What’s left for Bill Belichick?
He owns seven Super Bowl rings – five as head coach of the Patriots and two as the defensive coordinator of the Giants. He has 237 career victories, fourth most all-time behind Hall of Famers Don Shula, George Halas and Tom Landry. Belichick also is one of only a dozen coaches ever to win back-to-back NFL titles, a fraternity that includes Hall of Famers Chuck Noll, Shula, Vince Lombardi and Paul Brown.
About all that’s left is for Belichick to win back-to-back championships for a second time in his career – a feat so rare it’s been achieved by only two other coaches in history. Chuck Noll did it with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s, and Vince Lombardi did it with the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s.
But Noll did it with essentially the same cast of players, the same cast of Hall of Famers – nine of them off those Pittsburgh teams of the 1970s. Lombardi also did it with essentially the same cast of players, the same cast of Hall of Famers – 11 off those Green Bay teams in the 1960s.
Having won his fifth Lombardi Trophy last February, Belichick is again in position to win a second set of back-to-back championships. His first double came in 2003-2004 – but only one player remains from that team, quarterback Tom Brady. So Belichick has completely restocked his shelves in this bid to win back-to-back in 2016 and 2017. That would amplify the achievement.
There have been two other occasions in his career that Belichick has had a shot at back-to-backs, but his 2002 team missed the playoffs, and his 2015 team fell in the AFC championship game.
Repeating is hard. Repeating for a second time in one’s coaching career is considerably harder, which is why only Lombardi and Noll have done it in the NFL’s first 96 seasons.
Sixteen of the previous 50 Super Bowl champions failed to qualify for the playoffs the following season. Less them half of them (23) managed to win division titles. Four defending champs lost in the wild-card round of the playoffs the following season, 11 lost in the semifinal round and seven more lost in conference championship games.
So only 12 defending champions returned to the Super Bowl the following season, but only eight managed to win there. That’s a modest 16 percent rate of championship repetition.
The Patriots certainly appear to be the team to beat in 2017. They won 14 games a year ago and were one of only two teams to finish in the NFL’s Top 10 in both offense and defense. Since then Belichick has added an elite cornerback to the mix in free agency in Stephon Gilmore.
But the Chicago Bears sure looked like the team to beat in 1986, as did the Packers in 1997, the Rams in 2000 and Ravens in 2001. All were coming off dominant seasons and Super Bowl performances, and all were cast in the glow of a potential dynasty.
The 1985 Bears went 15-1 with Mike Singletary, Richard Dent and a defense for the ages. The 1996 Packers went 13-3 with NFL MVP Brett Favre finally emerging from of the NFC shadows of Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Steve Young. The 1999 Rams went 13-3 with NFL MVP Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf. The 2000 Ravens went 12-4 with Ray Lewis another defense for the ages.
But only the Packers made it back to the Super Bowl, where they lost to John Elway and the Broncos. The Bears and the Ravens both lost in the conference semifinal round the following season and the Rams didn’t even make it out of the wild-card round.
Which is why the deck is stacked against Belichick and his Patriots this season. Parity frowns on repeat winners.
But I’m not sure I’m ready to bet against Belichick … and Brady.