Parity in the NFL is Nothing to Complain About
Yesterday, Dan Graziano of ESPN wrote an article entitled, NFC East is a sign of NFL going south, in which he lambasted both NFC East and the NFL as a whole. Graziano says in his article, “You don’t have to be all that good to be champion.” He cites the regular season records of the three previous Super Bowl Champions – 10-6, 9-7, and 10-6 respectively – in support of his case. He gripes that a team will likely win the NFC East this year with a record around 8-8, claiming none in the division deserve a chance to win a title. Graziano dismisses Super Bowl runs as a simple three or four game hot streak away. Thus, he claims, the NFL system does not entice teams to play hard for all sixteen games. He blames this among factors for reduced quality of play and “unwatchable” games in the NFL.
I respectfully disagree with almost everything stated in Graziano’s article. By his logic, the NFL should have a BCS-like system where only the top two teams even get a chance to play for a championship. The entire idea behind playoffs is to make the top teams earn a championship, rather than have it gifted to them for their regular season performance. The NFL rewards the top teams with a bye week for their regular season standing (which may or may not be a boon, but that’s another issue). Yes, the past three Super Bowl Champions had modest regular season records, but counting the playoffs, each team finished with thirteen or fourteen wins. Regardless, a three or four game win streak against the league’s top teams is no easy feat. Winning when it counts is as much a part of being a champion as winning in general.
As for division winners not deserving playoff spots, look no further than Graziano’s own example, the 7-9 Seahawks who made the playoffs as a division winner in 2010. Thought their record might indicated they did not deserve to make the playoffs, they went on to upset the highly favored Saints. There is a lot more to teams than their records. If you want to fully understand a team, you have to look at strength of schedule and quality of wins. Going 8-8 in the AFC East is a lot different than going 8-8 in the AFC North. Graziano is right that any team that makes the playoffs has a chance to win a title; however this isn’t a bad thing. This unpredictability is what makes the NFL so exciting.
Labeling teams as good teams and bad teams, undeserving and deserving, is a highly subjective act. Teams have star players and strengths, but also faults. Injuries, staff changes, and rule changes often serve to make faults more glaring. Blanket judgments based on team records are a vast oversimplification. In my book, any team that can stay around until January and make the month-and-a-half push absolutely disserves the title of Super Bowl Champion.