By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
HOUSTON (CBS) — You hear a lot these days in New England about goats — or, more accurately, the GOAT, as in the Greatest Of All Time.
It’s a phrase that tends to get thrown around a bit too liberally in conversations, as it’s impossible for so many people to singularly be “the greatest.”
Yet Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots franchise have the chance to enhance their case as the greatest.
Here’s a look at exactly how.
This one’s simple: Brady can win the game and pass his idol.
With four Super Bowl wins already under his belt, Brady is tied for the most in history with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. Getting number five would go a long way in advancing the case for Brady as the greatest quarterback in history. Even if that debate may never be objectively settled, it will at the very least make the case undeniable that Brady is the most accomplished quarterback in history.
That might already be the case.
In postseason touchdown passes, Brady ranks first all time, with 61. Montana ranks second, with 45.
In postseason victories, Brady ranks first all time, with 24. Montana ranks second, with 16.
In postseason passing yards, Brady ranks first all time, with 8,628. Peyton Manning ranks second, with 7,339. Brett Favre is in third place at 5,855.
He owns the record for Super Bowl touchdown passes, Super Bowl passing yards and Super Bowl starts.
He’s also tied with Montana for most Super Bowl MVP Awards (3), another record that could belong to Brady by the end of Sunday.
Even if he loses in the Super Bowl for the third time, Brady need not worry about setting a record for Super Bowl losses by a starting quarterback, as Jim Kelly owns an 0-4 mark in that department. Fran Tarkenton also went 0-3 in the Super Bowl.
While a common argument for Montana over Brady involves Montana’s perfect record in Super Bowls vs. Brady’s 4-2 Super Bowl record, Brady has done all that he can to prove how that’s an insufficient measure. Brady is now 24-9 in the playoffs, while Montana was 16-7.
While the difference between 25-9 and 24-10 should not make a significant difference, the fact is this Super Bowl victory will make the case for Brady as the greatest of all time as close to irrefutable as it could ever be.
Like his quarterback, Bill Belichick already stands alone in important postseason categories. Namely, wins.
With 25 playoff wins already on his resume, Belichick is the all-time leader, five ahead of Tom Landry. The closest active coach is Andy Reid, who has 11.
But with a victory, Belichick can break a tie with former Steelers coach Chuck Noll for the most Super Bowl victories of all time. They’re currently at tied at four apiece.
He’ll be the head coach of his seventh Super Bowl, which is the most of all time, breaking a tie with Don Shula. And when adding in his three Super Bowls as an assistant coach with the Giants and Patriots, his 10 Super Bowls as a coach also rank him at No. 1 of all time. Dan Reeves is second with seven.
Realistically, there’s little chance that the 64-year-old Belichick makes progress up the list of all-time regular-season victories. Provided he coaches for at least one or two more years, he’ll pass Tom Landry for third all time. But after that, he’ll still be 67 victories behind George Halas at No. 2 and 77 victories behind Shula atop the list.
So he’ll never be considered the winningest regular-season coach of all time. But a fifth Super Bowl title would essentially seal the deal on Belichick serving as the defining image of “winning.” And that’s what the game is all about.
Though the first 40 years of the Patriots franchise are remembered more for losing than anything else, the team did of course reach the Super Bowl in 1985 and 1996. When those two are added to the seven Super Bowl trips in the Brady/Belichick era, it gives the Patriots nine Super Bowl berths, which is more than any other team in NFL history.
The business of ranking the greatest dynasties becomes a bit murkier than with the individuals. But for the sake of laying things out, here’s how the great dynasties compare:
San Francisco 49ers, 1981-94: Nine championship game appearances, five Super Bowl appearances, five Super Bowl wins in 14 years
Pittsburgh Steelers, 1972-79: Six championship game appearances, four Super Bowl appearances, four Super Bowl wins in eight years
Dallas Cowboys, 1992-95: Four championship game appearances, three Super Bowl appearances, three Super Bowl wins in four years
New England Patriots, 2001-16: Eleven championship game appearances, seven Super Bowl appearances, four Super Bowl wins in 16 years
As you can see, the Patriots have a healthy lead in Super Bowl appearances, albeit with some added years. But one more Super Bowl victory with Belichick and Brady at the helm will put the Patriots in rarefied air.
And it’s that coach-QB tandem that makes the Patriots unique, as the 49ers won their five Super Bowls with two different quarterbacks and two different coaches.
What’s interesting is where the Patriots rank in all-time postseason victories. They’re currently fourth with 31, behind the Steelers (36), Cowboys (34) and Packers (34) — three teams that are generally considered to be the league’s best historic teams, and teams that had a considerable head start on the Patriots.
Ultimately, it will be that progress that will stand as the mark of this era in Patriots history. Hundreds of players have filtered in and filtered out of the system, but for as long as Brady and Belichick have been the faces of the franchise, a new standard for success in the NFL has been defined. A Super Bowl victory on Sunday will only add to that.