Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The NFL's Final Four — Destined for Upset City?

Posted By on Tue, Jan 16, 2018 at 12:42 PM

The greatest two-man dynasty in the history of American team sports rolls on. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his quarterback, Tom Brady, will compete in their seventh straight AFC Championship this Sunday in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Only one other NFL team has played in as many as three conference championships over this period (the San Francisco 49ers). Belichick and Brady — say the names like Smith and Wesson — will be accompanied by 52 men dressed in Patriot uniforms, but they really don’t matter. Not a single one of them was in that uniform when Belichick and Brady won their first title after the 2001 season. This is Year 17 of a dynasty unlike any we’ll see again.
click to enlarge Tom Brady New England Patriots - JERRY COLI | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • Jerry Coli | Dreamstime.com
  • Tom Brady New England Patriots

Magic Johnson had what could be called a championship era with the Los Angeles Lakers. He won five championships over a nine-year period, but with two coaches and Hall of Famers like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy at his side. During those same 1980s, Wayne Gretzky won four championships with the Edmonton Oilers, but with Hall of Famers Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and Grant Fuhr playing supporting roles. Heck, Edmonton won the Stanley Cup two years after Gretzky left for L.A.

In football history, nothing comes close to what Belichick and Brady are doing. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ dominance in the 1970s had a peak that lasted seven years (1974-80) and claimed four Super Bowls. One Dallas Cowboys dynasty (1992-95) began 14 years after another one (1970-78) ended, less time than Belichick and Brady have spent making the rest of the NFL their orchestra.

No former teammate of Brady’s has yet been elected to the Hall of Fame for his achievements in New England. Randy Moss is on his way to Canton, but his years with Minnesota trump those he had on the receiving end of Brady’s passes. This is the Belichick and Brady show. Love ’em or loathe ’em, it should be appreciated for its singularity in the American sports storybook.

• If the Patriots play in their eighth Super Bowl under Belichick and Brady, they’ll do so against a trophy-starved franchise. The Philadelphia Eagles lost the only two Super Bowls they’ve appeared in while the Minnesota Vikings lost all four of theirs. (The Vikings technically have an NFL championship. They won the last title — in 1969 — before the league merged with the AFL, but they lost Super Bowl IV to Kansas City.)

A lot of good football has been played in the Gopher State since the Vikings last appeared in the Super Bowl after the 1976 season. The ’98 Vikings went 15-1 — one of only seven teams to win that many games in a regular season — but lost the NFC Championship in overtime to Atlanta.

Thirteen NFL franchises have never won the Super Bowl and three of them are playing in the league’s semifinals this weekend. And should the Vikings win in Philly, Minnesota will play the first home game in Super Bowl history.

• The last three Super Bowls have featured the top seeds from each conference. If that trend holds, a University of Memphis alum will make every field-goal attempt in Super Bowl LII. Stephen Gostkowski has led the NFL in scoring five times in his 12-year career with the Patriots, a feat matched only by Hall of Famer Don Hutson. The Eagles’ rookie kicker, Jake Elliott, broke all of Gostkowski’s records at the U of M. Elliott connected on 26 of 31 field-goal attempts this season and scored 117 points.

• Only two Super Bowls have been won among the six franchises the NFL has added since 1976. Tampa Bay raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the 2002 season and Seattle did so after the 2013 campaign. (The Baltimore Ravens, remember, are actually the relocated Cleveland Browns. Technically speaking, the current Browns’ atrocity is an expansion franchise.) Jacksonville put up 45 points at Pittsburgh — against the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense — last weekend. The Jaguars had the second-ranked defense in the league this season (behind only Minnesota’s). Belichick and Brady’s defense was ranked 29th (out of 32 teams) this season.

I’m calling upset this weekend. Jacksonville vs. Minnesota in Super Bowl LII.

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