It happened in 2007, after a lifetime of being told it never would and it never could. The New England Patriots made it through an entire regular season without suffering a defeat — 16-0. And they were one play away from going the distance; 19-0, something the Green Bay Packers have a good shot at doing this year.
Then came 2008, and something just as unique happened again, something we heard our whole lives was impossible to ever re-occur: a team going winless throughout the regular season. But the Detroit Lions accomplished it, and around the country, Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans rejoiced with the knowledge that their legacies were either in tact or finally eroded.
But now we have a new development: a possible winless and undefeated team in the same year, and somewhere the ghost of former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle is very, very angry, for his pet project parity is officially dead.
Sure, we still have some vestiges of parity left, just as there was still a Rome for hundreds of years after the Visigoths sacked it, but much like that ancient city, the ruins of parity are all around us to see. We still have a draft that rewards teams who fail, but that’s about all that’s left from Rozelle’s plan to maintain a competitive balance where in a single game, any team could win on any given Sunday.
That still happens because of the bounce of the not-so-perfectly-shaped ball, but the old system of parity died when the NFL realigned in 2002 and completely changed the way it scheduled NFL games. Moving teams wasn’t enough, the NFL wanted to come up with a more ‘fair’ balance where every team would play every other team on a regular basis, and no team would ever go more than eight years without playing at the same venue. The 2009 Buccaneers finally played a regular season game at Buffalo, and they’ve been around since 1976.
The problem with that, is it removed the old way of scheduling, by rewarding teams with poor records with an easier slate of games for the next year. Last-place teams would play last-place schedules, which resulted in a weaker team having a better chance at an 8-8 record. First-place teams would play all the other first-place teams, and that would help keep records in check. That’s all gone, and only two games per year are still decided at random against teams in the same conference and also in the same seed in the division as the other. If the Washington Redskins finish in last place, they will play two last-place teams from the NFC divisions that they do not play next year. Two games does not do much to deter a 13-0 team from occurring. If it’s your division’s turn to play another division that just happens to be full of struggling teams, you’re going to get four shots at an easy win. And if your own division isn’t in the best of shape, well now you’ve got six more W’s, and that’s 10 wins right there.
Until another commissioner comes along who wants parity again, expect more 14-2 and 15-1 teams, and a boatload of the 1-15 and 2-14 variety to continue to be the norm in the NFL. And if your team wants a shot a stardom, then build your squad accordingly, and wait for the schedule to align itself just right. And if your team is the one on its way to infamy? It helps to remember the old saying; “When in Rome.”
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