New England Patriots and Competitive Balance in the NFL
This year, the NFL's much-vaunted parity has become something of a joke.
The league has clearly been stratified this year—there are the top contenders, and then there's everyone else. We have a bevy of teams that are just plain horrible: the Titans, Browns, Bucs, Chiefs, Rams, Redskins, Raiders, and Lions are all haplessly running out the clock at this point.
Pundits everywhere are decrying the blowouts and questioning what can be done.
Why does this matter to the Patriots? Well, the team has been on the winning side of some awfully lopsided games. Since the team is part of the NFL's current ruling class, it behooves fans to know when guillotine sales go up.
Successful teams should listen very closely whenever there is talk of leveling the playing field.
What complicates matters is the current collective bargaining agreement talks between the NFL and the players' union. This means the league would be ideally positioned to launch a large, system-altering change like the salary cap and free agency.
I believe, though, that a substantial change to the way the league is set up is unlikely.
When you look at the league's changes over the years, they have always intended to right a tangible wrong: free agency took away a team's ability to control a player's career, and the salary cap prevented the sort of payroll disparity we currently see in baseball.
What, then, would be the tangible wrong in today's NFL?
The teams mentioned earlier aren't there because they lack the money to compete, or because players are unavailable. No, those teams are currently losing because they have been mismanaged over several years (with the exception of the Titans, whose downfall this year has been unexpected).
Their personnel staffs have evaluated players incorrectly. Their front offices have signed ill-advised, cap-killing deals. They've likely had a revolving door at the coaching positions, each new one seeking to implement his own system (and consequently resulting in a whole lot of mismatched pieces).
How, then, could the problem be fixed? The league doesn't (and shouldn't) have the power to completely reshape noncompeting teams.
The NFL has spent years protecting teams from those factors typically blamed for imbalance, but it has finally found one that cannot be solved easily: organizational incompetence.
Perhaps things are as they should be—well-run teams (like the Pats, Colts, and Steelers) are seeing their foresight rewarded. Poorly-run teams are performing miserably.
Perhaps imbalance is the natural state of things.
That won't stop people from bemoaning 59-0 games, though.
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