The New England Patriots played a hard-fought game against the Buffalo Bills in Week 16, but came away with a 24-17 victory. The win pushes the club’s record to 12-3 and in a very good spot to earn a first-round playoff bye. But it also means that the Patriots can now also add to its legendary trophy case: New England has officially won the AFC East again.
Saturday’s game sealed the deal for a Patriots team that has now captured it 11 seasons in a row — extending its own NFL record and bringing the total number of AFC East championships since the NFL-AFL merger to 21. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers have been more successful when it comes to winning division titles since 1970, having earned 23.
To get a sense for just how incredible winning 11 straight division titles is – the longest active streaks that are not held by the Patriots belong to the Kansas City Chiefs, who have been able to capture the AFC West four years in a row, and a New Orleans Saints team that earned the NFC South title three straight times. New England is playing in a different league when it comes to sustained success, even historically speaking.
The longest streak in history before the Patriots broke it was seven straight division titles held by the Los Angeles Rams of the late 1970s. New England’s current run of excellence is an unprecedented, especially considering that it takes place in the salary cap/free agency era that has been implemented in the 1990s to bring parity to the NFL and get all the teams back to the mean after some short period of time at the top.