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Saints and Patriots Remain NFL's Standard Bearers

Few NFL franchises have carried the flag for their respective conferences like the Saints and Patriots have in the last decade. From groundbreaking coaches to Hall of Fame quarterbacks, lets take a look at the impact these franchises have made over the last eight years.

David Banks

For nearly a decade, the New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots have been synonymous with fantastic players, phenomenal coaching, and setting trends in the NFL. While some may sneer and point to "Spygate" and "Bountygate," both franchises have moved past these issues and have continued to succeed despite them. Two franchises built with similar infrastructures and equal expectations from the front offices to the fan bases.

The Patriots lead a group of elite AFC franchises that have owned the conference for well over a decade now. Since 2000, only the Patriots, Steelers, Colts, and Ravens have won the Super Bowl for the AFC. Thirteen years of elitist dominance and the Pats have reigned over the rest with five Super Bowl appearances and 3 Super Bowl victories in this span. Like them or not, New England has earned their place in the NFL elite.

It's not often that you get the chance to see absolute masters of their craft go head-to-head like this

The combination of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have been ruthlessly efficient and maddeningly successful since 2001, no other pairing really comes close in the AFC. Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger have 1 ring and 2 Super Bowl appearances together, while Baltimore's John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco have a ring together in their only Super Bowl appearance. That's it, Belichick/Brady are the AFC's best, hands down.

The Saints are one of only four franchises to win the Super Bowl for the NFC in the same time frame, those being the Buccaneers ('02), Saints ('09), Packers('10), and Giants ('07, '11). While the Patriots have a clear advantage in the Super Bowl department, the Saints have held their own in a wide-open NFC, as only 5 teams have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl since 2000, while 11 teams have represented the NFC in the same timeframe.

The combination of Sean Payton and Drew Brees have been every bit as efficient and successful as the Pats' duo since their union in 2006. The only pairings in the NFC anywhere close are Green Bay's Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers with a ring in their only Super Bowl appearance, and New York's Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning with 2 rings in 2 Super Bowl appearances. Now, although the Giants' duo have the ring advantage over New Orleans, they seem to find themselves pissing it all away a few years later, like a bad gambler who got really hot a couple of times.

No pairings available in the NFL are more respected and feared than Payton/Brees and Belichick/Brady. Would you chose any of the other pairings mentioned over them? I wouldn't. I can say with certainty that this era of the NFL will be remembered for these pairings, as the Sixties are remembered for Lombardi/Starr, the Seventies for Noll/Bradshaw, the Eighties for Walsh/Montana, and the Nineties for Johnson/Aikman as well as Shanahan/Elway.

Since 2006, the Patriots have won 92 games (including this season) for an average of 12 wins a season. During the same span, the Saints have won 74 games (including this season) for an average of 10 wins a season. This average ties the Saints with the Packers in the NFC during this span, and no other team has really been close. The Giants, averaging 9 wins a season (before this dreadful year) are second.

The Patriots, while reviled by many, are the standard bearers for the AFC. Similarly the Saints, even though they have a way to go with the titles, are setting the standard for the NFC. This is the reason this weekend's game at Gillette Stadium is so anticipated. It's not often that you get the chance to see absolute masters of their craft go head-to-head like this. The last time these two played, in 2009, was arguably the game where the Saints turned the corner from Super Bowl hopefuls to Super Bowl favorites. It was on that Monday night that I realized the Saints may very well actually win the Super Bowl, and the rest was history.

I may not like the Pats, but I respect them, and I'm sure so do Sean Payton and the Saints. Coach Payton may dig deep down in his bag of tricks for extra motivation for this game, but it shouldn't even be necessary, really. This game, like the 2009 game in New Orleans, will be measuring stick game. This time though, it will be a measure of both franchises, as the Saints have arrived, and they are looking to supplant the team they emulated eight years ago.

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