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Parity; Is it Really a Problem?

You hear the word 'parity' frequently from journalists covering the NFL these days. More often than not it is combined with the words 'lack of' or they drive home the same sentiments with innuendo and assertions. Rarely are facts provided, only one or two examples of grossly mismatched teams.

This post will be short and to the point as my time is quite constrained. With work and school, along with a newborn baby; my free time is rapidly vanishing. So consider this to be one of the rare posts I will be able to put together this year. Let's just say I will aim for quality over quantity.

I set out today to challenege this idea and maybe even dispell the myth of a lack of parity in the NFL. Let's see how it shapes up.

I went back to research the league from 1980 to now. It is widely assertedthat the 1980's were a decadent time with so few teams reaping all of the glory. The 1980's spawned all of the NFL's attempts to increase parity in the league. Through Free Agency, Collective Bargaining, and rule changes.

Naturally, parity has always been a strong-armed tool for the NFL Players Association in negotiations. They knew the NFL wanted to increase the parity and competitiveness of the league and the NFLPA used that want to get many concessions. My question is simple, did all of these changes actually improve parity in the league?

To answer this questions I needed to figure out the single best example of parity. I found that making the playoffs is the single biggest factor in determining success in the NFL on a yearly basis. Obviously, winning it all is important too and I will also be incorporating Super Bowl appearances into my comparisons.

Let's look at the 1980's

Throughout the decade, every single team made the playoffs at least once with the exception of the Green Bay Packers and the St. Louis Cardinals. It is important to note that it was far more difficult to reach the playoffs in the 1980's than it is today. Back then, only one Wild Card team was allowed per conference. Even the Denver Broncos missed the playoffs once even though they had an 11-5 record!

The 80's saw several teams dominate the decade and the Super Bowl appearances. Only ten different teams in the entire decade reached the Super Bowl, while just five different teams claimed the title. The 1980's did have a lack of parity. Obviously, the NFC dominated the decade. The San Francisco 49ersappeared in the playoffs eight times with four Super Bowl titles and were the team of this decade. They were followed in playoff appearances by the Los Angeles Rams with seven, then the Chicago Bears, Washington Redskins, and New York Giants with five each.

The AFC saw no one team become truly dominate for the entire decade. The Denver Broncos came the closest, though mostly in the latter part of the 1980's. Playoff Appearances were led by the Cleveland Browns with six, then followed by the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos with five each. All the AFC teams made the playoffs, so parity was quite good in this conference - though they were dominated by the top heavy NFC.

Playoff Appearances By Team (1980’s)
-- 6+ 5 4 3 2 1 0
AFC 1 2 4 3 2 2 0
NFC 2 3 3 0 0 4 2

How about the 1990's?

The 1990's is supposed to be regarded as the decade of parity. This is when many of the rules were change, free agency, ect. Our first point of contention shows parity improved, as the only team from this decade that did not have at least one playoff appearance was the Cincinnati Bengals.

The funny thing about parity is that you have to look at the bigger picture. The 1990's decade was dominated even more so than the 1980's if you look deeper into the playoff scenarios.

So how did the Golden Age of parity play out? We saw 13 different teams make it to the Super Bowl and seven different teams winning it. The Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos were the only two teams win more than one Super Bowl during this decade. Not only that, but teams were making the playoffs more frequently. Out of 30 possible teams(New Cleveland isn't counted here), only eight teams made the playoffs less than three times - one of those being the expansion Carolina Panthers.

So parity had finally arrive in the NFL, but was it here to stay?

Playoff Appearances By Team (1990’s)
-- 6+ 5 4 3 2 1 0
AFC 4 2 2 3 1 2 1
NFC 5 0 2 4 1 2 0

2000 and beyond; parity an issue once more

The millennium saw a resurgence of another dynasty. That mythical word which makes Gods of men. Or perhaps it was the return to having two teams not making the playoffs in the decade. Too bad if you are a Buffalo Bills or Detroit Lions fan.

Or perhaps it was the lack of parity in the Super Bowls...nope that's not it. 13 different teams once again made it to the big game, with the potential of two more making in before the end of this decade. Though only six different teams have claimed the title, but who knows, could a seventh be lurking in the near future? I like our chances.

Playoff Appearances By Team (2000’s)
-- 6+ 5 4 3 2 1 0
AFC 5 2 1 2 3 1 1
NFC 3 2 3 4 3 0 1

The Final Verdict

Judging by my nifty charts, parity has slightly improved this decade. This decade saw just three teams out of 32 make it to two or less playoff games.

To me, that shows parity. Even the worst teams make the playoffs occasionally, whereas in the past, they had no chance. This allows fanbases to grow and to flourish and any further meddling may only hinder this growth.

The main problem with parity is simply the lack of franchise quality talent at the quarterback position. I know this is a blanket statement and may rub some people the wrong way, but allow me to elaborate on this conclusion. The following is a list of all the best football teams of each decade in terms of playoff and Super Bowl appearances. Ask yourself if you know who the QB was/is for that team(Note: I know there will be exceptions, looking at the overall picture here).

Best Teams By Decade
1980’s 1990’s 2000’s
San Francisco 49ers
8 Playoffs
4 Super Bowls
Dallas Cowboys
8 Playoffs
3 Super Bowls
New England Patriots
7 Playoffs
4 Super Bowls
Denver Broncos
5 Playoffs
3 Super Bowls
Buffalo Bills
8 Playoffs
4 Super Bowls
Indianapolis Colts
9 Playoffs
1 Super Bowl
Washington Redskins
5 Playoffs
3 Super Bowls
San Francisco 49ers
8 Playoffs
1 Super Bowl
Pittsburgh Steelers
6 Playoffs
2 Super Bowls
Miami Dolphins
5 Playoffs
2 Super Bowls
Denver Broncos
5 Playoffs
2 Super Bowls
Philadelphia Eagles
8 Playoffs
1 Super Bowl
New York Giants
5 Playoffs
1 Super Bowl
Green Bay Packers
6 Playoffs
2 Super Bowls
New York Giants
6 Playoffs
2 Super Bowls

That is not to say a team cannot win Super Bowls with a Trent Dilfer-type quarterback, but if you want to build a decade-long dominate team you will need a top tier player under center. There is just no way around this fact. Parity will only exist between teams who rival each other in talent and let's face it, the quarterback position is the single most important position on the team. A great quarterback still needs a supporting cast, but without the one piece of the puzzle a team will never assert itself into the realm of the elite.

There are other factors that play into league parity, but for teams whose owners care less about winning than the bottom line have no right to complain about parity or fairness. Though even teams with great ownership have years of struggle between success. By and large though, they are able to return from the pits of mediocrity to competitiveness in fair short order. Those teams who are run well from the top down are able to win consistently in the NFL(with or without a franchise QB) and most of those teams achieve victory at the expense of their bottom lines.

Here is my final chart of the day, listing all teams past and present since 1980 and how they fared in each decade. You will see which teams care about winning and which care about the bottom line. The NFL in general should not be blamed for this. Those organizations should only be looking the mirror to find out why they are drafting in the Top 10 every year.

Playoff Appearances By Decade
TEAM 80’s SB 90’s SB 00’s SB
ARI/STL 0 0 1 0 2 1
ATL 1 0 3 1 3 0
BUF 4 0 8 4 0 0
CAR - - 1 0 3 1
CHI 5 1 3 0 3 1
CIN 3 2 0 0 2 0
CLE - - 0 0 1 0
CLE/BAL* 6 0 1 0 6 1
DAL 4 0 8 3 4 0
DEN 5 3 5 2 4 0
DET 1 0 6 0 0 0
GB 0 0 6 2 6 0
HOU/TEN 4 0 5 1 6 0
HOU - - - - 0 0
ARI/STL 0 0 1 0 2 1
IND 1 0 3 0 9 1
JAX - - 4 0 2 0
KC 1 0 6 0 2 0
LA/STL 7 0 1 1 4 1
MIA 5 2 7 0 3 0
MIN 4 0 7 0 4 0
NE 2 1 4 1 7 4
NO 1 0 3 0 3 0
NYG 5 1 3 1 6 2
NYJ 3 0 2 0 5 0
OAK/LA 4 2 3 0 3 1
PHI 4 1 4 0 8 1
PIT 3 0 6 1 6 2
SD 2 0 3 1 5 0
SEA 4 0 1 0 5 1
SF 8 4 8 1 2 0
TB 1 0 2 0 5 1
WAS 5 3 4 1 2 0

*The NFL allowed Cleveland to keep the Browns history when the team moved to Baltimore, however, for this purpose I am tracking the ownership and the ownership in Cleveland today stinks, while the ownership in Baltimore is rather good.

To round out this post, I have developed a list of the best run organizations over the past thirty years based on my analysis in this post along with judging continuity of competitiveness.

1. New England Patriots - No team has been to more Super Bowls in the last thirty years and also has at least one appearance in each decade.

2. New York Giants - Aside from the Patriots, the Giants are the only team to have appeared in a Super Bowl in each of the last three decades.

3. Denver Broncos - Five Super Bowl appearances help, but more than that is the upheaval over a string of .500 records. This franchise has only recorded four losing seasons in three decades.

4. Pittsburgh Steelers - There stock was hurt by a weak showing in the 80's, but there is no denying how well run this franchise is.

5. San Francisco 49ers - The 49ers have had their ups and downs as a franchise, but 16 playoff appearances in two decades is astounding and it looks like they may finally be turning the corner.

There you have it. It appeared to me that parity had more to do with ownership than with new rules, free agency, and that kind of thing. A team is also greatly affected by the presence of a Hall of Fame type of quarterback. What it comes down too is this; you need a great quarterback surrounded by a supporting cast to win Super Bowls. However, teams that have poor ownership are rarely able to build teams capable of greatness.

In conclusion of my conclusion I have concluded that the only way to improve parity at this point is for Roger Godell to sue for the right to have gaurdianship over Al Davis.  Upon winning, he should immediately place Al Davis into an assisted-living home.  This will improve parity just enough to keep the parity-nazis off his back for the next 10 years. 

This is a Fan-Created Comment on MileHighReport.com. The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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