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Alex Speier

Fortune favors football teams that start 6-0

Rob Gronkowski spikes after his fourth-quarter touchdown.
Rob Gronkowski spikes after his fourth-quarter touchdown.(Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)

FOXBOROUGH – Too early to say that the Patriots look like about a 50-50 shot to reach the Super Bowl with a 1-in-4 chance of winning it?

Perhaps not. After the Patriots survived their most significant challenge of the 2015 season with a 30-23 win over the Jets, New England improved to 6-0. History suggests that about half of the teams that accomplish that feat end up in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots aren’t viewing it that way, of course – or if they are, they certainly aren’t speaking in such terms. Asked if the Patriots’ perfect record is an accurate measure of the team’s ability, defensive end Chandler Jones was not interested in self-congratulation.

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“Not even close,” said Jones. “We have a long season ahead of us. We’re just taking it one week at a time. You can’t think about what’s going to happen or what has happened.”

Yet while that outlook is unquestionably the necessary one for the players, the bigger picture is a fascinating thing to examine when trying to define reasonable expectations for the Patriots going forward. In many ways, that bigger picture suggests that the Patriots will be busy well beyond the final regular season game on Jan. 3.

Prior to this year, since the NFL expanded to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, there have been 31 teams that got off to a 6-0 start. Of those, nearly half (15) reached the NFL’s final game of the season with eight finishing the year with Lombardi trophy in hand.

In other words, the most frequent outcome for teams to win their first six games has been a championship.

Overall, 29 of the 31 teams to start 6-0 during the 12-team playoff era reached the January tournament. On average, teams that opened the year with six consecutive victories wrapped up the year with a 13-3 record, with 65 percent (20 of 31) of those teams finishing the year with 13 or more wins.

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Only the 2009 Broncos (8-8), coached by Josh McDaniels, and the 2003 Vikings (9-7) failed to get to the playoffs after winning each of their first six contests of the season.

Of course, the Patriots aren’t alone on the NFL’s undefeated mountaintop this season. The Bengals, Broncos, and Packers, all of whom enjoyed Week 7 byes with 6-0 records in pocket, are likewise undefeated to this point.

Still, the last time – indeed, the only other time – that four teams started with 4-0 records, two of the four reached the Super Bowl, doing nothing to detract from the notion of the roughly 1-in-2 likelihood of a team with six season-opening wins playing for the title.

In 2009, the Broncos, Vikings, Colts, and Saints all started with 6-0 records. The aforementioned Broncos team flamed out; the Vikings lost in the NFC conference championship game to the Saints; and the Saints went on to beat the Colts, in a matchup of two teams that started 6-0.

That 2009 season is one of 10 instances under the NFL’s current format that has featured multiple teams that got off to 6-0 starts. In those 10 seasons, at least one team that started 6-0 got to the Super Bowl on eight occasions.

While the Patriots’ strong start is nothing close to a guarantee of what they will ultimately do, the ability of teams to separate themselves early is usually a pretty good indicator of the fact that they’ll continue to do so going forward, particularly if they do not rest on their laurels.

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“Very happy with the win; 6-0, it’s a good feeling,” said defensive end Rob Ninkovich. “But we’ve got to turn the page, right?”

More by Alex Speier

Six on the way to ...
How the 31 teams that started 6-0 performed over entire season (1990-2014)
REGULAR SEASON
Average wins 12.6
Average losses 3.4
8 wins 1
9 wins 1
10 wins 1
11 wins 5
12 wins 3
13 wins 10
14 wins 7
15 wins 2
16 wins 1
PLAYOFFS
Made playoffs 29 (93.5%)
Missed 2 (6.5%)
Lost in Wild Card Rd 3 (9.7%)
Lost in Division Rd 4 (12.9%)
Lost in Conference Rd 7 (22.6%)
Lost in Super Bowl 7 (22.6%)
Won Super Bowl 8 (25.8%)
SOURCE: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.