The Joys of parity
From the press box...
By Sam Roddenberry
On Sunday, the New England Patriots—yes the formerly 5-11 Patriots—playing without quarterback Drew Bledsoe, somehow defeated the previously unbeaten and high-powered Indianapolis Colts 44-13. A few hours later, the formerly 1-15 San Diego Chargers improved their record for this season to an impressive 3-0. With each passing week, teams expected to be terrible and mediocre are defying expectations. This trend towards parity distinguishes the NFL from all other professional sports leagues, as literally each and every team has a chance to compete for the playoffs and the title.
A quick glance at the standings in the NFL proves the point that the NFL’s unique measures to promote team equality have worked in instituting parity. Of the three 3-0 teams in the NFL, only the St. Louis Rams made the playoffs last season. One of the four winless teams is the Tennessee Titans, who had home field advantage in last year’s playoffs. No team has been immune to upset: case in point the Ravens upset loss this season to perennial doormat the Cincinnati Bengals.
Some people argue that the lack of dynasties and team parity itself is a product of having no good franchises in the league, just a bunch of mediocre teams. These individuals would prefer to have one team dominate, much like the Dallas Cowboys did in the early 1990s. But I take the other position. I found the Cowboys dominance anti-climatic, as everyone knew that the winner of the Cowboys-49ers playoff game would win the league championship. Now a days, its impossible to predict who will make the playoffs, let alone who will win. Can anyone think of another professional sport where almost every team has a legitimate shot to win on any given Sunday and to compete for the title?
In recent years, only a few teams have been legitamately bad for more than a few years. Beside the Bengals, and the expansion Browns, it is hard to find a team that didn’t compete for a playoff spot in one of the last five years; even the Atlanta Falcons were able to make the Super Bowl. Just last year, all six divisions had different division title leaders than they had in 1999. With every team able to compete, each league city has been able to enjoy the excitement of meaningful December and January football games.
Perhaps the best contrast to the parity in the NFL, is the current state of affairs in Major League Baseball. Each year, only the a handful of teams can compete, with the Yankees and Braves beginning each year as the prospective favorites in their league. Even though that system can create storied rivalries among the constant winners, the NFL’s system produces championship matches among teams not even expected to make the playoffs. In fact, all four teams that have played in the last two Super Bowls didn’t make the postseason the year before they made the Super Bowl.
Every NFL city has a legitimate reason to believe their team has a shot at the playoffs. Just imagine being a fan of a team in a city that has a couple of losing years. In baseball, it is most likely that your team will be consistently bad for years to come. In the NFL, you still have something to root for: experience suggests every team gets its shot at the playoffs. I can remember just a few years ago when the Rams, Ravens, Colts, Buccaneers, Saints, and Giants were considered among the worst teams in the league. Now they comprise the favorites to make the Super Bowl.
Next year, the Houston Texans will join the NFL. While in most professional sports, it takes expansion teams at least four years to start to compete, the Jaguars, Panthers, and this years version of the Browns prove that in the NFL, there is such small differences among the teams that expansion teams can compete out of the gate. Houston, a city stripped of its team by a greedy owner, should be able to compete with Bud Adam’s Titans in only a few years. The Texans’ success will just prove further that in the NFL, parity reigns, and every city gets its chance to make a run for the Lombardi trophy.
Every week a new result surprises NFL pundits, and provides joy for the fans of once listless teams. The NFL should be commended for the parity its scheduling, salary structure, and draft rules have created. For the fans of all teams, it’s better to have some chance of winning in the future than no chance at all.