

Wow, they must be good if the impact of putting them in the NFC-East is felt as far as the AFC-North where the Ravens play... ;)

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BPEARSON21's picture

May 30, 2017 at 10:57 am

Dobber: you got me on the Ravens NFC-East.. I got a little ahead of myself... lol

But I personally really like the NBA. The 8/10 top records this year coming out of the West is interesting but I would argue 2 points:

1.) Those teams aren't matched up against Lebron 8-10 times a year.

2,) The Warriors just swept the Western Conference Play offs without losing 1 single game. People want to say the West is competitive... but not 1 team could take even 1 game against the Warriors. Doesn't seem any more competitive than the East when you think about it like that.

But again it goes back to my original point about Brady/dominance. Is the East really that weak or is Lebron really just that good? Is the AFC East just that weak or did that Pats dominance create a weak division.

Just a different way of thinking about it I guess.

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dobber's picture

May 30, 2017 at 12:51 pm

"Those teams aren't matched up against Lebron 8-10 times a year."

<confused look> LeBron who?

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jwub11's picture

May 30, 2017 at 11:25 am

Sometimes I think perception is different than reality. If you go back and just look at the combined records of the 2nd thru 4th place teams in the AFC east over the past 4 -5 years and compare them to the combined record of the 2nd thru 4th place teams of the NFC north the AFC east teams have more wins. How weak can the division be if the bottom three teams have a higher winning percentage than the bottom three teams in the NFC north ?

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Bert's picture

May 30, 2017 at 11:37 am

Agree jwub. The NFC North has been pretty weak. Let's be honest. The Bears, Lions and Vikes have been historically mediocre to bad teams. None have been able to build a sustainable contender for many, many years. Of course the Pats have benefited from a historically weak division. But let's not try to make the NFC North into some kind of powerhouse division either.

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dobber's picture

May 30, 2017 at 12:52 pm

I don't think the NFC-N has been a powerhouse, but I don't think it's been bad, either. I think it's been at least average.

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Bert's picture

May 30, 2017 at 08:31 pm

The big difference has been the QBs in the NFC North. Over past two decades there have been just two franchise QBs in the division. Both played for GB. Stafford has been ok but not great. Given the disparity in QB play and the disfunction of the FOs, other than GB, I'd say the Packers have had a pretty nice ride playing the North.

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cuervo's picture

May 30, 2017 at 11:47 am

"New England would be happy with splits against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Dallas, New York and Washington."

Funny, since 2000 New England is 9-3 against Baltimore, 10-3 against Pitt, and 4-0 against Dallas...so being happy with splits is fairy land dreaming.

Nice attempt at the article, but to answer the question of their legacy, NO...it's not affected. You could throw anyone in their division and it would make little difference. They are and have been the best all around team in the NFL for a Decade+...period.

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dobber's picture

May 30, 2017 at 12:54 pm

Do the Patriots have a losing record against anyone since 2000?

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jwub11's picture

May 30, 2017 at 03:11 pm

Denver.

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marpag1's picture

May 30, 2017 at 12:55 pm

"Does this team win that much in the AFC North? No way. How about the NFC East? Not a chance."

This is "fresh-from-the-butt" gibberish. Brady's winning percentage is HIGHER against the AFC North (.828) and the NFC East (.813) than it is against his own division (.789).

Here is a complete list of Brady's winning percentages by division. How do any of these numbers support the conclusions of this article?

NFC North - .875
AFC North - .828
AFC South - .821
NFC East - .813
AFC East - .789
NFC South - .750
NFC West - .667
AFC West - .621

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dobber's picture

May 30, 2017 at 01:40 pm

DATA!!!

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NickPerry's picture

May 31, 2017 at 07:14 am

Hard to argue with that. Thanks marpag1

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TXCHEESE's picture

May 30, 2017 at 04:09 pm

People can beat on the Pats about a weak division all they want. They still get the job done in the playoffs. Compare that to Indy in the turd of a division for years when Manning was there. They always wet their pants in the playoffs. Are they in a division with a bunch of crappy teams? Yes, but they can only play their schedule.

I for one admire how they never panic, or quit. SB 51 a perfect example of their mindset.

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LayingTheLawe's picture

May 30, 2017 at 10:24 pm

Winning the division doesn't matter, playoff entry doesn't matter. Isn't that what always is under discussion here?

The Patriots find ways to pull out games late while the Packers lose in overtime in playoff games. So yes the Patriots are a couple playoff plays better than the Packers.

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