Every league strives for that magical term "parity." This does not mean .500 teams across the league, but rather a degree of competitiveness that allows sportswriter and sports fan alike to keep bouncing infinite hypotheticals around to determine who will ultimately take home a championship.
In the face of a historic 46-2 possible record among the NFL’s three powerhouses (including a pair of undefeated teams), that parity looks to be quite intact. Indianapolis, New Orleans, and Minnesota have all had dominant games, but there have been plenty of games where they have looked beatable.
When New England steamrolled the regular season in 2007, they appeared unstoppable. That season likely cemented New England’s image afterwards as the NFL’s variation of an evil empire. 31 teams' worth of fans cheered when New England stumbled primarily because the Patriots looked like they never could.
New Orleans and Indianapolis are different. Minnesota, with two losses already, leaves that avenue of the debate by default. These teams all appear fallible.
Indianapolis has managed to survive, despite an array of injuries, especially within their secondary.
The Colts have also put together seven fourth-quarter comebacks this year. That consequently means they could as easily be 9-4 this year as undefeated, giving the Colts almost an underdog feel while they have yet to lose.
New Orleans has not had quite the number of comebacks, but also has appeared quite fallible. Experts have touted the Saints as "ripe for an upset" ever since a second-half comeback in Week Seven against the Dolphins.
Every game since has been kept close barring two: A Tampa Bay team that must almost be discounted from the discussion, and a New England Patriots team that finally slipped to second-tier status.
The defense has posted great turnover and touchdown numbers, but has been exposed at times. Drew Brees is posting another MVP-caliber year, but will not be making a run at record books like in 2008 (or Brady in 2007). The Saints team looks ultimately more complete then Indianapolis, and is the present Super Bowl favorite.
Prior to matching up against Arizona two weeks ago, Minnesota had the closest appearance to a juggernaut of the three. Brett Favre was garnering MVP discussion alongside Brees and Manning, while the Vikings boasted one of the best running backs in football in Adrian Peterson and a frightening defensive line fueled by the Williams wall and Jared Allen.
The Vikings had already lost once, but that minor blemish was long forgotten and 15-1 seemed inevitable, before a headache-inducing loss (for the opponents as well as experts trying to pick games) to a surging Cardinals team, 30-17.
The reality that Favre and Peterson were human set in quickly following 19 yards rushing (Peterson) and three interceptions (Favre).
Each of these teams has something to play for. New Orleans has never seen a Super Bowl. Minnesota hasn’t played in one since 1977.
The Colts have the luxury of a victorious end to their 2006 season but are not the playoff dynasty of the Steelers or Patriots (five of the last eight Super Bowls between them) having had just as many early exits as deep runs in going 7-8 in the playoffs during the Peyton Manning era.
When the New England Patriots were at their prime, they seemed to rise above history. One may contend the team flew too high, that David Tyree’s miracle catch was a wing-melting by-product of that ascent. Unlike that 16-0 New England team, these three have already proven that they are simply winning, not soaring above the league.
Will this translate into a trophy for one of these three teams? Has the regular season kept them humbled, while success has kept them hungry? These questions are a tremendous boon for the league in its entirety.
Great storylines abound, and not only could any one of these three teams win, but it would not be that surprising for virtually any division winner to push to the Super Bowl this year.
These teams have separated themselves, but parity is alive and well in the league. A 4-9 Redskins team can be embarrassed by Detroit, then go on to take New Orleans to overtime. Seven teams have been able to defeat Indianapolis across three quarters. Two teams have managed wins against Minnesota.
No matter how the playoffs transpire, each and every game should be interesting, and this year no team will project the image of a team-devouring monster; there will be no Goliaths to be downed by this year’s David (Tyree).