Despite the league’s constant assertions that all is equal in the NFL, the numbers tell a different story
Have trouble finding a close game on the NFL slate last Sunday?
In Week 7, six of the 13 games were decided by 28 or more points, 11 of 13 by double digits, and just one determined by less than a touchdown.
The results last weekend glaringly exemplified a season in which good teams are dominating bad ones, with true upsets harder to find than a Cleveland Browns touchdown pass.
In the standings, teams with the five best records have an overall mark of 29-3 while the five worst are 2-32.
What’s happened to the NFL’s supposed parity? Here are some factors to consider:
Parity has traditionally been overstated
The NFL has promoted itself as the league where every team has a chance to win a Super Bowl. But four teams – the Steelers, Patriots, Eagles and Colts – have had a remarkable run of dominance over the past decade. Similarly, teams such as the Lions, Browns, Bills and Raiders have been consistently futile.
This is also the league that featured a New England team that had a perfect 16-0 record two seasons ago, followed by a Detroit team that went 0-16 last season.
In other words, the lack of parity this NFL season isn’t as highly unusual as some think.
Salary cap inflation
The cap is supposed to force teams to make tough choices on talented players for financial reasons, in theory freeing some of those players to sign with lesser teams. But the rejigging of the cap formula in 2006 – to include local revenues – contributed to an increase of more than 50 per cent from its 2004 level of $80.6-million (all currency U.S.). Since then, 2006: $94.5-million; 2007: $109-million; 2008: $116-million; 2009: $127-million.
By result, the better teams have had more latitude to keep their best players. When the cap was more stable, it served to equalize talent around the league.
Follow the quarterbacks
Never has quarterbacking been as important as it is in today’s NFL where teams are throwing the ball at a record pace through the first six weeks of the season.
New rules protecting quarterbacks and receivers have made it easier for teams to dominate with the passing game and utilize the pass in more situations than ever.
All of which means teams that struggle to throw the ball are doomed in the modern NFL.
A team can excel at running the ball and still have a lousy record. The Dolphins, Titans, Panthers, Jaguars, Bills and Rams are all in the upper half of the league when it comes to moving the ball along the ground but none has a winning record. In contrast, the Colts and Cardinals have a combined record of 10-2, and rank 27th and 28th in rushing.
The cost of turnover
Of the nine teams ether in first place or tied for first in their divisions, seven have head coaches who have been with the team for at least three seasons. Indianapolis, one of the other two, is led by first-year head coach Jim Caldwell who worked as an assistant with the Colts for seven seasons before being promoted from within.
Of the eight teams that sit in last place in their divisions, five are led by rookie head coaches and two are led by head coaches in their second seasons on the job. Rookie head coaches Raheem Morris of Tampa (0-7), Todd Haley of Kansas City (1-6) and Steve Spagnuolo of St. Louis (0-7) are a combined 1-20 so far.
Eleven of the league’s head coaches weren’t in their positions on the opening weekend of the 2008 season, and competitive balance has been affected by that sideline turnover.
New head coaches generally have the latitude to take a step or two backward to rebuild for the future.
There are a couple of significant exceptions to the experience factor this season, with Denver still undefeated under rookie head coach Josh McDaniels, and the Titans winless under the NFL’s longest serving head coach, Jeff Fisher.
The schedule no longer rescues bad teams
With expansion to 32 teams and eight divisions, the league has played a more balanced schedule since 2002. Teams within the same division play a nearly identical slate of opponents, meaning bad teams are no longer rewarded with an easy ride.
FIVE TO WATCH
1 Denver Broncos (6-0) at Baltimore Ravens (3-3)
Tony Scheffler, left, and the Broncos try to stay undefeated against a Ravens team that has dropped three close games in a row after a 3-0 start. The defensive matchup, for a change, favours Denver.
2 Miami Dolphins (2-4) at New York Jets (4-3)
It’s a rematch from the Week 5 Monday nighter in which the Dolphins drove the ball late against the Jets for the win. Both teams love to run more than they pass.
3 Minnesota Vikings (6-1) at Green Bay Packers (4-2)
Brett Favre as the opposing quarterback in Green Bay. What else can you say? But it was the Packers inability to protect Aaron Rodgers that decided things last time these teams met.
4 Atlanta Falcons (4-2) at New Orleans Saints (6-0)
Okay, so apparently no lead is safe against New Orleans. The Falcons have been a much better team at home than on the road.
5 New York Giants (5-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-2)
Both teams have had hiccups in recent weeks, with the Giants dropping two in a row and the Eagles with that unexplainable loss to Oakland two weeks ago. It’s the rematch of the NFC divisional playoff game won by the Eagles last January.
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