One topic of discussion in the lead up to Super Bowl LIII has been where a victory on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams would rank for New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Good question. After all, this is Belichick's ninth Super Bowl, and he has won five of them.
But first, stop for a moment to consider those numbers: Nine Super Bowls. Five wins. Twelve NFL franchises have never won a Super Bowl. Four have never played in one.
It truly is amazing that Belichick is pursuing his sixth Super Bowl win when almost 40 percent of a 32-team league has no Super Bowl wins.
What makes that record even more incredible is that Belichick could well be 0-8, or perhaps 8-0, in his Super Bowl career.
Every one of the Patriots' Super Bowls under Belichick has been close. In a game that was once so closely associated with blowouts, not one Patriots win – or loss – has been by more than eight points.
The average margin of victory in Belichick's five wins is 3.8 points, with his largest margin of victory, six points, coming in overtime against the Atlanta Falcons two years ago. The average margin in the three losses is five points, with the biggest defeat coming in last year's 41-33 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
For some teams, a play or two somewhere within a 60-minute game is the differentiator. For Belichick, that decisive play has more often than not been one of the last of the game.
Given how close all the Patriots' Super Bowls under his guidance have been, ranking their triumphs is not an easy task. However, on the eve of what the Patriots hope will be another coronation, we have given it our best shot.
5. Super Bowl XXXIX: February 6, 2005: Patriots, 24, Eagles 21
Although the game was tied at 14-14 going into the fourth quarter, this one did not have a nail-biter of an ending. The Eagles' final points, on a touchdown pass, came with 1:48 to play to make it 24-21, then head coach Andy Reid's struggles with time management meant Philadelphia took far too much time off the clock, handing arguably the greatest coach of all time an extra advantage history tells us he probably did not need.
4. Super Bowl XXXVIII, February 1, 2004: Patriots 32, Panthers 29
In one of the more underrated Super Bowls of the 21st century, the Patriots held off the underdog Panthers in a thriller, Adam Vinatieri connecting with a 41-yard field goal with four seconds remaining to break Carolina hearts.
3. Super Bowl XLIX: February 1, 2015: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24
In one of the most amazing turn of events in Super Bowl history — maybe even American sports history — the Seahawks inexplicably called a pass play from the Patriots' one-yard line with 26 seconds on the clock and Malcolm Butler intercepted Russell Wilson, writing his name in Patriots folklore.
On the previous play, Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, in full 'Beast Mode', had powered forward for four yards on first down. To this day, fans still cannot believe coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell bypassed another Lynch run. Belichick was fortunate they did, but that stroke of luck should not take away from the Patriots, led by an inspired Brady, overturning a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter against one of the best defenses of modern NFL history.
2. Super Bowl XXXVI, February 3, 2002: Patriots 20, Rams 17
The Rams overcame a 17-3 fourth-quarter deficit and tied the score with 1:30 to play in regulation. With no timeouts, Brady drove the Patriots down the field, and Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal as time expired. The Rams 'Greatest Show on Turf' offense was left to deal with the agony of defeat despite outgaining the Patriots 427 yards to 267 in what is perhaps still Belichick's best coaching performance.
1. Super Bowl LI: February 5, 2017: Patriots 34, Falcons 28 (OT)
Atlanta led 28-3 midway through the third quarter and appeared destined to deal the Patriots their most crushing Super Bowl defeat until Brady led the biggest and most famous comeback in the history of the game. New England tied things up with 57 seconds left in regulation. The Patriots subsequently won the overtime coin toss and at that point the outcome felt inevitable, with Brady going on to engineer a 75-yard game-winning drive, capped by James White's two-yard run.
The 2018 version of Rams possess an offense of similar potency to the Falcons' 2016 vintage, and the Patriots appear comparatively lacking in elite talent. However, few are picking against Belichick and Brady after their heroics in this postseason and, unless a prospective victory is of the same spectacular mould, their road to Atlanta - specifically the AFC Championship Game win over the Chiefs in Kansas City - will be remembered as a greater achievement than a defeat of Los Angeles.