Six signs parity is dead in NFL
Weeky 7 blowouts underlined the fact that parity is dead
Drama is slowly disappearing from regular season games
NFL created system that rewards good, punishes poor management
Rest in peace, parity.
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, in a week that produced a record six four-touchdown blowouts in the space of a few hours on Sunday.
Parity is not only dead, it's been walking around like the undead for most of the past decade, kept alive only by lazy pigskin pundits who dusted the cobwebs off the catch-phrase every time they needed to explain away every close game or surprising playoff run.
But instead of parity, what the NFL has these days is something much more frightening: the NFL has a crisis of competition.
Week after week this year, the haunting disparity between the league's haves and have-nots threatens to produce results we typically see from the University of Florida's non-conference schedule. The NFL, like college football, is now a two-tiered league in which the powerful elite can be reasonably counted upon to not only win on Sunday, but to humiliate the league's second-class citizens.
Here are six signs that parity is dead:
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.
The average margin of victory in Week 7 was 20.3 PPG, the second highest weekly margin of victory since the merger, trailing only that final week of 1970 (23.5 PPG), according to ColdHardFootballFacts.com contributor Mark Wald, who tracks blowouts throughout history.
A string of one-sided affairs might have been expected back in 1970.
First, it was the last week of a 14-game season and some teams had already packed it in for the year. Second, despite victories by the AFL in Super Bowls III and IV, the old NFL (now the NFC) absolutely dominated the first year of the merger. NFC teams went 27-12-1 against AFC teams that year, the most lopsided interconference record since the merger.
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.
The worst part for the NFL is that fans could see most of last Sunday's blowouts coming: Green Bay over one-win Cleveland (31-3), New England over winless Tampa (35-7), Indianapolis over winless St. Louis (42-6) and San Diego over one-win Kansas City (37-7) were all as predictable as the tides.
And, remember, these blowouts came just a week after perennial powerhouse New England handed Tennessee a 59-0 beating -- the league's most one-sided game in 33 years. It could have been worse: the Patriots did not score a single point in the fourth quarter, or they might have matched the league's record 73-0 victory set back in 1940, when the Bears beat the Redskins in the NFL title game.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Patriots also set an NFL record in 2008 with their 21st consecutive regular-season victory. The Lions, meanwhile, suffered their 19th straight defeat earlier this year -- the second longest losing streak in league history.
Given the respective performances of the league's powerful and powerless franchises this year, it's easy to envision a scenario in which we could have both a 16-0 team and 0-16 team here in 2009.
A league ruled by "parity" simply does not produce historically good and historically bad seasons year after year.
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