Parity is dead (cont.)
4. The gruesome disparity on the scoreboard
The unbeaten Saints average 39.7 PPG, which puts them on pace to surpass the single-season scoring record of 38.8 PPG set by the 1950 Rams and surpass the modern record of 36.8 PPG set by the 2007 Patriots.
The scoring pace for New Orleans is no surprise, really, in a league that has done everything in its power to open up offenses and handcuff defenses. But not every team's taking advantage of the league's beneficence.
In fact, at the same time that teams like the Saints, Patriots, Colts and Giants seemingly score at will, some times are so poor on offense that they need to panhandle for points.
The Saints have scored 31 touchdowns this year (26 on offense).
The Browns have scored just six touchdowns (four on offense).
In fact, the Browns have scored just four offensive touchdowns in their past 13 games, dating to Thanksgiving 2008. It's one of the longest streaks of offensive futility in history, and it comes at the very same time the Saints are producing one of the great streaks of offensive success in history.
And while the Saints are on pace to become the most prolific scoring team in NFL history (39.7 PPG), the Rams have scored just 8.6 PPG here in 2009 -- a pace which would make them the lowest scoring team of the Live Ball Era (1978-present).
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).
Neither Anderson nor Russell has completed even 50 percent of their passes this year. Manning, meanwhile, has completed 72.6 percent of his passes, a rate which would easily smash the existing NFL record.
It's like the NFL is offering two completely different sports this year: on one end, there's the highly productive Space Age passing game that defenses are hopeless to stop; on the other end, there's a Neanderthalic, Stone Age passing game with numbers more like those we saw in the 1930s. (In fact, Chicago's Bronko Nagurski, posted a 67.8 passer rating in 1932, his third year in the league; Oakland's Russell has posted a 47.2 passer rating here in 2009, his third year in the league.)
New England quarterback Tom Brady this year matched an NFL record with five TD tosses in a single quarter, in his team's 59-0 win over the Titans. A full quarter of the league this year, eight teams, have thrown five or fewer TD passes all year.
Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, averages a spectacular 9.3 yards every time he throws a pass -- he could end up with one of the 10 highest averages in NFL history. Cleveland's Anderson, meanwhile, averages just 4.4 yards per pass attempt. That number is so bad that a quarter of the teams in the NFL this year average more than 4.4 YPA when they run the ball.
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.
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.
Those four have won 11 of the past 14 AFC titles. They've won six of the past eight Super Bowls and eight of the past 12. Over the past 15 years, the AFC's Big Four have filled 19 of 30 spots in the AFC title game.
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.
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."
The Patriots, of course, are two years removed from the first 16-0 season in history, 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.
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.
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.
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.
It adds up the NFL's crisis of competition, meaning league executives should be afraid. Be very afraid.
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