Winning the World Series of Poker Main Event requires a whole lot of skill, and with the field size now measured in the thousands, it also requires a whole lot of luck. As does winning any poker tournament, even the small field Super High Rollers that have caught on in recent years.
Professional football is quite similar, where unlike the other professional sports where championships are decided by a best of seven series, in football it’s one and done, which means luck and variance will play a larger role, in what is already a high variance game.
The best team doesn’t always win, just like the best player at the final table doesn’t always walk away with the bracelet. There are simply too many variables at play – weather, a strange bounce, an injury to a key player, a missed penalty, and so on. The phrase “On any given Sunday” exists for a reason.
With this in mind, and as the New England Patriots prepare for their sixth Super Bowl in the past 15 years, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the accomplishments of the Patriots over the past decade and a half and try to put them into perspective with the help of poker.
What Have You Done For Me Lately
The Patriots won the first three Super Bowls they appeared in during the Brady/Belichek era (managing to do so in a span of four years), but since then the team has gone 0-2, losing two incredibly close games.
The Patriots resume is the best in the NFL over the past 15 years, but with many people seeing the NFL in absolutist terms, fostering a “Super Bowl or bust” mentality, they consider the Patriots inability to “close out” a season with the Lombardi Trophy has tarnished their legacy a bit.
The Patriots went from winning three Super Bowls in four years, and on their way to immortality and the moniker of the best team ever, to not having won in a decade and people wondering if they even belong in the conversation with the 1980’s/1990’s 49ers, the 70’s Steelers, and the Packers teams from the 1960’s.
My feeling is, even if they lose to the Seahawks this year, the Patriots appearing in six Super Bowls in 15 years is utterly amazing. They’re accomplishments from their last Super Bowl is success most teams yearn to taste: Super Bowl appearances in 2007 and 2011, and 2014 (2014 yet to be played), 6 Conference Championship appearances with a 3-3 record, and a near perfect season in 2007.
In poker terms, what the Patriots have done since their last Super Bowl victory is a feat on par with Dan Harrington’s back-to-back final tables in 2003 and 2004 or Mark Newhouse’s back-to-back 9th place finishes in 2013 and 2014. Appearing in six of the last nine Conference Championships is something non-absolutists would consider more impressive than (or at the very least on par with) winning a Super Bowl, much like Newhouse’s and Harrington’s feats are considered.
Oh, and by Sunday night they’ll either be 3-6 or 4-6 in the Super Bowl over the past 15 years. Win or lose what they have done is impressive any way you slice it.
Comparing the NFL to the Big One for One Drop
It’s certainly not a perfect comparison but making the NFL playoffs is akin to making the final table of the Big One for One Drop tournament. Continuing with this theme, making the Conference Championship (the NFL’s Final Four) is akin to cashing in the One Drop event, which means just making it to the Super Bowl would be on par with playing heads-up for the One Drop crown.
By these metrics, if the New England Patriots were a poker player, they would have made nine out of 15 final tables, cashed six times, and gone on to play heads up for the title 6 times, so far winning three with one game in hand.
A poker player accomplishing this feat in One Drop tournaments would likely have won close to $100 million.
No matter how skillful they are (or think they are), if you offered a poker player the chance to either take those predetermined results or test their own skill and play One Drop 15 times and accept those results, they would take the Patriots results without even batting an eye, no one is egotistical enough to think they could better the results the Patriots have put up over the past 15 years.
Just ask the New England Patriots. Over their first 30 years in the NFL they made the playoffs nine times, went to the Conference Championship twice (and won them both), and were 0-2 in the Super Bowl.