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Pats' Success Has Been Helped By Weak Division

New York Jets v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The three main topics of this offseason, Tannehill getting injured and being replaced by Cutler, the inordinate number of players who have gotten hurt during training camp, and whether or not the Dolphins can return to the postseason this year, have been discussed and debated ad nauseam for weeks now, so let's talk about one of the big stories in the national press these days, whether the New England Patriots can go 19-0, and how this year's team compares to various Patriots squads from years past.

If we want to compare the 2017 Patriots team to the 2007 version, there really is no comparison; that '07 roster was stacked from one end to the other, and had two of the best wideouts ever, in Randy Moss and Wes Walker. They also boasted a defense that featured mammoth NT Vince Wilfork, stud DE Richard Seymour, safety Rodney Harrison and linebackers Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel. Tom Brady was also 30 years old, not 40. While talk of New England going undefeated might make for good copy in the dog days of Summer, it would appear to be much less likely for the Pats to run the table this season than it was eleven years ago.

The other thing that isn't mentioned nearly as much as it should be is just how mediocre the AFC East has been, as a whole, for the past decade and a half or so. Although the division was relatively competitive during the early 2000's, the Dolphins, Jets, and Bills have seldom qualified for the postseason since then. In fact, Miami has made the playoffs just twice since 2003 while Buffalo hasn't been in the postseason since the Music City Miracle' game against Tennessee in January 2000. Although NewEngland has, without question, been one of the top teams in all of sports for many years, they've also benefited from the luxury of being able to play against some of the worst teams in the league over that time frame, as well.

Over the 17 year period that began in 2000, the New York Jets have actually won more games than any AFC East team, other than New England. Since the 2000 season, they've won 146 games, for an average of 8.59 wins per year. They are the only team other than the Patriots that has posted a winning record since 2000. The Dolphins have won 131 games since 2000, but even that mark is somewhat misleading because they were a playoff team during the early part of Dave Wannstedt's tenure in Miami. Wannstedt was fired after the 2004 season. The Fins are still under .500 since 2000, though, with 7.70 average wins per season since then. You really can't blame Bills fans for being a little bit impatient with their team; not only has Buffalo failed to qualify for the postseason for nearly two decades, they've also won just 110 games since the 2000 season, for an average of 6.47 wins per year.

So, what can we take from all this? For starters, the Patriots have enjoyed a relatively soft schedule, for the most part; when six of your games are against teams that generally finish under .500, you're going to have a great starting point from which to make a playoff push. It's not like the NFC East, where, in any given season, two or three teams are at least competitive; in our division, the only real threat to New England in recent years was the Jets, in 2009-10, during Rex Ryan's first two seasons with the team. While the Dolphins beat the Pats at home in 2009, 2013, '14 and '15, the gap between the two teams seemed to grow larger last season, although at least some of that was probably due to injuries.

With Tom Brady now 40 and coach Bill Belichick into his mid 60's, the Pats obviously can't remain on top of the NFL forever; hopefully, the Dolphins will unseat them from their perennial seat atop the division sooner, rather than later.