Let’s take a moment not to dwell on power rankings that may or may not have the Ravens up ahead of the Jets or Steelers, because I never saw a team make or miss the playoffs because of Power Rankings. It’s the same thing as the college football polls- unless you are battling for a BCS at-large bid or the national championship, it really doesn’t matter whether you are ranked or not. Five games into a very muddied season, there is no unbeaten team, no sure-fire dominant team, and a number of teams that could battle for futility (Bills probably win that dubious distinction at this point, but their offense tells me that at least they are doing something right… maybe). But what does this mean for the NFL?
Just last season, people were calling the draft a failure, that parity was dead and never to return. Revenue sharing, the salary cap, were all shot and unable to overcome the clear talent disparities and differences in executive management. That was 2009. Now we are in 2010, and could it perhaps be that we were all overreacting? I said it then and I will say it now, the Law of Averages guarantees that occasionally there will be outliers, seasons that defy the norm. With two undefeated teams staying that way deep into the season in 2009, that could have been one of those years. With a jumble of teams heaped together in the standings, 2010 could be an outlier on the other end. But with every team having a shot, the NFL has by far more parity than any f the other major sports, save for hockey. Why hockey? Because playoff hockey is the flukiest exercise I have ever seen, and any team can beat any other team over a 7 game series in that sport- but that’s another piece.
Why are so many teams muddled together? There are the underachievers (San Diego, Dallas, Minnesota, San Francisco), the overachievers (Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Kansas City), and then the teams that just can’t play the same way two weeks in a row (Green Bay, Houston, Indianapolis). Surely, some of these teams will start to get into a rhythm as the season goes on, the same way the Giants have started to do since losing to the Titans, which might be getting on its own roll. Each season we dive into the NFL world with expectations built on what the teams did in December and January, and we forget what happened in September and October except as something to set the stage for the great storylines of the late parts of the season.
We forget that the Chargers started out 2-3 last season, or that the Falcons started out 0-3, or that the Jaguars teased us last year at 3-3. We remember how great or terrible they were in December and expect that to replicate itself in September of the next year. The teams that are bunched together won’t stay that way for long, though we will surely see a turnover of at least half of the playoff teams from 2009- no not because parity is alive and well, but because that’s what happens every year.
And you know, parity doesn’t have to be alive and well. What fun would it be if every team went 8-8. The only reason NFL fans want parity is to give every team a chance to win, but there always have to be underdogs. The league nominally pursues parity because it will never get there, but that in trying it gets close enough to keep the game interesting. Parity won’t be dead for a long time, if for no other reason than football has injuries, coaching staffs change, draft picks bust, and, well, sometimes a team just falls apart. There will always be 3-13 teams and 13-3 teams, and even though every team is saddled with one loss and most have at least one win, there will be those teams this year.
The Ravens have their own flaws, and whether they are #1 or #12 in some sportswriter’s Power Rankings it won’t matter come December. Chances are, this Ravens team will look very different in December than it does now. A year ago it was Ray Rice emerging as the go-to running back over the course of the year and becoming a dynamic threat all over the field. It will be something else this year. Baltimore is a step above most of the teams in the NFL in Week 6, and a convincing win over the Patriots would do a lot to quiet any remaining critics. Whether the game will be like the 27-21 regular season loss or the 33-14 playoff win will be decided by whether each team is more like its January version or the October one.