Parity balances things across the board

Nov 7, 2005 11:35 PM

For years, the NFL has been the sports leader when it comes to parity.

Pete Rozelle was credited with, "On any given Sunday any team can beat any other team." That’s still the mantra of the league. Revenue sharing, the draft and the salary cap have all helped to level the playing field — more or less keeping the competitive balance.

Even the worst NFL team would trounce the best college football team if the two were able to face off at the end of each season. Every pro roster is stocked with super-talented college players, while roughly two or three athletes from a college team are good enough to ever play in the pros.

The draft is the biggest contributor to NFL parity, with the worst teams having the first shot at the best players. Another reason is that so many players are needed to play football. You can’t run out and buy 10-15 of the best free agents to change the fortune of your team. You’d go broke.

There is more of a possibility in basketball. If you purchased two key free agents, that’s would represent 40 percent of the starting five. On the other hand, two free agent football players would be less than 10 percent of your starting offense and defense.

Pro football teams have to build through the draft, which increases the odds of all the clubs being more equal.

There have been some truly poor football teams this season, such as the Texans, Vikings and the Saints. The Texans can’t defend or block anyone. The Saints have been pretty much on the road all year, while the Vikings are a lost ship without a rudder under Mike Tice.

However, the talent gap is relatively thin in professional football, and teams can often bounce back from one or two terrible performances with a surprisingly strong game. The Saints, for instance, followed up a 52-3 loss at Green Bay with a 34-31 "cover" defeat to the Falcons. The Saints dominated the game, with an edge in yardage of 456-266.

Keep this in mind when you see a pro football team roll by 20 points in back-to-back games, which is not easy to do. If a team wins by an average score of 30-10 in consecutive weeks, it may be time to check the other side. Off two blowout wins, the club can be overvalued. Take the Steelers, which opened with consecutive wins of 34-7 against Tennessee and 27-7 over Houston. Pittsburgh then lost a revenge spot at home over New England, 23-20.

In order to win by at least 20 in consecutive games, a team has to play close to two straight perfect games. In this day of parity, that takes a rare combination of talent, execution, health and luck.

A few years ago, the Jaguars trounced Cleveland and Arizona by 48-0 and 44-10 scores. The next game, Jacksonville was a 10-point favorite at Cincinnati and lost 17-14. That same season, Tampa Bay pounded Chicago (41-0) and won at Detroit (31-10), covering both easily. The Bucs came home to play the Jets and, as a 7-point favorite, lost outright 21-17. In short, it’s not easy keeping up that kind of dominance.

The Colts have defied that angle twice, this season and last. This season, Indy won 31-10 at Tennessee and 28-3 at San Francisco in consecutive games. The Colts won 45-28 over the Rams, getting the cover as a 13-point favorite. Last season, the Colts , ripped Houston 49-14 and the Bears 41-10, then covered 41-9 at Detroit as a 10-point favorite. Indy won the following week also at Tennessee, 51-24. Very impressive, if not very common.

In 1999, St. Louis Rams went 14-4-1 ATS. The Rams had a streak of five straight games early in the year where they smashed opponents by close to a 30-10 average before losing as a 3-point favorite to Tennessee, 24-21.

Overall, however, you rarely see pro teams keep up 20-point or more dominance for more than two games.