When you take a closer look at the 2008 NFL season, it is clear to see this is the season which can be described with one word—parity. I don’t feel that is necessarily a bad thing, for unlike many people, I felt just about every NFL team had a chance coming into this season. I love that.
Of course, there were just a couple of exceptions.
With the manner in which the New England Patriots lost Super Bowl XLII after completing a perfect 16-0 regular season, I believed there was a definite possibility of a let-down coming into 2008. I had no idea Tom Brady would be lost for the season, but there has to be a reason why six of the previous seven Super Bowl losers did not qualify for the playoffs the following season.
This season makes it is seven of the last eight.
Parity was clearly defined in many division races, and this was the polar opposite of last season, with the Detroit Lions posting the very first 0-16 NFL record.
Look at it this way, Lions fans, it can never possibly get worse for you. I truly feel for you all.
The AFC East Posted a Collective 38-26 Record
Of course, the odds-on favorites to win this division coming into the 2008 NFL season were the Patriots.
Their season began on an ominous note, with not only the injury to their star quarterback on the second offensive series. Many forget that New England fumbled the ball away on that play as well as on the first offensive series in the home opener against the Chiefs. The first two offensive series of the 2008 season resulted in two turnovers.
The Chiefs had a legitimate shot at pulling this game out. A hustling play by recent acquisition Deltha O’Neal where he chased down a rookie receiver inside the five-yard line following a sixty-five yard catch-and-run saved the day.
I had felt if any team would contend with the Patriots this year it would be the Buffalo Bills. They finished second in this division last year with a 7-9 record. However, it just wasn’t in the cards.
Nobody saw the Miami Dolphins turning the 1-15 worst record in the NFL in 2007 into an 11-5 record and Division Championship in just one season. It is amazing what great leadership at the top and key free-agent signings can do for a team in this era of the NFL.
The Patriots finished with an identical 11-5 record, and both teams posted identical 4-2 division records. The Dolphins were crowned champions due to the next tie-breaker, which is conference records. They went 8-4 in the conference, while New England fell just short, at 7-5.
The AFC North Posted a Collective 31-32-1 Record
The outcome of this division was a little more cut-and-dried. The Steelers' No.1 ranked defense played a key role in propelling the team to a 12-4 record to win the division.
The Ravens were a close second, as they posted an 11-5 record.
Upon further review, the Steelers surely earned this championship by defeating the Ravens twice during the regular season. I don’t mean to take anything away from the Ravens, as both games were close. The Steelers benefited from a very controversial call late in the second meeting.
The thing that impressed me the most was the Steelers beating the Ravens for a third time this season in the AFC championship game. The victory was impressive and difficult to accomplish.
The AFC South Posted a Collective 38-26 Record
The Tennessee Titans emerged as the class of the NFL during the 2008 regular season by jumping out to a 10-0 record. Their first loss would be to the New York Jets by the surprising score of 34-13. The Titans were totally dominated by the Jets in this game.
At the time, many felt the Jets were stepping forward as an AFC favorite. However, shortly thereafter they suffered a late-season collapse that included a shocking loss at Seattle in a game in which the Jets could only score three points.
The Titans would go on to lose twice more in their last five games. Tennessee’s 13-3 record proved to be the best in the NFL.
The Indianapolis Colts, who were the second place finisher in this division, sat at a very mediocre 4-4 after the first eight games of the season. A very impressive eight-game win streak to close out the season had them fall just short at 12-4. Wins over the eventual AFC champion Steelers, the Chargers and Titans highlighted this run.
In the divisional round of the playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens would go into Tennessee and knock out the No. 1 seed in the AFC. I’ve said this many, many times and this would also apply to the 2007 16-0 New England Patriots, as well as the 2008 Titans and Giants. During the free agency era in the NFL, the time to be peaking is not September or October. The time for that is clearly late November, December and January.
The AFC West Posted a collective 23-41 Record
This is the division which was the prime example of parity during the 2008 NFL season. While these teams did not post the worst collective record in the NFL, the division was won by an 8-8 Chargers team.
Credit must be given, for it could have been easy for this team to fold like lawn chairs when they sat at 4-8. They also went on a tear to win their last eight games. Everything was on the line in the season finale against the Denver Broncos. The Chargers prevailed to be crowned Division Champions.
Much ado was stirred as the playoff format forced the 11-5 Colts to travel to the 8-8 Chargers for a playoff game. The Chargers won 23-17 in overtime.
Ironically, prior to the 2008 NFL season, the NFL owners voted down a format change which would have allowed the lower seed with the better record to trump the Division Champion with the lesser record. This would have meant Indy would have hosted that playoff game.
The NFC East Posted a Collective 38-25-1 Record
The defending-Super-Bowl-Champion New York Giants began the season with a 4-0 record. A somewhat shocking 35-14 loss at Cleveland served as a wake up call. They would win the next six-in-a-row.
Division rivals the Philadelphia Eagles would snap that streak in the Meadowlands. The Giants would stumble and lose two of the next three games to close out the season.
Prior to kickoff of the final game of the 2008 season, the Eagles were pretty much left for dead. They needed to beat the Cowboys in their finale, as well as needing two other teams to lose that day.
One of these teams was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were playing at home against the Raiders. Anyone outside of Oakland who says they picked the Raiders to pull off this upset—well let’s just say to put it nicely—they are full of baloney!
Things were not looking good for the Eagles as the Bucs jumped out to an early 14-0 lead. The Raiders dug down deep and miraculously scored seventeen fourth-quarter-points to pull out the win 31-24. People in bars all over Philly must have been ecstatic. This game, to me, more than defined the parity that was the 2008 NFL season.
The 9-6-1 Eagles would put a serious hurting on the Cowboys in the season finale and thanks to much help, snuck into the playoffs. They would then easily handle a Viking team on the road which lacked solid coaching leadership and an NFL-experienced quarterback.
Next, they would return to the Meadowlands and dominate the fourth quarter of the divisional round playoff game against the Giants. This was highlighted by three consecutive defensive series which resulted with the Eagles stuffing the Giants on fourth and short and an interception. The NFC’s No. 1 seed had also been bounced. The peaking rule applies here, as well.
The NFC North Posted a Collective 25-39 Record
This is another division which brought parity to the forefront in 2008. This is the only division in the history of the NFL which benefited from a team losing all of their sixteen games—six automatic wins for the other three division teams—or so you would think.
As a Viking fan myself, I found no reason to celebrate this division win. Please don’t get me wrong. I am happy they won it, I just would have liked them to have closed the deal at home against Atlanta, who were led to victory that day by a rookie head coach/quarterback combination.
The Vikings then closed the deal in the home finale while facing mostly Giants back-ups the entire second half. I knew this would be exposed by the experienced Eagle Defense in the home Wild-Card game.
The Vikings finished with a 10-6 record and the Bears were 9-7. The rest of the division finished with a combined 6-26 record.
Parity, parity and more parity.
The NFC South Posted a Collective 40-24 Record
If you only consider the collective record of the division, this would be the best in the NFL during the 2008 season. That does not always tell the entire story, but thanks to Atlanta Falcons rookie sensation quarterback Matt Ryan, this was one of the tightest division races.
The Carolina Panthers managed to pull it out by posting a 12-4 record. A late-season loss at the Giants in one of the best games of the entire season, which went into overtime, cost the Panthers home field advantage for the playoffs.
The Falcons had no reason to hang their heads, as they went a respectable 11-5.
The underdog Arizona Cardinals would see to it that all three top seeds in the NFC would suffer the same elimination fate. They really took it to the Panthers in Carolina in a divisional round blow-out which shocked most people, including me.
The NFC West Posted a Collective22-42 Record
When not having a vested interest in a game, I usually root for the underdog. As much as I do like parity, I just don’t like when teams shut it down for any reason. People pay good money for tickets and television packages and get ripped-off when teams pull this kind of thing.
Case in point—the 2008 Arizona Cardinals.
After wrapping up their division championship with an 8-5 record, they celebrated like they had won the Super Bowl. The very next week, the Minnesota Vikings visited Glendale and put up twenty-eight points in the first half.
They cruised to a 35-14 victory in a game where the Cards defense made Tavaris Jackson look Montana-like. He is, in no way, shape, or form, even remotely close.
The very next week, the Cardinals went up to New England to face the Patriots. They should have sent the best high school team in Arizona—they would have put forth a better effort. Yes, I had this game on one of my televisions—until about halftime.
A little cold and snow turned the NFC Super Bowl representative into a quivering pile of Jello in a 47-7 pounding. The first word which comes to mind to describe this performance was cowardice.
Where would they be if they were forced to play in the cold in the playoffs? This effort was eerily similar to the Vikings in the 2000 NFC championship game at the Giants, when they were throttled 41-0
I have no problem with a 9-7 team playing in the Super Bowl, and I surely have to give credit to the Cardinals for their stellar playoff performance.
That being said, I am less than thrilled with teams who lay down at any point during a football season, especially NFL teams. The players should have to refund money out of their deep pockets to fans who wasted their hard-earned money to buy tickets.
I can hear it now.
If Arizona wins the Super Bowl, people will be spouting off about how the Patriots pounded the Super Bowl Champions, so they are actually the best team in the NFL.
Well, if that is what transpires and people do think that, then be prepared to call the 2007 Vikings the best team in the NFL from last year. In late November, they throttled the Giants in New York and made Eli Manning look like Tony Eason in the process.
Nonsense, as well.
The possibility of cold and snow is doubtful in Tampa for the Super Bowl, so I’ll have to settle for severe winds and driving rain.
I have to root for the Steelers. They hit a few speed bumps along the way, but never once laid down this past season.
Ken Knight is an aspiring writer and the author of a book released in Aug. 2008 titled “New England Bandwagon Nation”. Ken is also a contributing writer on sportslore.com.