From his Cold Hard Football Facts piece for SI:
Six Signs the Parity is Dead in NFL
The NFL's decades-long effort to produce equality on the playing field is dead and buried. In fact, it suffered a gruesome, unwatchable demise in Week 7 of the 2009 season.
Perhaps it's only fitting that parity's final bloody demise came just days before Halloween,No that's not really fitting at all. It would have been fitting if parity had died in the "Nokia Presents: The Parity is Dead Bowl."
1. The frightening pace of blowouts
Week 7 of the 2009 season offered more televised beatings than the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Six of the 13 games last week games were uncompetitive blowouts -- each decided by 28 points or more. If that rash of routs seemed unusual, there's a good reason: it was.
Pro football had produced six four-touchdown blowouts just once before in its history: back in Week 14 of the 1970 season, the very first year of the AFL-NFL merger.
Oh noez, there were a lot of blowouts in ONE week of ONE season. Parity is obviously dead.
We shouldn't expect those kinds of blowouts in these days of league-wide efforts to level the playing field. But we're seeing them.
You know why? Because parity isn't intended to mean every single team will be competitive every year. The hope is that every team will make the playoffs every few years, and aside from a few poorly managed franchises, most teams have been competitive at some point over the past decade.
This idea will continue to elude you for the next 5 points.
2. Last-second thrills and chills are hard to find
Year after year, week after week, one NFL game after another came down to a last-second play that determined the outcome. It made for great theater in a sport that thrives on televised drama. That drama is slowly disappearing.
Here in 2009, 84 of 103 games (81.6 percent) have been decided by more than a field goal. That's the most in nearly a quarter century (since 1985) and the third most since the AFL-NFL merger. The trend began last year when 206 of 254 games (80.5 percent) were decided by more than a field goal -- also among the most since the merger.
Double-digit blowouts, meanwhile, have become the rule here in 2009, not the exception: 56 of 103 games (54.4 percent) have been decided by 10 points or more -- the most in 17 years and also among the most since the merger.
Emphasis mine. Kerry, if you don't tell us specifically where it ranks with other years since the merger, and the other years it compares to, then there's really no frame of reference. We're like children who've wandered into a movie and ask "what's going on."
In addition, final scores aren't necessarily indicative of how close the game was. (Anybody remember the Steelers' double digit "blowout" of the Vikings?)
Furthermore, high number of blowouts in a year != lack of parity, because parity should not be looked at on a week-by-week scale.
3. The horrifying divide in the standings
For the first time in NFL history there are three undefeated teams after Week 7 -- Indianapolis, Denver and New Orleans. And all three look virtually unbeatable, dominating opponents week after week in virtually all phases of the game.
In hindsight we know that the Broncos got absolutely dismantled by a 3-3 Ravens team. Indy has been 7-0 about 100 times and not won the Super Bowl. The Saints have been to the playoffs three times in the past 20 years, so they may not be the best team to bring up in an article saying parity is dead in the NFL.
But at the very same time that the NFL boasts three unbeatens nearly halfway through the season, the league also fields three winless teams -- Tennessee, Tampa and St. Louis. These teams barely look competitive, getting dominated week after week in virtually all phases of the game.
Tennesse won their division last year. It took a monumental collapse on Tampa's part to not make the playoffs last year. St. Louis is 5 years removed from its last playoff appearance and 10 years from their last Super Bowl win.
This great divide, meanwhile, comes after a pair of historic NFL seasons. In 2007, the Patriots became the first 16-0 team in league history; in 2008, the Lions became the first 0-16 team in league history.
In two separate years, one team was historically good, and one team was historically bad.
In two separate years, Brett Favre was really bad, and Brett Favre was really good. What conclusions about Brett Favre's overall effectiveness throughout his career can we draw from this?
A league ruled by "parity" simply does not produce historically good and historically bad seasons year after year.
Yes, you can. The year the Patriots went 16-0, the rest of the league was competitive, and the Patriots lost the Superbowl to a team they beat in week 17. The year the Lions went 0-16, the Titans and Giants looked like favorites to make the Superbowl, but were bounced in the divisional round.
4. The gruesome disparity on the scoreboard
The Saints have scored 31 touchdowns this year (26 on offense).
The Browns have scored just six touchdowns (four on offense).
The Saints are good. The Browns are bad. This does not prove parity or lack thereof.
5. The bloodbath on the stat sheets
The gridiron Grand Canyon that divides the league's winners and losers is also evident on the stat sheet. In fact, we haven't seen these kinds of disparities in statistical performances since the early days of the AFL.
Peyton Manning, for example, once again leads the league in passer rating (114.5), a mark which could go down as one of the highest ever (he holds the record with a 121.1 passer rating in 2004).
Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson, meanwhile, has posted an abysmal passer rating of 40.6. He's on pace to become the lowest-rated qualifying passer (14 attempts per game) since Ryan Leaf in 1998 (39.0). Oakland's JaMarcus Russell is not much better (47.2).
Peyton Manning will probably retire as the best QB ever in the NFL. The fact that Derek Anderson and JaMarcus Russel are still starting is a testament to bad team management, and not parity.
6. The haunting specter of elite powers
Advocates of NFL "parity" say any team can win in any given year. Sure, it happens from time to time. But the league's always been like that.
13 different teams have won the Superbowl in the past 20 years, so really, more than 50% of the time, some "random" team will win in a given year.
The fact of the matter in today's NFL is that four teams -- all in the AFC -- have held an iron grip over the NFL for more than a decade. Denver, Indy, New England and Pittsburgh can be counted on year after year -- with the occasional exception here and there -- to stand among the very best teams in the league.
See if you notice a trend:
Indy: #1 QB of all time
New England: Top 5 QB of all time
Pittsburgh: Likely HOF QB
Conclusion: All very white fan bases!
Also, Denver? Dominant for the past decade? They've made the playoffs four times this decade, but advanced to the divisional round just once, and were promptly shown the door.
Those four have won 11 of the past 14 AFC titles.
Somewhat of an arbitrary number, but yes, they've all had likely HOF QB's in that time frame.
They've won six of the past eight Super Bowls and eight of the past 12.
And eight of the past 39.
Over the past 15 years, the AFC's Big Four have filled 19 of 30 spots in the AFC title game.
HOF QB's will do that for your team.
There's a good chance you'll see the NFL's Big Four battling for the right to go to the Super Bowl once again. They're a combined 22-4 after Week 7, and if the playoffs began today, they'd hold four of the top five seeds in the AFC. There's a good chance one of the Big Four will hoist the Lombardi Trophy once again in February 2010.
I'll eat my hat if Denver wins the Superbowl, but I definitely wouldn't be surprised if New England, Indy, or Pittsburgh won. However, I don't think anyone would be shocked if Philly, New Orleans, Minnesota, or Baltimore won the Superbowl either. Damn this predictable, unbalanced league that only offers 7-9 likely winners of the championship!
The Colts, meanwhile, are in the midst of an unprecedented string of six straight 12-win seasons and well on their way to making it seven straight -- a fact that alone should kill any notion of "parity."
PEYTON MANNING IS THE BEST QB IN NFL HISTORY. HE IS THE ONE CONTROLLED VARIABLE IN THAT COLTS EQUATION.
The Patriots, of course, are two years removed from the first 16-0 season in history
In which they were not league champions.
they won a record 34 games over two seasons earlier this decade (2003-04), they need one postseason victory to set a record for most in a decade (15) and they've set every win streak in history this decade, regular season (21), postseason (10) and combined (21). Brady, meanwhile, has won a record 78.5 percent of every game he's started (106-29) in his career. Again, all facts that should, on their face, prove that concepts such as "parity" are dead.
The Pats have been the class of the NFL this decade. They have been fortunate to have: a HOF QB, a HOF coach, and one of the best front offices in the NFL which constantly turns over talent. This all came after being a middling team for most of the 90's.
There's no perfect explanation for the death of parity, especially in the wake of the league's open efforts to keep it alive. But it's obvious the league's efforts to legislate equality have failed.
The NFL has a constantly adjusting salary cap which is death for many a would be dynasty (Anyone remember how quickly Tampa Bay faded into mediocrity after their Super Bowl win?). The fact that the Colts and Patriots have remained dominant is due in large part to their quaterbacks. Unless, you want to regulate how long a team can keep a quarterback, you can't do much better than the current formula for shuffling the deck of NFL teams.
Here's one guess why: the NFL, with so many players and so many coaches and so much turnover and so many moving parts, is all about management. And, right now, management has never been more important.
Humans are not equal in talent, whether they're in the front office, on the sidelines or in the huddle, and the notion that a few rules will "level the playing field" is being mocked openly on the field right now.
What the NFL has done, actually, is create a system that ends up rewarding well managed teams and punishing poorly managed teams. The Colts, Patriots and Steelers continue to fine tune the system year after the year and win year after year. The Browns, Lions and teams like (in recent years) the Redskins make poor and sometimes desperate off-the-field decisions that make them uncompetitive on the field.
So what do you want? A rule against effective management?
Back in the day, before the efforts to "level the playing field," a poorly managed team could splurge for a season or two on talent and compete. Money is the great equalizer. But that weapon has been removed and now, more than ever, not less than ever, NFL teams are dependent upon smart decision-makers and good executives. The NFL has maximized, not minimized, inequality on the playing field by maximizing the importance of management.
That is...fucking...RETARDED. So a poorly managed team could splurge on a few big names and instantly compete? What happens when you get a well managed team that splurges on whoever they want, whenever they want? I'll tell you what you get: The New York Yankees. Is that what you want Kerry? Is that what you call parity?