How Do We Define a True NFL Dynasty?

Mike Hoag@MikeHoagJrCorrespondent IIJanuary 17, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:   Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates with head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots after defeating the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots defeated the Baltimore Ravens 20-23.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The New England Patriots built a dynasty under Bill Belichick in the opening years of the 21st century. But what are they now, having lost in their past two Super Bowl appearances and still putting a top contending team onto the field each and every season?

Better yet, what defines a dynasty in today’s NFL?

Is it a matter of Super Bowl wins? Or is it something infinitely more complex? When is it okay to say that an era, or dynasty, has come to an end?

We’ll break that all down for you in the paragraphs that follow.


Defining the Term: Dynasty

Is the term, which indicates dominance over an extended amount of time, limited to Super Bowl success? It is hard to pin the label of dynasty onto a team with just that as a qualifying accomplishment, but in the NFL that is what determines success more than anything else.

You can quantify success or “progress” in a multitude of different ways, but at the end of the day it is meaningless if not supported by the hardware.

It is possible, though, to have a dynasty without winning the Super Bowl every year, but still fielding a team that is expected to compete or win the Lombardi Trophy each season. But, it is not possible to label a competitive team that does not win the big game multiple times in a short time period as a dynasty.

For example, the Baltimore Ravens have been competitive for the better part of the last decade but have only one Super Bowl trophy to show for it.

Not a dynasty.

The Patriots, though, have three Lombardi Trophies, five Super Bowl appearances, a perfect season and have won the AFC East 10 times in the last 12 years.

That level of sustained success has continued and the team is a continual top contender each and every season.


Shelf Life

The clock is always ticking on a dynasty as soon as everyone becomes aware of its existence. The target that is on the Patriots right now won’t go away until they start to lose on the field for an extended amount of time.

The Patriots, whom we are using as an example, failed to make the playoffs despite finishing 11-5 in 2009. That was the season when Tom Brady watched from the sidelines after undergoing knee surgery after the season opener.

They bounced back in 2009 and continued right where they left off.

That dynasty survived that “down year” and is still prospering today.

So, then, a noticeable decline in play for two consecutive seasons is a fair criteria to label as the “decline” of a dynasty.

Also, the transition of key personnel often times leads to a change in the perception and success of a franchise. If Brady were to retire and the Patriots still made the playoffs for a couple of seasons and were eliminated quickly, the perception and stature of the organization would be greatly diminished.

No longer a dynasty.


Wrap Up

The best way to think about a dynasty in the NFL is to equate consistent winning with postseason and Super Bowl success over time. A team can’t have postseason success without a Lombardi Trophy and claim a dynasty.

Likewise, a team can’t hoist the trophy one or two times in the span of a couple of seasons and claim a dynasty, either.

The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s were a dynasty. But the team of the last decade, although winning two titles, does not qualify.

Pittsburgh is competitive but would need to win more Super Bowls within proximity of one another in order to get that distinction.

It’s hard to have more than one dynasty at a time, too, because of the strict criteria we’ve discussed. The Pats have had their time.

Who, if anyone, will step up next and assert themselves as the league’s dominant franchise for the next decade?