Lots of handwringing over losing a road game to an elite team that played great by one score. Listening to sports talk radio this week, hearing about the demise of the Patriots, etc., etc.. It got me thinking. What is a realistic year-to-year expectation for this franchise? I've mentioned things like this in the past, but I'll do it again, just to give some perspective. *The great Steeler dynasty of the 1970s, during their 8-year run of greatness, won the SB four times but *didn't* win the SB four times as well. *The great Cowboys teams from 1991-1998 won three SBs (all of them early in the run), had 7 out of 8 seasons where they won 10+ games, had one losing season, and *didn't* win the SB in 5 of those 8 years. *The great Colts' run in this decade, from 1999-2010 (let's not count this year), featured 11 of 12 seasons with 10+ wins, two SB appearances, and one SB title. But in 11 of their 12 years, they *didn't* win the SB. *The great Steelers' run in this decade, from 2001-2010 (again, let's not count this year), featured 7 of 10 seasons with 10+ wins, 2 SB titles, 3 SB appearances, and 8 of the 10 seasons where they *didn't* win the SB. *The Dolphins had an awesome extended run from 1970-1985, 16 seasons, but that can be broken up into two periods: the Griese era and the Woodley/Marino era (yes I know Griese played several years before this run, and Marino's run lasted past 1985...but I'm just taking the best chunk of these years). In the Griese era (1970-1979), they won 10+ games 9 of 10 years, went to 3 SBs, and won 2 SB titles, but had 8 of 10 years where they *didn't* win the SB. In the Woodley/Marino era, lasting 6 seasons, they won 10+ games 4 times and didn't even get to a SB. In total, in these 16 years, they had 12 seasons of 10+ wins, 3 SB appearances, and 2 SB titles. *The great 49er teams with the longest sustained run of dominance, from 1981-1998 (18 seasons), can also be broken up into two parts, but their continuity seemed to be more seamless than with the Dolphins, because they went right from Montana to Young. In the Montana era (1981-1990), they had 9 of the 10 seasons with 10+ wins, went to 4 SBs, and won 4 SB titles. In the Young era (1991-1998), they had 8 of 8 seasons where they won 10+ games, went to one SB, and won one SB title. In total, in these 18 years, they had 17 of the 18 years where they won 10+ games, went to, and won, 5 SB titles. Meanwhile, let's look at the Patriots' run from 2001-2010. In those 10 seasons, they won 10+ games in 9 of them, went to 4 SBs and won 3 SB titles. So back to the question: What is a realistic (not a fantasy) expectation for this team on a year-to-year basis? Even the great Joe Montana went three years without winning a playoff game (1985, 1986, 1987 - lost in the 1st round all 3 of those seasons, once, inexplicably, to an 8-7 Minnesota Vikings team by 12 points at home). In my view, a realistic expectation is that, every year, this team wins 10+ games, is in the fight for the AFC East division title, and, given the crapshoot that the NFL playoffs are in their one-and-done format, has at least a puncher's chance to get to the SB. I think that's realistic in both ways - i.e., they should be good enough with their coaching and personnel to pull that off, but it also takes into consideration just how damned hard it is to win it all, and gives credit to the other really, really good teams in the league as well, who also have good coaching and good players. Of course I'd like more than that. But to *expect* more than that is not realistic and, frankly, not fair.