The New England Patriots can clinch the AFC Division title with a win or tie on Sunday, their 14th division crown since 2001.

The 2001 season is where the Bill Belichick & Tom Brady dynasty as we know it began. It’s hard to imagine but the Patriots were an underdog and big surprise en route to a shocking Super Bowl victory over the high-scoring St. Louis Rams.

Back then, however, it wasn’t hard to imagine, especially for a lot of media folks who followed the Patriots. Coming off two non-playoff years and a 5-11 finish in 2000, not much was expected of the 2001 squad. That was made very evident by a look back at all the takes of the time.

Back in 2000 after the Pats finished their worst season in seven years, the Boston Herald went all-in on this Bill Belichick character, who clearly didn’t have what it takes.

Belichick, the perceived catalyst of Kraft’s “momentum change,” has not only failed to arrest the Pats’ downward spiral, he has accelerated it. The Patriots got gradually worse under Carroll (going from 10-6 to 9-7 to 8-8 in his three years). Under Belichick, the team finished 5-11 in his first season.

The future is not exactly bright. The Pats have a high first-round choice this year (No. 6) and could have some money to spend in free agency, but the roster has so many holes that one more offseason of personnel moves probably won’t be enough to get the team back on top. There are also questions as to whether Belichick, who fired former personnel director Bobby Grier in May, is the right man to be shopping for the groceries.

This is where the Pats stand they enter 2001.

Following the 2000 season, Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan didn’t think much of most Boston sports teams, but especially the Pats.

Sixteen games is more than enough to see that the Patriots do not have enough good players to contend. The last four drafts have ruined them. But who expected to see such an undisciplined and flat-out stupid team? That comes back to the coach.

They do not, N-O-T, need a quarterback. It is somewhat understandable if people here suffer a bit from Running Quarterback Envy when they see the young mobile types scurrying about, but Drew Bledsoe is not the problem. If Tampa Bay had him, it would be looking at a 14-2 season. The more you see this guy, the more admirable he becomes. He is ram-tough and now he’s even running for first downs himself on occasion.

Boston Globe columnist Ron Borges chimed in following the 2001 NFL Draft and found Patriots draft picks Richard Seymour and Matt Light to be terrible decisions.

Seymour became one of the best defensive lineman in the NFL and Light became a Pro Bowl offensive lineman.

A March commentary in The Enterprise wondered whether Bill Belichick even knows what he’s doing.
When it comes to building – or, in his case, rebuilding – to this point, it seems Belichick has no idea where to begin.

A Pro Football Weekly column also from March even went as far as to say the Patriots are the NFL team most set up for failure, at least according to “NFL insiders.”

The question posed to NFL insiders was: Which team had the least chance of making the playoffs or going to the Super Bowl in the next five years? The Patriots were a unanimous choice…

An April 2001 column in the Hartford Courant was hopeful that the upcoming season would be a work in progress with slight improvements over the five-win previous year.

The Patriots  have not added any big name players since last season. But if their new additions translate into, say, an offensive line that’s 30 percent better, maybe Bledsoe has one more second to throw and Redmond has a bigger opening to run through, little things that can be the difference between their 8-8 record of 1999 and 5-11 last season. That’s not great, but it would be progress.

Man, the 2001 Patriots sound like they’re going to be terrible. We wonder how that played out…

About Sean Keeley

Sean Keeley is the creator of the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and author of 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, Neighborhoods.com, and many other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle.