It all started back in week one of the 2010 NFL season. It was a rainy Monday night at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City and the Chiefs had just put the finishing touches on what already seemed like the upset of the year against the San Diego Chargers. For years the Chargers had dominated the AFC West, seeing only occasional competition from the Broncos. The Raiders and Chiefs weren’t even on the map half the time. But for one night, the Chiefs were the toast of the NFL – one of the 16 remaining unbeatens after the first week of action. We all thought it was a fluke “The Chargers will bounce back” we all said. “It was rainy and Rivers didn’t have his top receivers” we confidently stated.
Well it wasn’t a fluke. That seemingly shocking victory by the Chiefs started a landslide of power in the NFL. For a while we all believed that the Texans were truly the best team in the AFC south, a division usually dominated by the Colts. The Bengals are usually at least in the running up in the AFC North, but this year they are nowhere to be found. The Patriots are atop their usual perch in the AFC East, but god only knows how. They rank 18th in total offense and 29th in total defense – hardly numbers you would expect from the team tied for the best record in the NFL.
We all knew the NFC West would be bad, but nobody expected to see the Seahawks and Rams battling for first place. Raise your hand if you predicted Tampa Bay with a winning record after the halfway point in the season. Chicago tied with Green Bay for the division lead? The Cowboys at 2-7?
Everywhere you turn; there are surprises this NFL season. Sure, we all love to talk about these upstart teams and what they are doing to win games on a weekly basis, but we aren’t talking about the big matchups anymore. Let’s face it, the NFL does a pretty bad job marketing its players which isn’t surprising given the way the game is played. We will all tune in to watch LeBron go up against the Celtics, to see Kobe outscore entire teams, or to see Amare’ straight posterize fools, but that is because they usually play at least 75% of the game and they make their own highlights. Sure, we may all love DeSean Jackson, but with nobody to throw him the ball, we might as well be watching a track meet. Even if you tune in to watch Peyton or Brady carve up some defenses, we only get to see them on offense about 50% of the time and if we are lucky, they are throwing more than they are running. No, the NFL is and always will market their teams and not the individuals which is what makes this season so bad. Matchups that looked good on paper before the season began are now ho-hum as we enter week 11.
The Patriots and Colts meet next week in what is usually the game of the year. More often than not, at least one of these teams is undefeated at this point in the season with the game usually deciding home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. This year it will no doubt be a good game, but they enter with a combined 5 losses, which is the most either team has seen in the last 10 years. In years past, you knew the teams would bring their A game no matter what, but this year we question which teams will show up. The Patriots team that dominated the Steelers last Sunday or the squad that let the Browns run roughshod all over them? And what about the Colts? Are we going to see the team that made Eli and the Giants look like fools or the team that laid down to die against the Jacksonville Jaguars?
Let’s take a look at the week 11 slate of games.
- Detroit at Dallas was a laugher 11 weeks ago, now it’s a coin flip.
- Green Bay at Minnesota was anticipated to be the game to decide the division, now it’s the game to decide whether Brett Favre even plays another meaningful down
- Seattle at New Orleans we anticipated would showcase one division leader, but two?
- Denver at San Diego should have been a game for the division lead, now its two teams trying to stay out of the cellar
Maybe I’m biased because I’m a Patriots fan, but parity is killing the NFL. Fans don’t like change, whether it’s with the rules, the players, or with the teams they love and hate. As a fan, I like knowing that the team who leads the division after week 10 is the strongest team that division has to offer. I question that validity in no fewer than five divisions this year. There are teams that everyone loves to hate: The Cowboys, the Patriots, the Chargers, the Packers. But how can we hate them when most of them aren’t even leading their divisions, let alone showcasing winning records?
Don’t get me wrong, I want a league that is just as competitive as the next. I want to know that every win this NFL Season was fought for and earned, but what we are seeing this year is ridiculous. I could see if the teams with the best records were consistently good, but they aren’t. The Seahawks get blown out 3 weeks in a row, then turn around and blow out the Cardinals as they sit atop the division. The Giants look amazing one week and then look like the worst team in the NFL the following week and its making it tough to enjoy the NFL this year.
Call me old fashioned, but I liked things better when I knew that the bad teams would lose badly and the good teams would win convincingly. Maybe it’s just bad picking, or maybe its because we’ve lost a step or two, but our panel of experts is a combined 333-243 (0.578) with our NFL Picks so far this season. You’d have to think that even with a hearty week of upsets, that our panel would get at least 2/3 of our picks correct. ESPN’s panel of 10 experts is 826-614 (0.573) so we actually don’t feel too bad. The point still stands, however, parity is making it tough to predict who will win every week, and subsequently whether a game is going to be worth watching or not.