Unabated to the QB, Week 7: The Right to Parity

manning brees

“Mediocrity seeks to endure by any means, including bronze. We refuse its claims to eternity, but it makes them every day. Isn’t mediocrity itself eternity?”

—Albert Camus

The Saints’ remarkable comeback victory over the Dolphins late Sunday means that there are three undefeated teams through seven weeks for the first time in NFL history. There are also three winless teams, who lost their most recent game by 28, 36, and 59 points, respectively.

And this is supposed to be the league of parity?

Let’s consider this for a moment: For at least the last decade, all talk of the NFL and its place within the context of the four major sports has included the word “parity.” Most people interpret “parity” in this context to mean equality within seasons, when really it more accurately refers to equality across them. The NFL produces just as many dominant teams as the NBA or Major League Baseball does. In fact, if pressed into naming a Team of the Decade across sports, the answer would almost certainly be the New England Patriots (in the same way that the 49ers could make a claim to it in the ‘80s, if we exclude hockey and the Oilers).

If anything, the NFL has seen more dominant teams in the latter stage of this decade than at any other period in its history. If the Saints, Colts, or Broncos gets to 10-0 (and their chances of getting there are roughly in that order), it will be the third consecutive year and fourth in five that an NFL team has been 10-0. This had happened only 15 times from 1920-2004 (nine of which came from the start of the Super Bowl era in 1966 to 2004).

What separates the NFL from other leagues is that the teams doing the dominating change every year. The Colts didn’t win their division last season, the Saints and Broncos didn’t even make the playoffs. New Orleans finished in last in their division. The team that started out 10-0 last year, the Tennessee Titans, were only 10-6 the year before that, and they’re 0-6 this year. Quick turnarounds almost never happen in the NBA, with the 2007-08 Celtics and the 2001-02 Nets the only teams to advance to the NBA Finals without making the playoffs the prior season this decade. The NFL has produced three Super Bowl champions and three Super Bowl losers who didn’t make the postseason the season before.*

*The number in MLB is surprisingly high: Five World Series champs and four runners-up didn’t make the playoffs the year before. This year’s Yankees are the 10th team to join that group. I don’t really have an explanation for this.

No matter what happens this season, the NFL will retain its parity. Even if we have three 16-0 teams and three 0-16 ones (theoretically possible with the schedules), there’s still parity. Because those teams might switch places next season.*

*But probably not.

  • I was in a room of sportswriters (long story) during that NO-MIA game, and when the Dolphins were up 24-3, one said, “Man, who can predict the NFL?” Now, there’s some truth to that statement: The NFL is indeed difficult to predict (Exhibit A: My record against the spread). But regarding this particular game, it was dumb. Who could predict that? Who could predict that a team with the best ball-control running game in the league could exploit another team that, for all its defensive improvement, can’t stop the run? Who could predict that the best ball-control team could, you know, control the ball to keep the other explosive offense off the field? Who could predict that the team who, for all intents and purposes, should have beaten the team just like the Saints in Week 2 at home could replicate that feat against New Orleans with a better quarterback in Week 7? Yeah, who could predict that?
  • In case you missed it (and I wouldn’t blame you if you did), the Patriots beat the Buccaneers in London on Sunday. This is the third year the NFL has pulled this London stunt, and the league is considering expanding overseas. Here’s my issue: Shouldn’t we expand/relocate (lookin’ at you, Jacksonville) to more logical locales in the U.S. (cough: LOS ANGELES!) and North America before going overseas. Why not look into Canadian and Mexican markets before embarking upon the logistical nightmares of a European team (where a provincial league failed, unlike in Canada). Those logistical nightmares include, oh I don’t know, trans-Atlantic flights 8-12 times a year for the European team and the fact that there’s at least a six-hour time difference. Do you put just one team in Europe or create a European division? How does scheduling work? Would European teams be expected to play the NFC and AFC West at any point? You don’t have to deal with this as much if you go to Toronto, Montreal, or Mexico City.

  • Jets Bash of the Week: Sure, you beat the Raiders on Sunday. But did you really “beat” the Raiders? I mean, JaMarcus Russell didn’t even play the whole game!
  • Chiefs Plug: The Chargers were due!
  • Yet Another Thing I Was 100 Percent Wrong About: The Bengals.
  • With what’s occurred over the last few weeks in Tennessee, it wouldn’t surprise me if Jeff Fisher called it quits at the end of the year.
  • The Broncos had a bye week, officially making this the first week all season in which I did not pick the Broncos to lose.
  • Who else is excited for the Alex Smith/Shaun Hill QB controversy? Is it even a controversy anymore? Did Smith already win?
  • I knew the Niners should have drafted Aaron Rodgers then.
  • Ten seasons ago, the Rams and Buccaneers played in the NFC Championship Game. Despite its ridiculous final score (11-6), it was a great game. Each team has played in a Super Bowl this decade. If they combine to go 0-32 in 2009, would anyone really be surprised?
  • Right now, the Giants have completely lost their identity as an offense. It was clear from the first two plays of the game Sunday night—both passes. After the coaches admitted they panicked in quitting on the run too early against New Orleans the previous week, and with the Arizona defense across the way, there was no reason for them not to start on the ground with Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs had another good game in a small sample size. If the Giants fall short again this season in the NFC, it will be because of the same scapegoat as last year: Kevin Gilbride.
  • The Buffalo Bills are 3-4. We can all agree they should have beaten the Patriots in Week 1 at Foxboro. They have also lost to the Cleveland Browns, 6-3, when Derek Anderson went 2-for-17. If the Bills had won that game in New England, they’d be tied for the division lead with road wins against the two other teams at 4-3. If they had also held off the Browns at home, they’d be 5-2. Isn’t that weird?
  • I haven’t followed the situation closely enough for this to be more than conjecture, but isn’t Daniel Snyder’s greatest fault as an owner of the Redskins the way he has neglected the draft? Everyone makes a big deal about how Snyder and the Redskins “always win free agency,” which isn’t even the case most of the time. (After they signed Haynesworth, did anyone say that was the best move in free agency?) But in the last seven drafts (since 2003), Washington has made only 40 selections, including the 10 they made in 2008. Fourteen of those 40 have been Day One picks (rounds 1-3), meaning they’ve traded away one-third of their Day One picks in that time. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the Draft in the NFL, and not just the first round. The current Giants have more or less been built with first-rounder Eli Manning and the later rounds of the Draft: Both starting receivers were second-rounders, both running backs are Day Two picks, stalwart left tackle David Diehl was a fifth-rounder, etc. Trading away those picks, as Snyder has done, has left the Redskins without depth and without a chance to draft well.
  • Just in case you’re wondering, this week’s SBCS Top Five: New Orleans, Indianapolis, Denver, Pittsburgh, Minnesota.

Prior to the Week 8 Snap:

Last Week: 5-7

Season: 36-51

BALTIMORE (-3.5) over Denver

Why start picking the Broncos now? I still think Baltimore is the best team in the AFC North.

CHICAGO (-13.5) over Cleveland

A team on a two-game losing streak and coming off a 35-point loss is favored by 13.5 And I’m picking them.

Houston (-3.5) over BUFFALO

The Texans can move to 5-3; they should be moving to 7-1. Big day for Steve Slaton.

GREEN BAY (-3) over Minnesota

I still don’t like the Vikings.

San Francisco (+12.5) over INDIANAPOLIS

Tighter game for Indy, which just means it’s two possessions instead of 3-6.

Miami (+3) over NY JETS (outright)

The Dolphins are the best 2-4 team in the league. The Jets are probably the worst team over .500 in the league.

DETROIT (-4) over St. Louis

It will really be eye-opening how much worse the Rams are than the Lions. (I almost wrote “how much better the Lions are than the Rams,” but it’s really the other way.)

DALLAS (-9.5) over Seattle

Because it’s time for the Cowboys’ run.

SAN DIEGO (-16.5) over Oakland

LaDainian Tomlinson’s breakout week! I expect a touchdown and 75-80 yards from him.

TENNESSEE (-3) over Jacksonville

The 0-6 team is favored over the 3-3 team? Ouch.

ARIZONA (-9.5) over Carolina

I picked up the Cardinals’ defense in my fantasy league for this week and this week only.

NY Giants (+2) over PHILADELPHIA

Huge game. Very scared right now. Hope Westbrook doesn’t play.

NEW ORLEANS (-10) over Atlanta

The Saints’ 16-0 talk will really snowball after they rip the Falcons, whose defense is suspect and who can’t play from behind.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John S on October 27, 2009 at 7:40 PM

    I think you’re twisting the way people refer to parity in the NFL. Few people deny that football has great teams; it’s more that they have more mediocre teams. The fact that the Titans can go from 10-6 to 10-0 to 0-6 is indicative of this: Like the Broncos are doing this year, they benefitted from the fact that teams weren’t as good as people expected (i.e. the Jaguars). Of their 10 wins to start last year, only beating the Colts looks especially impressive in retrospect.

    This is why going undefeated is somewhat realistic in the NFL, and why sustaining a dynasty in the league is easier. Any team that can consistently beat mediocre teams has a chance, since they probably won’t play another good team until the playoffs. And the reason the Patriots have been the team of the decade is that, other than the Colts, no other team has been good for so long (even the Steelers had a 6-10 year and an 8-8 year). Conversely, it’s much harder for the Lakers to be better than the Spurs, Pistons, Cavaliers, Celtics, Rockets, etc. every year. Or for the Red Sox to be better than the Yankees, Angels, Rays, Phillies and Cardinals every year.

    The fact is that the difference from an 11-5 team, which is generally perceived as “good,” and a 6-10 team, which is generally perceived as either “lousy” or “underacheiving,” is five close calls. I would say that those teams are probably closer to interchangeable than a lot of people realize; plenty of teams have as many close calls as you attribute to the Bills already this year.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Tim on October 27, 2009 at 7:59 PM

    Mediocrity is always easy to define retrospectively. Can’t we call the 2008 Rays mediocre based on their poor year this season? Or the 2006 Tigers, or the 2003 Marlins, or the 2001 Diamondbacks? For much of last season, few thought the Giants and Titans were mediocre teams; many would have applied that term to the 2001 Patriots much more readily.

    Half of Major League Baseball’s teams this season finished winning between 45 and 55 percent of their games, or what translates to 7-9, 8-8, or 9-7 in the NFL. Mediocrity just looks a lot more obvious when there’s only 16 games.

    Second, I completely disagree with the idea that sustaining a dynasty is easier in the NFL than in other leagues. The NBA, for one, has a built-in rule making it easier for teams to re-sign their own players, and it’s arguable that the last noteworthy (i.e. championship-affecting) free agent signing was when Shaquille O’Neal ditched Orlando for the Lakers. The Lakers and Spurs haven’t missed the playoffs this decade, and this is fairly routine in the NBA (Portland went 20+ years with a winning record, and they weren’t a powerhouse team). Without a salary cap, Major League Baseball makes it much easier for teams like the Yankees and Red Sox to churn out 90-win seasons year after year. These teams’ lose dynastic status mainly because MLB’s playoffs are incorrectly formatted for maximum flux.

    Football teams require far more players than basketball or baseball squads, and the relative brevity of an NFL career (the average is in the 3-4 year range) dictates a massive amount of turnover. The Yankees alone have three players who were part of their 1996 championship team–or the same number as the Patriots have left over from their 2001 title squad.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Wey on October 27, 2009 at 9:06 PM

    “I haven’t followed the situation closely enough for this to be more than conjecture, but isn’t Daniel Snyder’s greatest fault as an owner of the Redskins the way he has neglected the draft? ”

    yes, this has been well-established, by both those who follow the situation closely and those who do not. At the same time, I would maintain that it is woefully inadequate to ascribe even most of the blame on neglecting the draft, even if it is technically correct that it is his “greatest fault.”

    Reply

  4. Posted by John S on October 27, 2009 at 9:22 PM

    I mean, mediocrity is always easier to define retrospectively, but what makes it wrong then? I don’t mean to call the 08 Titans mediocre; I’m more referring to their competition. Teams like the Texans, Jaguars, Packers, were all mediocre teams that lost to the Titans last year as part of their “run to perfection.” It’s not that the Titans were mediocre–they were a pretty good team that seemed great given the milieu. In the MLB and NBA, such pretty good teams (like all the ones you named in your first paragraph) are less often mistaken for great. Look how quickly, for example, this year’s Giants squad went from “cruising into the playoffs” to “undergoing a crisis of identity.”

    Secondly, you can look at rule changes, etc. all you want, but the fact is that the NFL has been defined by dynasties at least as much as the NBA and probably more than the MLB. In the last 30 years, the MLB has two teams repeat as champions. The NFL has had five and the NBA six. This does not seem to sustain your argument. What am I missing?

    Reply

  5. […] I was a bit disappointed in Tim Keown’s article on the death of parity in the NFL for ESPN: The Magazine this week. It really wasn’t a whole lot more than some stats pointing out that there are more really bad teams this year than most other years without much in-depth investigation as to why (aside from pointing out pretty obvious things like the Raiders draft terribly). Keown tried to tie it into blackouts and financial issues, and while it’s true that some historically proud franchises in Oakland, Detroit, Cleveland, and Kansas City have now been mired in the cellar for a few years now (although to be fair, CLE and KC have each had a 10-win season within the last four years), the biggest financial problem appears to be in Jacksonville, whose attendance woes don’t have as much to do with a lack of competitiveness. Methinks it may be the economy that’s the primary culprit here; not a death of NFL parity, which will almost certainly rear its head either in the playoffs or next season. […]

    Reply

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