By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Here in New England, the common joke goes something like this: The Patriots’ season doesn’t really begin until the AFC Championship Game.
It’s a comment that’s made partly in jest, but it’s also rooted in reality. After all, the Patriots have made it a bit of an annual ritual to play in the AFC title game, and they’ve more often than not taken it a step further by reaching and/or winning the Super Bowl.
After playing in five AFC Championship Games from 2001-07, the Patriots are currently riding a streak of eight straight seasons reaching the conference title game. (They’ve gone 9-4 in those 13 appearances.)
It’s been quite the run, and everybody understands that. Still, sometimes you see something that adds a new layer of perspective, and it shows juuuuust how ridiculous this stretch has been for Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and a few hundred other men who have donned the Flying Elvis since 2001.
One such image flashed upon television screens late Monday night, as the Cowboys were on their way to a victory over the Giants. It came after a flashback to the Super Bowl-era days of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith, and it showed that after all of that early ’90s glory, the Cowboys have failed to even reach the NFC Championship Game since 1995. Since that last Super Bowl win, the Cowboys have missed the playoffs 13 times, and they own a playoff record of just 4-10. In the past 23 seasons, the Cowboys have failed to win a single playoff game 19 teams.
That failure to reach the conference championship is not exclusive to the Cowboys, as the ESPN graphic showed six teams that have failed to reach the conference championship since the Cowboys last made it there.
Dammmmmn ESPN going hard with this graphic. pic.twitter.com/4PJvWk4Y3H
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) November 5, 2019
The Texans didn’t exist until 2002, so they’ve had less of an opportunity than the other teams, and the Browns were on a little hiatus from ’96-’98, but it’s nevertheless striking to see that eight teams have failed to even reach the NFL’s equivalent of the semifinal round of the postseason over the past 23 seasons. In a league that claims parity above all else, having 25 percent of the league fail to contend for a title over two-plus decades is not an ideal scenario.
It’s especially interesting for the Cowboys and Bills. The Cowboys were 3-for-3 in Super Bowls in the early ’90s, while the Bills were a very, very sad 0-4, losing four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990-93.
The Bills are just 1-5 in their six playoff appearances since that final Super Bowl loss (to the Cowboys). The Bills have not experienced the thrill of a playoff victory since December of 1995, one day after Myles Garrett was born.
Garrett is of course a star for the Cleveland Browns, who selected him with the first overall pick in 2017. Since the Browns were rebooted in 1999, they have made four No. 1 overall picks; they have played in just one single playoff game during that same span. (They lost.)
The Dolphins played in a Super Bowl in Dan Marino’s first full season as a starting quarterback. The Don Shula-Dan Marino combination accounted for one more trip to the conference title game (a 19-point loss to the aforementioned Bills in ’92), but the Dolphins have gone just 4-9 in their nine playoff seasons since then. They haven’t won a playoff game since the 2000 season.
The Redskins managed to sneak in a Super Bowl victory (over the poor Buffalo Bills in 1991, just before the Cowboys seized control of the NFC East and the NFL at large. Since 1992 though, the Redskins made the playoffs just six times, going 3-6 in those opportunities.
The Bengals haven’t made it past the wild-card round since 1990, impressively going one-and-done in five straight seasons from 2011-15. They’re 0-7 in the postseason this century, and they haven’t won a playoff game since January 1991.
The Lions haven’t won a playoff game since Jan. 5, 1992. They are 0-8 since then.
The latest entrants into this most undesirable party, the Texans own a 3-5 playoff record since their inception in 2002. They have reached the divisional round three times; they have lost those games by a combined score of 95-57.
All the while, the once-dreadful New England Patriots have played in 14 AFC Championship Games since 1996. Thirteen of those title game appearances have come in the last 18 seasons.
Since 1996, the Patriots have played in the same number of AFC Championship Games as the Cowboys have played in total playoff games.
The Patriots have played in 13 AFC title games since the turn of the century almost two full decades ago; the Bills, Browns, Redskins and Dolphins have combined to play in just 11 playoff games in that same span. (The Patriots have played in nine SUPER BOWLS during that time.)
The Patriots are 33-13 in the playoffs (.717 winning percentage) since 1996, reaching 14 conference title games and 10 Super Bowls.
Since 1996, the Cowboys, Bills, Dolphins, Browns, Bengals, Redskins, Lions and Texans have played in 55 total playoff games. They are a combined 12-43 in those games, a .218 winning percentage.
The Patriots have a vastly better winning percentage in Super Bowls (.600) and AFC Championship Games (.714) than those eight other franchises have in all playoff games.
Maybe some of this is overkill. Maybe some of this is well-established. Some may even say that it’s irrelevant on Nov. 5, 2019. Whatever.
The point is that there’s really no one correct way to properly view this unprecedented run from Belichick, Brady and the Patriots. But every now and then, you get a reminder that whacks you upside the head and forces you to take a step back to say, simply, “Whoa.”
So, without further ado: