Alternate Jersey: Bill Baltimore

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A world where Bill Belichick is not in New England

There exists a large group of people who consider themselves fans of the New England Patriots. I believe it is safe to say that a lot of these people became fans of the New England Patriots around 2001, maybe early 2002. Half of the reason this came to be is due to the sudden and unexpected rise of Tom Brady replacing an injured Drew Bledsoe and leading one of the NFL’s punching bag franchises to their first Super Bowl win as ridiculous underdogs to the St. Louis Rams. The other half of that is due to the inspired and consistent leadership of coach Bill Belichick.

To put things in perspective, Belichick is currently the most tenured head coach in the NFL. He’s been the Patriots head coach for a whopping seventeen years, acquiring five Lombardi Trophies and only suffering one losing season during his first season with the team. His team has also won their division fourteen of those seventeen seasons. And often times he seems to do with players that have been tossed aside or brought up out of nowhere. The most notable, of course, being pick 199 Tom Brady.

What some of those Patriots fans might not be as aware of if they’re only interested in their own squad is that this is Bill’s second head coaching gig. From 1991-1995 he served as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. As a head coach, his win-loss column wasn’t as impressive as it is now, though he did manage to scrape together a playoff win against the Patriots in 1994. That playoff trip seemed to be a fluke as Belichick would suffer four losing seasons as Cleveland’s head guy.

That all being said, Belichick was considered a defensive mastermind and was a highly respected figure in the NFL after his twelve-year run with the New York Giants. The Giants went to two Super Bowls with Belichick on the coaching staff, prior to being named the Browns head coach. After a 5–11 season in 1995 and a huge franchise move looming over, the Browns fire Belichick. He would serve as an assistant coach, an interim head coach, and finally get the NFL changing job as the Patriots head coach. The rest is history.

But what if the Browns didn’t fire Belichick?

Any Cleveland fans reading this have very good reason to not be excited about this. As referenced to previously, Art Modell shipped the Cleveland Browns off to Baltimore with a shiny new paint job and team name. The newly formed Baltimore Ravens retained all of Cleveland’s old players which meant they got to keep a lot of the house that Bill built during his tenure.

Now that Bill is staying on, he gets to see the venture go through and the Ravens also don’t make the catastrophic mistake of hiring Ted Marchibroda as their new head coach. With Bill under the headset, the Ravens have consistency during their transition period. This also means that Bill Belichick and his big book of defense is going to start off in a new city with a newly acquired Ray Lewis in his defense.

Just sit on that information for a second.

Furthermore, Bill is also going to be working with Vinny Testaverde under center. The NFL’s greatest journeyman quarterback had an amazing year in 1996 for the Ravens, throwing for over 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns. But the Ravens still found away to go 4–12 even with a solid quarterback performance and a promising young rookie. But with Belichick keeping the team on the same page and aiming to trend upward by beefing up his defense, the Ravens pick up four extra wins against the Jaguars twice, the Oilers, and the Bengals. Finishing up with an 8–8 record and buying Bill some time as the head coach.

1997 and 1998 were general improvements for Baltimore under Marchibroda, so we’re going to really give Belichick some props here. Now a seasoned coach and getting to build off a winning offense, Belichick is able to finish a bunch of the close games the Ravens lost in 1997, pushing his team to a 10–6 record This happens even with an injured Testaverde towards the end of the season. Not enough to make a playoff push, but enough to keep Vinny in Baltimore instead of forcing the Ravens to make a run at Jim Harbaugh.

With another year of Vinny and Belichick in command and a commanding demonstration from Ray Lewis, The Ravens go 11–5 and knock the Jaguars down a peg as the AFC Central champions. But also keep in mind that Vinny was not a member of the New York Jets at this point. No! With Testaverde giving his amazing 1998 season to the Ravens, the Jets have to make the run at mediocre Harbaugh, costing them not just the two-seed, but a trip to the playoffs in general. Instead, the Miami Dolphins win the AFC East. None of this ends up mattering because no force on the planet was ever going to stop John Elway’s Broncos from riding off into the sunset with a Lombardi in tow.

In our real world, 1999 signaled a new era for Ravens football with the hiring Brian Billick. The Ravens aren’t going to be moving from an upward trending Belichick at this point, but there is a shiny new franchise who could use the services of a prolific OC: The Cleveland Browns. Billick was the bell of the head coach ball and was widely considered the favorite to win the Browns job. However, the Ravens managed to sign him within 24 hours of their initial interview.

With them off the table, the chance to start from scratch with a high draft pick and his shot at any rookie he could hope for would be too good to pass up. The Vikings coordinator takes the job, grabs Tim Couch in the draft as he was still the best looking prospect from the trio of quarterbacks coming out that year, and looks to lead the Browns to some kind of promised land.

But this is also where things get fun if you’re a Ravens fan.

As previously mentioned, 1999 ushered in a new, if brief, era for the Ravens. But like we said, Belichick is currently on a roll and rolling in defensive signings and draft picks. He’s also getting some great work out of Vinny Testaverde, so no need to have a changing of the guards at quarterback. Bill’s Ravens pick up four more wins, go 12–4, and snag a wild card spot away from the Dolphins. One of those wins they grab against the 13–3 Jaguars.

Which means we get a playoff reshuffle!

Your AFC Playoff Picture looks like this now:

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars
  2. Indianapolis Colts
  3. Seattle Seahawks
  4. Tennessee Titans
  5. Baltimore Ravens
  6. Buffalo Bills

Right off the bat, we erase the “Miracle at Music City.” Instead, Buffalo gets to square off against a much simpler Seahawks team and book a trip up to Jacksonville to face the Jaguars. Baltimore, however, goes up against their rival Titans, a team they got routed against in the regular season, and go down hard. The Jaguars pummel the Bills while Manning’s Colts manage to hold off the on fire Titans. From there, the Jags send the 2nd year starter packing and book themselves a dance with Kurt Warner’s “Greatest Show on Turf.” This is a nickname they’ll never get to truly claim because Jacksonville was utterly unstoppable against any team not named the Tennessee Titans. The little expansion that could end up with their first and only Super Bowl!

And then things get REAL interesting.

The all important year 2000. For years leading up to it, conspiracy theorists would debate how exactly Y2K would end the world. An Internet virus? All the clocks in the world crashing? The stock market plummeting? Random act of God? As it turns out, all Y2K yielded was an unstoppable force known as Belichick’s New England Patriots. But in THIS universe, that never comes to pass! Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t want to over hype this by any means, but Bill Belichick’s absence from the Patriots completely changes everything you know about NFL football in the 21st century.

The first hole we have to fill is who will be taking that New England coaching job. Now, full disclosure gang, we’re going to have to get very creative with who the Patriots go after. Robert Kraft was hell bent to get Belichick on his staff and did some things that were previously thought unthinkable to get him. For starters, Bill was looking to take over as the Jets head coach following in the footsteps of his mentor Bill Parcells. Secondly, Parcels was super unwilling to watch Belichick just walk on over to his team’s biggest rival and more importantly, over to a man Parcells had a massive beef with. Parcells and Kraft finally met in the middle, mended the fence, and gave the Jets a 1st round pick in order to nab the man who would bring their time five Lombardis.

Obviously, that option doesn’t exist. Parcells never gets Belichick, the Ravens are very happy with him right now, and Kraft is going to need to look elsewhere. Furthermore, the Jets are dealing with the impending retirement of Bill Parcells in 1999. So two AFC East teams are in the market with no Belichick in sight.

After reading articles, rumor mills, classic New York Times papers, and having my own personal Pepe Sylvia level meltdown, I have come to the same conclusion as Charlie Kelly: this mythical, other coach the Patriots would have been interested did not exist. So, we’re going to have to make a slight logic leap. Kraft clearly likes a defensive mind with a history of success. The Green Bay Packers had just parted ways with Ray Rhodes, a former NFL Coach of the Year who got ran out of town in Green Bay after failing to win more than 8 games for the first time since Favre assumed the starting job. Kraft could, in theory, see potential in a man with an illustrious track record with lots of experience and gives the fired coach another chance. The Jets still hire Al Rhodes. Sorry guys.

The Jets still hire Al Rhodes. Sorry Jets fans.

This finally brings us to 2000. You may recall that Baltimore managed to win this Super Bowl with the power of a dominant defense and Trent Dilfer managing to not totally blow it. In our world, Vinny Testaverde has not been an injury prone disaster and has managed to hang onto in 2000, immediately getting rid of any need to sign Tony Banks. Testaverde leads his Ravens team, a team he is quickly becoming the franchise guy for, to the Super Bowl with even greater ease than the Billick led squad. These Ravens go 14–2 and cruise their way into the big game where Testaverde completely slaughters the New York Giants and gives him that Super Bowl win he’s been wanting since 1987.

But who cares about 2000, we’ve all got one big question on our minds: What happens to the Patriots of Destiny in 2001?

First and foremost, Drew Bledsoe still goes down with an injury paving the way for the baby goat Tom Brady to assume the starter role. Yes, we’re going to still give the Pats Brady because Belichick was not the sole factor in the team landing him. In addition, Brady wasn’t exactly groomed to assume the future starting position, so we’re going to say that he was just as impressive in camps as he was under Belichick.

Now, I’m not here to answer the great debate of whether or not Tom Brady is a system quarterback or if he could succeed without the mastermind of Belichick behind him. What I am prepared to answer is this: Tom Brady isn’t the only factor that goes into a Patriot playoff run. Remember, Kraft hired a defensive coordinator to assume the coaching job and that coach has a lot of fire power to work with, including Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy. However, this Patriots team is going to lose two more games. Why? Remember how I said Ray Rhodes was run out of Green Bay? The biggest reason that happened was due to really terrible time management. So, an overtime win against the Bills? A close contest with the Jets? Forget about it.

So now the Dolphins take the number 2 seed with the Patriots just barely managing to edge the Seahawks for the 6th seed. Belichick’s Ravens suffer no hangover, Testaverde has a boosted sense of confidence, and the Ravens grab the number 1 seed from the Steelers with a 13–3 showing.

SO! Your 2001 AFC Playoff Picture looks like this

  1. Baltimore Ravens
  2. Miami Dolphins
  3. Oakland Raiders
  4. Pittsburgh Steelers
  5. New York Jets
  6. New England Patriots

Raiders fans can feel a bit more vindicated knowing that this time, they have home field advantage against the plucky Patriots. Since we’re changing history, we can go ahead and completely wipe out any mention of the Tuck Rule as the Raiders move on to the next round on the heels of more lack of foresight from Rhodes. The Jets come unglued at the hands of a terrific Steelers team, leading Pittsburgh to face their rival Ravens and the Dolphins to try and stop the Raiders.

Here’s where Bill’s team hits a bit of a hiccup. The Steel Curtain proves a bit much for Testaverde to handle as his age really starts to show and Pittsburgh edges out their rival (just as they did in our world) and move on to face the Raiders, fresh off a win against the Dolphins! The AFC Showdown favors Jon Gruden and Rich Gannon as the Raiders move on to the Super Bowl to face Kurt Warner’s Rams. This time St. Louis gets their Super Bowl, just a few years late to the party.

Brady is bustling with promise but will not have Belichick’s general manager props to build a team around him. Belichick, while seeing success in Baltimore, has not been offered the keys to being a general manager himself though definitely has earned the right to have some influence in the draft.

To put it in another way, with Rhodes running the New England show in year three, the Pats aren’t going to be developing the sheer defensive force they pulled together in the 2000s. In 2002, the Patriots will miss the playoffs with an 8–8 record which will spur the firing of Ray Rhodes after his third season on the team and an increasing belief that he does not know how to utilize Tom Brady. When 2003 rolls around and it’s time for New England to get themselves a new coach, the Patriots make another run at a defensively minded coach who was just fired from their team with a Super Bowl win under their belt: Tom Coughlin.

I want to make something very clear when it comes to quarterbacks — consistency matters. Good coaching matters. Super Bowl winning quarterbacks have had consistency at head coach. Tom Coughlin is a good coach. Heck, he’s even a better coach with his Lombardi on his shelf. But I want to make one thing very clear: he’s no Bill Belichick. Belichick’s Ravens have officially scourged the league levels due to Belichick reinforcing his defense and Testaverde emphasizing that he can make another run. But keep in mind, Tom Coughlin now has the 2003 Pats defense AND Tom Brady to work with. The two teams smash their way through their respective seasons until they meet in the AFC Championship Game. A game where age and experience win out over a still young Brady, booking the Ravens another trip to the big dance against the Carolina Panthers. A game that Bill’s Boys still win with no problems.

This where we’re going to say that Testaverde retires after grabbing two Super Bowls and deciding that the ripe old age of 40 is about a good place to call it a career. Leaving the Ravens without a clear answer at quarterback heading into a 2004 draft that was ripe with quarterbacks, but none the Ravens were going to have a clear shot at. In short, Eli and Rivers still swap spots (even without Coughlin vying for the younger Manning) and Big Ben still lands in Pittsburgh and the Bills get stuck with J.P. Losman. Belichick isn’t going to saddle his starting job to one of the many lesser quarterbacks taken in this draft, so he decides to draft…Kyle Boller.

The defending champions do okay the next two season under Boller. Two divisional round exits later and it gets close to time to kick Boller to the curb. No, now Belichick is going to have something extra special to work with for his 2006 campaign: Steve McNair. After ten years in Tennessee, Belichick sees a golden opportunity to grab a proven quarterback who could use some stronger weapons. Of which Belichick has an abundance of. Now, McNair actually DID become a member of the Ravens in our real world, leading the ragtag squad to a 13–3 finish. But under Belichick, the Ravens can snag two more close games and finish with a rock solid 15–1 record. The playoffs go great for the Ravens, steamrolling through Manning’s Colts (and winning that nail biter), banking another win against the Coughlin led Patriots, and embarrassing Grossman’s Bears in the Super Bowl.

For those keeping score: Belichick now has three Lombardis while the Patriots sit at 0.

Speaking of the 2007 Patriots, bye bye undefeated season. But do not say goodbye to their Super Bowl appearance. Brady hits his stride surrounded by a great team that Coughlin has built around him and coupled with a much easier schedule thanks to a flailing AFC East, the Patriots manage a 14–2 record (losing to Belichick’s Ravens and the Eagles for a brief two game losing streak) the Patriots land themselves in the playoffs, fending off McNair, Manning, and whatever the Jaguars managed to trot out, allowing them to go head to head against Brett Favre’s Packers! Yes! No Coughlin in New York means no insane playoff run. No insane playoff runs means Favre has a cakewalk through the NFC playoffs with no bizarre Giant curse holding him back. BUT, Coughlin will still get the best of the Gunslinger as the Patriots finally nab their first Super Bowl in franchise history.

McNair leaves the game in 2008, forcing Belichick into another quarterback quandary. Wanting to get some consistency for once, he will also pull the trigger on a trade with Houston to land Joe Flacco. Belichick will never need another quarterback and is able to pull off some amazing things with the young player. “But wait!” I hear you yell, shaking your laptop, “what about John Harbaugh?!” Our real world Raven’s long term coach doesn’t quite taste head coaching glory due to two important factors.

  1. The Ravens don’t interview him.
  2. Belichick can’t recommend Harbaugh as a head coach to the Ravens.

What Belichick CAN do, however, is coax the Eagles DB Coach to make the leap to defensive coordinator…on the Ravens. Yes folks, Belichick might not be able to recommend him for the job as Ravens head coach, but he does respect the man enough to get him on his team and prepare him for future coaching duties.

The Ravens are looking great in 2008 as Joe Flacco turns out to be a revelation of a quarterback. Under Belichick, the rookie really takes off, snagging a 13–3 record and pounding the Ravens way to yet another 1-seed; an amazing effort for a rookie. The entire AFC clenches tightly as they realize that Belichick has a young, dominating quarterback as well as a suffocating defense.

So let’s break down that AFC Playoff picture:

  1. Baltimore Ravens
  2. Tennessee Titans
  3. Miami Dolphins
  4. San Diego Chargers
  5. Indianapolis Colts
  6. Pittsburgh Steelers (after losing an OT game to the Ravens, they’ve been knocked down to an 11–5 record)

No first round bye for Miami as Big Ben and the Steelers easily leap frog over them. Peyton Manning’s Colts still suffer the upset against the Chargers. Pittsburgh now has to go to Baltimore for their big show down with the Ravens where Belichick holds the advantage and keeps Roethlisberger contained. The final show down comes down to the upstart rookie Flacco going up against Manning’s Colts after beating their rivals in Nashville. Peyton ends up getting the better of the rookie as Joe doesn’t quite perform on the championship stage. The Colts now face the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl. After running several simulations and considering the state of almost any defense Manning has had to work with as a Colt, I can with certainty tell you that Warner gets to ride off into the sunset delivering Arizona their first Super Bowl.

The Colts now face the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl. After running several simulations and considering the state of almost any defense Manning has had to work with as a Colt, I can with certainty tell you that Warner gets to ride off into the sunset delivering Arizona their first Super Bowl.

“Bill Belichick’s absence from the Patriots completely changes everything you know about NFL football in the 21st century.”

Flacco had a perfectly responsible sophomore outing with a few close losses in the 2009 season. After avoiding their three-game losing streak and managing a revenge win against the Colts, the Ravens end their season with a 12–4 record and the third seed in a very stacked AFC. And in that very stacked AFC are an up and coming Jets team being led by a former Ravens defensive coordinator with a bright future after being molded by Super Bowl winning coaches: John Harbaugh. AH YEAH!

After the Ravens big boom in 2008 and a very public grooming from the league’s most winningest active coach, the Jets pounce on Harbaugh to helm their team. And don’t worry about Rex Ryan. I’m sure he’s perfectly happy somewhere else with all the feet he can smell. The Jets do still take Mark Sanchez, but Harbaugh is a bit more of a quarterback whisperer than Ryan; he’s able to pull a little more out of his young quarterback. The Jets will still go 9–7 and make the playoffs heading into 2009.

Your 2009 AFC Playoffs:

  1. Indianapolis Colts
  2. San Diego Chargers
  3. Baltimore Ravens
  4. New England Patriots
  5. Cincinnati Bengals
  6. New York Jets

In a sheer act of “wait, what just happened?”, Harbaugh actually manages to beat his old boss with a great defense and some inspired play from Mark Sanchez, sending the Jets to face the Colts in the divisional round. Brady and company handle the Bengals with no problems and go on to take on the Chargers. The Colts repeat their victory over the Jets and the Patriots take the upset and defeat San Diego. Which means after eight long years we are finally being treated to Brady vs. Manning! This time, the advantage goes to the home team and Manning is heading back to the Super Bowl to try and finally get his Lombardi against the Saints. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go well as New Orleans still wins their trophy.

Belichick, staring at his trophy case and thinking it’s about time he had a fourth, kicks it into full gear in 2010. His Ravens go 14–2 with Flacco in year three, while Belichick protege John Harbaugh and his Jets manage to go 12–4 and skate past Coughlin’s Patriots for the win in the AFC East. So let’s take on THAT year now!

  1. Baltimore Ravens
  2. New York Jets
  3. Kansas City Chiefs
  4. Indianapolis Colts
  5. Pittsburgh Steelers
  6. New England Patriots

New England has no real problem beating the Chiefs and the Steelers edge out Manning’s Colts, sending the Patriots up to Baltimore and the Steelers to face off of against Harbaugh’s Jets. If Harbaugh can beat Brady before, better believe he can beat Big Ben. Homefield advantage is the big difference in this showdown as the Jets go to Baltimore to take on Flacco’s Ravens. The Ravens are just too much to handle this time around and Bill Belichick gets to go into a battle of wits against Aaron Rodgers and the 6th seeded Green Bay Packers. What happens in this game? The Ravens manage to defeat Rodgers and win their 4th Super Bowl win in the 21st century.

In 2011, John Harbaugh starts looking at his trophy case and is wondering why he’s unable to bring a Super Bowl into this world. He goes all in on Mark Sanchez, but without the other pieces that were previously great, the Jets quickly realize that Sanchez was not the key to their success. Seeing an opportunity, Coughlin and the Patriots shoot to the top of the AFC ladder in order to make it back to the Super Bowl to face off against Aaron Rodger’s Packers! Back for revenge! Remember, no Coughlin in New York means a very different team that narrowly avoids the playoffs and can’t capitalize on Eli Manning. The 15–1 Packers don’t hit a snag against the Giants and bring Brady his first Super Bowl loss.

In 2012, nothing too wild happens as Belichick rides a flaming hot Joe Flacco to his 5th Lombardi. 2013 is the year where things get interesting again. The Jets are in the market for a new quarterback and no, Harbaugh did not go after Tim Tebow or Geno Smith. They decide to take the stop gap route and attract Brian Hoyer before the Browns can grab him. It’s not a permanent solution, Harbaugh is just trying to buy time until the 2014 draft where he can grab an actual quarterback.

After the Seahawks take the Super Bowl, the Jets square themselves up nicely in the first round. This time, Derek Carr does not slip to the 2nd round, and the Jets select him with their 1st round pick. It’s not immediately gangbusters for them, but it is a step in the right direction. Oh, and don’t worry Raiders fans. Without Carr, you tank hard enough to snag that number one seed from the Bucs so you can draft Jameis Winston. The Bucs then take Mariota and the Titans are still very lost to this day.

So just to recap:

  • The Jaguars, Cardinals, Packers, and Saints all win the same number of Lombardis as the Patriots.
  • The Giants suffer blatant mediocrity.
  • The Ravens achieve the greatest NFL dynasty with three different quarterbacks.
  • The Jets land a quarterback of the future.
  • Peyton Manning has to wait until 2016 to win one Super Bowl.
  • We’d actually be entertaining the thought that Joe Flacco may be the Greatest Of All Time.

I wasn’t joking when I said that Bill Belichick remaining with the Cleveland Brown truly does reshape the entire history of the NFL. We view the Patriots, Tom Brady, and even the New York Jets in a completely different light. Talk about creating an alternate universe.

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