The Parity Balloon
The idea that parity is an integral facet of the National Football League is one that many of the league’s followers often discuss. Roughly speaking, the idea of parity is not that all teams are created equal, but rather the differences between them are less rather than more, that 0-0 at the beginning of September means the field is wide open.
In practical terms, parity is often taken to mean that a) anything can happen on “any given Sunday,” and b) there will always be at least one team that comes out of nowhere to contend. In some quarters, it can be taken to mean that c) everyone finishes in reasonable proximity to 8-8, a bottleneck scenario where the playoff permutations are myriad. The fact that the Oakland Raiders recently defeated the Philadelphia Eagles supports a) and the fact that Denver, Cincinnati and the Saints have followed forgettable performances last year with great starts this season supports b).
But the case for parity this year is much more difficult to make than we have seen for some time. Very little, in fact, supports c). The parity balloon, as I call it, is about to feel the sharp point of a pin. Here’s why: looking at the standings through eight weeks of play, the top five teams in the league have a combined record of 31-4, impressive to say the least. The bottom five teams, conversely, are only a dismal 4-33, a stat made even worse when you consider that all wins by the worst five teams have come against weaker teams, including Tennessee’s drubbing of Jacksonville yesterday. St. Louis beat Detroit, and both Detroit and Kansas City beat the lowly Redskins (or deadskins as a friend calls them.)
Further, the top seven teams in the league have a remarkable combined record of 41-8, whereas the bottom seven tally a meagre 8-44, which includes wins mostly garnered from playing a bottom end team. Basically these teams are bottom-feeders, which is something one is unlikely to consider endearing
Overall, whatever else this may be, it is not parity. Not this year.
What is perhaps even more telling is that in recent weeks, the number of games that were close have dwindled noticeably as the strong seem to get stronger and the weak become more pathetic. Last week, for the first time since week four in 2007, there was only one game decided by less than seven points. Yesterday there were two games decided by less than seven, but not one single game was decided by a field goal. This year as well, the last second game winning field goal is a kind of illusion—another parity balloon that has been lanced.
Yesterday, as with other weeks this season, the strong have victimized the weak in a big way: Dallas crushed Seattle and the Bears mangled Cleveland. Last week, Indianapolis bulldozed St. Louis and New England recently demolished Tennessee by a shocking 59 points. The Chargers, a team that has struggled, still managed to beat the Chiefs by 30 in Arrowhead.
Ultimately, if a case is to be made for parity this year, it can only reflect the teams who are vying for a wildcard spot and who perhaps have an outside shot at their division. These are teams such as Chicago, apparently Green Bay, the Dolphins, Ravens, Jets, and perhaps now the Giants and 49ers. The idea that one of these teams could knock off a top flight team is not unthinkable—Miami has almost done it twice. But almost is not the same thing as actually doing it, and at this point, it does not seem likely that a middling team has the horsepower to make a run January like Arizona did last year.
This year, it seems that not unlike the Yankees in baseball, there is a definite elite class in the NFL. And the idea of league parity is a floating balloon, the kind that just keeps rising until finally it is so far away that it has disappeared from sight.