‘Parity’ drawing 20-point routs

Nov 28, 2006 2:16 AM

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.

The Bears, Ravens, Colts, Pats, Chargers and Broncos comprise out list of elite teams. While they have a legitimate shot of making the Super Bowl, all have shown weaknesses that can be exploited.

Chicago and San Diego go with starting QBs with less than two seasons of starting experience. Denver is riding with a shaky Jake Plummer. New England has had an up and down passing offense and a rookie kicker. Indy owns the NFL’s worst run defense.

This is parity at work. Salary caps and free agency make it difficult for teams to simply buy players to shore up weak areas, as is the case in baseball. In football, if you pay a lot to get or retain a key player, you may lose a star in another area. Ex: The Colts situation with Edgerrin James winding up in Arizona.

Revenue sharing, the draft and the salary cap have all helped to level the playing field and keep competitive balance. Even the worst NFL team would trounce the best from college. Why? Well, every pro roster is stocked with super-talented college players. Roughly two or three athletes from a college team are good enough to ever play in the pros.

The draft is a major contributor to parity. The worst teams have the first shot at the best players. So many players are needed to play football, that you can’t run out and buy 10-15 of the best free agents to change the fortunes of your team. You’d go broke. If you buy two key free agents in pro basketball, that’s 40 percent of your starting five. Two free agent football players would be less than 10 percent of your starting offense and defense.

Instead, pro football teams have to build through the draft. That increases the odds of all the clubs being more equal. Teams can often bounce back from one or two terrible performances with a surprisingly strong game. Houston followed up a 34-6 loss at Dallas with a 27-7 rout of Jacksonville as a home dog. Tennessee rebounded from a 45-14 loss to Dallas with a 14-13 near upset win at Indy as a +17 dog.

On the other side, the undefeated Bears clawed the 49ers 41-10 only to lose at home to Miami the next week, 31-13 as a 2 TD favorite.

If a pro team beats another by 20 or more in consecutive weeks, it can be a good time to look at the other side. The club off two blowout wins can be overvalued. In order to win by that kind of margin in consecutive games, a team has to play nearly two perfect games. With parity, that takes a rare combination of talent, execution, health and luck.

The Bears have fallen into that pattern twice. They won their first two games by 26-0 and 34-7 scores, then failed to cover in a win at Minnesota. Later they blew out Seattle (37-6) and Buffalo (40-7), then were lucky to win 24-23 at Arizona as a 13-point favorite.

A few years ago, the Jaguars trounced Cleveland and Arizona by 48-0 and 44-10 scores! The next game they were 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 lost at home 21-17 to the Jets as a 7-point favorite.

The only recent team to defy the trend was the 1999 St. Louis Rams, who went 14-4-1 ATS on the way to a Super Bowl title. The Rams had a streak of five straight games early in the year where they smashed opponents by some 20 points. Then they lost 24-21 to Tennessee as a 3-point favorite.

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