For years now, it has been the dream of NFL commissioners to get a league that has every team competing at an equal level. Of course, a league where all teams have competitive balance could mean significantly more NFL revenues. Think about it. All teams that enter the season with the belief that this could be the year that they when the championship. If you’re a fan New England Patriots or Indianapolis Colts fan, you may not be able to relate. However, if you’re a long time Atlanta Falcons or New Orleans Saints fan, you know what it’s like to start each season off just hoping for a playoff team or even a winning team. From a commissioner’s standpoint, having 32 teams with championship aspirations has some direct mathematical effects. In this dream, 32 teams will have near sell out stadiums. All 32 teams will have large product sells. All 32 teams will have local and national TV and radio networks trying to get a piece of the action on to their station. In this dream, all teams and owners are happy the commissioner is king.
Although that dream may never be realized, through good management (or just blind luck), the NFL has the competitive season in the modern era. Going into week 6, there are no unbeaten teams. The Colts and Patriots have already chalked multiple losses. Oddsmaker favorites such as the Vikings and Cowboys have only 2 combined wins. Even last year’s defending champion New Orleans Saints and that potent offense have only 3 wins against teams with 1 combined victory between them while losing 2 to teams that are considered to be in rebuilding years. Entering week 6, there appears to be no dominant team in the NFL. Pittsburgh Steelers fans may argue as they have only lost one game to the Ravens and have been in essence playing their 4th string Quarterback, but I dare say that the Steelers wins have been dominant.
I don’t think Roger Goodell or any of the other NFL executives, owners or league officials can take the credit for the balance across the league and not every team is experiencing it. Just ask Panthers, Bills and 49ers fans. There are a couple of simple reasons why the teams we thought were going to be dominant are suffering and why teams the likes of Tampa Bay and Kansas City have come out of seemingly nowhere to surprise the league. Let’s take a team by team look at the surprise teams and to semi-quote Dennis Green, see why they aren’t what we thought they were!
1. New Orleans Saints – Injuries: You know about Darren Sharper, Reggie Bush, Tracy Porter, Pierre Thomas and company, but Drew Brees appears to being playing hurt as well. The team has no running game and until they find one, they will struggle. Missing Reggie Bush is huge because when the running game struggles, the short check down passes to him opens up the offense.
2. Indianapolis Colts – Injuries/Competition: I hate to sound like a broken record, but aside from Reggie Wayne, each Colts receiver has been on an injury report. Joseph Addai and Donald Brown have each had nagging injuries that have limited them. Also, every team in the division is 3 and 2. If that’s not parity, I don’t know what is.
3. Minnesota Vikings – Injuries/No Favre magic: I promise you, that I’m not saying the same thing over again, but once again injuries are killing a team. Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin have had their injury issues which have really hurt the passing game. The secondary is a wreck and Brett just ain’t the Brett we used to know. Brett is finally looking like a 40 year old, but the addition of Randy Moss might get the old gunslinger back in the saddle again.
4. Dallas Cowboys – The O Line & Defense: No injury problems here. The Cowboys just can’t run block to get the running game going and the Defense is still in pre-season mode. Wouldn’t it be funny if another Texas team was playing in Dallas in February?
5. San Diego Chargers – Players not there: Marcus McNeil’s holdout is hurting this team. Also, Ladainian Tomlinson is having a heck of a year…for another team while no Chargers back are getting the job done. Vincent Jackson is not a factor, but the LT and McNeil absence are being felt in the win/loss column.
6. Green Bay Packers – Injuries: After reading injuries so many times, you may begin to ask why. Injuries are after all a part of the game. They are, but some injuries are just too much. Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, half of the defensive line and secondary are just too much to overcome even when you have this much talent.
7. Kansas City Chiefs – Coaching/Management: Wait they’re doing well. No they’re playing great! They’re a shock in the different direction. Great coaching is the reason. This is the KC version of the Patriots. Patriots Superbowl Offensive Coordinator – CHECK. Patriots Superbowl Defensive Coordinator – CHECK. Patriots Superbowl General Manager – CHECK. Get the message?
8. New England Patriots – Defense/Retooling: Yes the Patriots are 3 and 1, but when you’re the Patriots and you’re healthy, you should be nervous. They don’t want to say rebuilding, so we’ll call it retooling. You still have Brady, Welker and Belichik, so you can still compete, but you’re defense is young and you do have the J -E -T -S, Jets , Jets, Jets in your division which will give your problems.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Josh Freeman/Schedule – Josh Freeman has been a very pleasant surprise to the Buccaneers and he appears to be a legitimate NFL QB, but the schedule has been favorable. Next up is a very upset and wounded Saints team that may look to use them as a springboard to get back going, but this team’s weak schedule may allow them to shockingly make the playoffs.
Well there you have it. Is there really parity in the NFL? Don’t think so. There will always be a few shockers and as long as a few teams have the elite quarterbacks (Brady, P. Manning & Brees) these teams will be competitive at a minimum. It was a good dream Mr. Commissioner, but I still believe that a couple teams will emerge as dominant teams and leave the others behind. We’ll just have to wait and see.