Posted by: dvolpe | December 19, 2009

The State of the NFL: Does Parity Still Exist?

For years there was talk of the great parity in the NFL, but recently it seems that gap between competitive teams and non-competitive teams is widening.

For a long time after trotting out stats showing how seldom losing teams return to the Superbowl, or how seldom even the winning teams make it back to the big game, commentators would go on to espouse the great parity of this era’s NFL. How every team has a puncher’s chance etc. etc. And most years, I would sit there, nodding my head, and agree with them. But in the past few years it seems like we are re-entering an era of dynasties, such as the years when The 49ers and Cowboys seemed to win every Superbowl. Or hearkening back further to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins dynasties. And now I’m starting to wonder whatever happened to parity in the NFL? There have been plenty of new faces in Superbowl’s lately, which is nice. But prior to the 2007 season, no team had ever had an 0-16 regular season or a 16-0 regular season. Since that time both have happened. The former, unfortunately to my Detroit Lions in 2008 and the latter to the 2007 New England Patriots, though they went on to lose the Superbowl to the Giants. Not only that but, but the Indianapolis Colts have made a regular season tradition of threatening to go 16-0 with 12 wins or more in each of the past seven seasons including this one, where they might actually win every game. Not only that but the Saints are threatening to do the same. What used to be unheard of (the undefeated regular season) is becoming almost commonplace and we could conceivably have an all undefeated Superbowl this year, at least until it’s over. Now that, admittedly, could be fun, but not if the trend continues. And what (I can assure you) is not fun, is being on the other side of those kinds of records. In 2006 and 2007 there was only 1 team each season that won 2 games or less. In 2008 that number jumped to 3 including the winless Lions and in 2009 it could go up another notch to 4 depending on how the last few games of the season play out. What does this mean? Well it could be just a 2 year statistical spike and the numbers could drop off as quickly as they went up. But if the trend continues, it will mean the widening of the gap between the NFL have’s and have not’s. The deterioration of the NFL’s middle-class if you will. The NFL may become a league of feast or famine, of rich or poor, and as the winning team’s stadiums fill to capacity (which they already do most of the time) the losing teams will draw smaller and smaller crowds which will hurt the league as a whole.

And yet, not much more can be asked of the NFL. It already does a lot, including profit sharing and the worst-team-picks-first draft, to ensure that a losing has every opportunity to pick itself up again and turn itself into a winner. So it seems we’ll have to wait out the current storm of 1 and 2 win seasons, and hope that the sun shines on a brighter tomorrow for the victory-challenged teams of the NFL.

But a more important question than the question of parity, is whether a perfect league exists, and if so, what would it look like? Would it be a rotisserie style league where teams crash and burn one season and rise from the ashes like a phoenix the next? Or a league where there are perennial winners such as the Patriots and Colts that you can be sure will be in the playoff mix just about every season? Or would it be a league so hotly contested that all the teams are bunched up in the middle of their division, setting off a thousand tie-breaker scenarios in a horse race that comes down to the final game every season? I, personally would prefer the last version. But the NFL will probably never get there. That kind of across the board excellence is rare in pro sports,  if it exists at all. And if games were close because the teams were all mediocre what fun would that be? So for now, we have the league we are given. It is still a great league and a fun league to watch. But I hope the divide between good teams and bad teams narrows, rather than widens. A league of woeful, almost winless teams and stellar squads charging hard for a chance at perfection and immortality is fun for a season or two. But in the end, competition is what sports is all about. And it’s lacking when so few teams have so many wins and so many teams have so few.

Quick Bits:

Free agency free-for-all: Much has been made of the vaunted free agency season of 2010 which features such mega-star names as Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. But there just might be a quiet killing to be made before that period, in trades. Rumors are swirling of Sixers forward Elton Brand and Warriors forward Anthony Randolph, perhaps, being available for trade. Are you listening Mr. Dumars? I think either one would be a fantastic edition in Pistons blue, especially if we could use some of our surplus at the guard position in trade.

Collision Course? Most analysts, fans, gamblers, casual viewers and human beings, are expecting the Celtics and Lakers to meet up in the NBA finals this year. And a great majority of them seem excited at this “clash of the titans,” this “throwback series,” this “rivalry renewed,” this “meeting of the two most storied franchises in NBA history.” As a die-hard Pistons fan, I think the whole thing stinks. I’m rooting for the every other team in the NBA over these two, so that I don’t have to watch the hated Lakers and the even more hated Celtics each go for their 2nd championship in 3 years. Go Spurs, Nuggets, Cavs and Magic!

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