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Sunday, September 25, 2022
Despite impending labor issues, NFL has competitve balance figured out

parker

Despite impending labor issues, NFL has competitve balance figured out

For some reason, football season seems to fly by every year. Maybe it's because teams can't play everyday like in baseball. Maybe it's because the playoffs don't serve as a regular-season redo like in the NBA and NHL. Whatever the reason may be, it feels like I just woke up from my NFL preseason-induced nap and yet we're already a quarter of the way through the regular season slate.

OK, so maybe one quarter isn't all that much. At this point on Sunday afternoon, even the St. Louis Rams are probably competitive.

But wait, here is where the metaphor gets real. This year, the Rams—the same team that compiled a 14-50 record and won exactly three divisional games between 2006 and 2009— are actually competitive, and they aren't alone. There are only two or three teams that have shown the lifelessness that suggests no chance at relevance between now and January.

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I was watching ESPN the other day and saw some football analyst—I don't remember who it was, probably because I was distracted by the obnoxiously large knot in Merrill Hodge's tie—and heard this rash of competitive play explained as a result of inconsistent play among the league's elite.

I disagree. I think the NFL has found it's most prized P-word.

Parity.

Now, I'm not trying to say that, come the release of Madden 2012, every team will have an overall rating of 84—some teams are clearly better than others—but this year more than others it seems that everybody is at risk of losing on Sunday.

Entering this weekend, 24 of the league's 32 teams have at least two wins. Four teams are still winless, but one of those is the San Francisco 49ers, who just four weeks ago sat as a near-unanimous pick to win the NFC West.

The only undefeated team remaining is the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs, if you remember, went 4-12 last year and only a breakout year from running back Jamaal Charles prevented complete offensive ineptitude.

Elsewhere, the Indianapolis Colts have to deal with a dangerous team in Houston and don't look like they can waltz to 12 wins and an easy division title—though I still wouldn't bet against Peyton Manning. The Texans, who came into the league as an expansion team in 2002, didn't find success overnight, but now appear to be a franchise coming to fruition through a couple of savvy trades and consistently productive draft classes.

This is the beauty of the NFL and the reason why we're seeing such competitive football this year. There are not one or two ways to build a successful team. It isn't baseball, where the vast majority of perennial contenders are from the big market cities.

Take the New York Jets and the Green Bay Packers as contrasting examples. They rank first and last, respectively, in market size and employ opposite personnel strategies. The Packers hoard draft picks like gold bullion, while the Jets hand out contracts to every free agent they can get on the phone.

What do they have in common? They're both trendy Super Bowl picks and they've both started the season 3-1.

The same can be said for poorly managed teams. The Lions tried to build through a slew of high draft picks under former GM Matt Millen, and look where that's gotten them. The Redskins throw money at free agents like Charles Barkley throws money at the craps table and yet they've had two winning seasons since 2001.

This competitive balance is something the players and owners should keep in mind during the impending standoff over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Clearly, the current system has flaws. The rookie pay scale, for example, is way out of whack.

However, if there's one thing both sides should realize before this standoff results in a lost 2011 season, it's that the current system enables a continually exciting league—and that's the best way to put butts in seats on Sunday.

Think the same old teams still rule? E-mail Parker at pjgabriel@dailycardinal.com

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