Turn out the lights, the parity's over.
We know the parity is over because the pigskin police squad called the Cold, Hard Football Facts busted down the door, confiscated the keg pouring out frothy pints of misinformation and silenced any drunken dissenters with our gridiron ball-gag.
That's right, we have a gridiron ball-gag. And we're not afraid to use it.
Parity has been an NFL buzz-word for more than two decades. It once had merit, too – back in the 1980s, when "parity" peaked and entered the cultural lexicon of pigskin.
But Men Without Hats peaked in the 1980s, too. Doesn't mean we do the Safety Dance every time we hear a bouncy new keyboard solo.
The truth is that, for more than a decade now, the NFL has been dominated by the AFC and, more specifically, it's been dominated by the modern Fearsome Foursome: Denver, Indy, New England and Pittsburgh.
You know these four teams are good. Maybe you don't realize just how truly dominant they have been.
The NFL's Fearsome Foursome has:
- Combined for just three losing seasons this decade
- A combined record of 301-154-1 (.661) this decade
- Won 9 of the past 12 AFC championships
- Won 7 of the past 10 Super Bowls
- Filled 16 of 24 spots in the last 12 AFC title games
- Filled 8 of 8 spots in the last four AFC title games
Does that sound like parity to you? We didn't think so.
It's more like a medieval bloodbath in which 28 teams cower in fear, fighting for scraps as these lords of football feudalism feast at their banquet table of victory.
This pigskin power structure doesn't look like it will change any time soon.
The Fearsome Foursome has raced out of the gates of the 2007 season with a combined 8-0 start. While Denver has fought through two close wins, the Steelers, Patriots and Colts are slicing through the opposition like a meat saw.
- The Steelers have outscored the opposition by a 6-to-1 margin (60-10) and lead the league in scoring differential (+50). They're a 9-point favorite against 2-0 San Francisco in Week 3.
- The Patriots whitewashed two 2006 playoff teams by a combined 76-28 and are second in the league in scoring differential (+48). They're a 16½-point favorite against 0-2 Buffalo in Week 3.
- The Colts humiliated 2006 NFC contender New Orleans in Week 1 and are third in the league in scoring differential (+33). They're a 6-point favorite at 2-0 Houston in Week 3.
That's pretty dominant stuff in a league in which, through Week 2, 26 of the other 29 teams have a scoring differential of less than +20.
The unchallenged dominance of the Fearsome Foursome speaks loud and clear: the parity is over. Time to go home.
The Peak of Parity: 1988
So why all this talk about parity, anyway?
It started in the 1980s and, like a Hollywood coke binge, it's never really ended.
With a few notable exceptions, standout teams were few and far between in the early digital era. And when standout teams did arise, they usually found little competition.
Everybody remembers the mighty 15-1 Bears of 1985. But they were the only team in the NFC that year that won more than 11 games. That's a pretty deep pool of parity.
Over in the AFC, meanwhile, the 1985 Browns became the first .500 team to reach the playoffs, winning the AFC Central with an 8-8 record.
Compare that 1985 season to 2006, when five teams won 12 or more games. It was a year in which Baltimore and San Diego were a combined 27-5, but were each one-and-done in the playoffs, losing to 12-win teams. That's four 12-win teams in the AFC alone last year, compared with just three in the entire NFL back in 1985.
Even Joe Montana's mighty 49ers stand as a testament to parity. His 1981 49ers set a new standard for parity, arising from 6-10 in 1980 to 13-3 and Super Bowl champions in 1981.
Montana's 1988 team, meanwhile, won just 10 games – the fewest ever for a Super Bowl champion. Not so coincidentally, that 1988 season was the most competitive in NFL history.
According to the NFL Record & Fact Book, in 1988:
- 50.4 percent of games were decided by 7 points or less (most since 1970 merger)
- 27.7 percent of games were decided by 3 points or less (second most since 1970 merger)
For comparison's sake, in 2006:
- 45.7 percent of games were decided by 7 points or less
- 23.8 percent of games were decided by 3 points or less
The Cold, Hard Football Facts are pretty clear: the parity reached its climax two decades ago, with Whitesnake blasting over the speakers.
The Legacy of Parity
The legacy of parity is with us today: Anytime there's an unexpectedly close game, you can bet your beer money that an announcer will break out the dreaded "p" word. We heard it again this Sunday, when the defending Super Bowl champion Colts eked out a 2-point win over Tennessee.
Never mind that the Titans are an up-and-coming team playing at home and that Indy really dominated the game more than the score indicated. The game was taken by some as a sign that "parity" still reigns in today's NFL.
This fallacy, this belief that "parity" is a modern phenomenon, belies the Cold, Hard Football Facts: the NFL has always been hyper-competitive, and even the lowest bottom feeders have always had a chance to knock off the mighty mastodons on the top of the food chain.
Note these three examples:
The 1966 Packers are one of the great teams in NFL history. They went 12-2 and outscored their opponents by better than a 2-to-1 margin. They lost to the 4-9-1 Vikings and the 6-6-2 49ers.
The 1973 Dolphins are one of the great teams in NFL history. They went 12-2 (on the heels of their 14-0 1972 season) and outscored their opponents by better than a 2-to-1 margin. They lost to the 4-9-1 Colts, a team that had just lost six straight games before beating Miami.
The 1992 Cowboys are one of the great teams in NFL history. They went 13-3, led by the Hall of Fame "triplets" at the height of their powers. They lost in the middle of the season to the 6-10 Rams, which fielded one of the worst defenses in football that year.
The Morning After
The NFL does every thing it can to keep the parity going. From the salary cap to the supplemental draft, the league wants to ensure that the good times roll for fans in every NFL city.
But the league has failed. The truth is that the NFL has always been a competitive place, never more so than it was in the 1980s, and that great teams have always found a way to be heard above the din.
And over the past decade, four teams, not to mention the Cold, Hard Football Facts, have announced the truth loud and clear: time to turn out the lights, the parity's over.
We'll have proof yet again on February 3, when the Broncos, Colts, Patriots or Steelers hoist the Lombardi Trophy in Arizona.