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Parity struggling through 2009 NFL season

| Thursday, Dec. 24, 2009

Somewhere, the late Pete Rozelle is smiling.

During his 29-year run as the NFL commissioner, Rozelle shaped the rules to his liking to produce a parity-induced league like no other.

More than three decades later, Rozelle's concept is working like it has never worked before, despite the prediction of its demise midway through this season.

The parity-is-dead theme hit its apex after Week 7.

That week, six of the 13 games played were decided by 28 points or more. Four were decided by at least 30 points.

That happened only once in NFL history, and that came a couple months into the merger season of 1970 when six games during Week 14 resulted in four-touchdown blowouts.

Add in a team like the Indianapolis Colts still flirting with perfection and 13 teams having a chance to finish with 10 or more wins, the parity-is-dead proclamation was being voiced by many.

Sports Illustrated's Kerry J. Byrne wrote earlier this year: "Instead of parity, what the NFL has these days is something much more frightening: the NFL has a crisis of competition."

Well, things have changed a little.

Now, the NFL still has echelon teams such as Indianapolis and New Orleans and bottom-tier teams such as Detroit and St. Louis. In fact, the top five NFL teams have a combined 59-11 record, and the bottom five have an 11-59 mark.

Other than that, it has been parity to the extreme in the middle.

Heading into the penultimate week of the season, 20 of the 32 teams have at least a .500 record, with seven sitting at 7-7. Two other teams are within reach of hitting .500 with two wins to end the season.

If that happens, Rozelle's brain child of NFL parity will hit an all-time high.

Never in the history of the NFL and never since Rozelle's AFL-NFL merger in 1970 has 22 teams finished the season at .500 or better — that's nearly 69 percent of the teams. And only twice in history has the AFC had so many teams at the .500 mark at the end of the season.

In 1999 and 2002, the AFC had 12 teams finish at least 8-8. The NFC never had more than 11, and that instance occurred last year.

The average number of teams finishing .500 or better since 1970 has been 16. If the league puts 22 at .500 or better this year, that's a 27 percent increase.

In three of the past four years, the NFL has had at least 20 teams at .500. It happened only once before that.

There are a lot of differences between this year's parity and last year's version.

Last season, there were many good teams. New England was left out of the playoffs despite winning 11 games.

It is a good possibility that this year a 9-7 team will capture one, if not both, of the wild-card spots.

"This is definitely the ultimate parity league," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said earlier in the year.

And nobody would know better than Tomlin.

His Steelers went from Super Bowl champs last year to barely a .500 team this year and an uphill battle to make the playoffs.



Colts: MVP Award is QB Peyton Manning's to lose.

Saints: They will try to make a run at the Super Bowl with a very average defense.

Chargers: Bolts continue to own December, which bodes well for them in January.

Eagles: Birds might be the best team in the NFC right now.

Vikings: Is there a rift between coach Brad Childress and QB Brett Favre?


Browns: Mike Holmgren's arrival probably means coach Eric Mangini is one and done.

Buccaneers: Rookie QB Josh Freeman impresses in surprising 24-7 win at Seattle.

Chiefs: Seriously, how did the Steelers lose to this team•

Lions: Still in running for No. 1 pick — Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh — in 2010 draft.

Rams: Have averaged a paltry 11.8 points in their last five games.

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