NFL Parity? These numbers tell a different story

So, the NFL officially kicks off the second half of its too-short season this evening with a matchup of the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears – 49ers coach Mike Singletary facing his old team and tight end Vernon Davis calling out the Bears, saying that “I think we can destroy them”

How can you not love this?  Even if you’re not a fan of these teams.  Every game matters.  And there are only 127 regular-season games left on the calendar.  That’s crazy.

What’s not so crazy is the way that the season has played out so far.  You might even go so far as to say it’s been predictable.  At least as far as wins and losses go, that is.

This being the midseason point, many prognosticators have offered up their midseason analysis.  I could choose anybody, but I’ll stick with tried-and-true John Clayton of ESPN, who is mercifully no longer engaged in useless faux arguments with the now-departed Sean Salisbury, and whose team grades are representative of those who are best able to gauge the importance of the events of the first half of the season. 

For his full midseason recap, click here.

Now, what is most interesting is that I have matched his grade up alongside every team’s record over the last 4 1/2 seasons.  What makes that number meaningful?  Well, at one time there was such a thing as a 5-year plan when it came to putting together a successful sports franchise.  Those days may be gone in this age of instant gratification, but the time period remains valid as a way to study success (or lack of it) over a fair period of competition.

And this is where the results of this season show some basic predictive measures, based upon previous performance.

I’ve grouped the HAVES and the HAVE-NOTS.  Simply, the HAVES achieved a record of .500 or better since the beginning of the 2005 season and the HAVE-NOTS have not.  Get it?  Good. 

The chart below lists every team in the NFL, from top to bottom, with records from the last 5 seasons and playoff seasons marked with an asterisk. 

(2009 midseason grade) / team / 2009 record / 2008 record / 2007 record / 2006 record / 2005 record / (overall record) / (playoff apps.)

HAVES

(A) Indianapolis 8-0, 12-4*, 13-3*, 12-4*, 14-2* (59-13) (4)
(B) New England 6-2, 11-5, 16-0*, 12-4*, 10-6* (55-17) (3)
(A-) Pittsburgh 6-2, 12-4*, 10-6*, 8-8, 11-5* (47-25) (3)
(B-) San Diego 5-3, 8-8*, 11-5*, 14-2*, 9-7 (47-25) (3)
(A-) Dallas 6-2, 9-7, 13-3*, 9-7*, 9-7 (46-26) (2)
(C) New York Giants 5-4, 12-4*, 10-6*, 8-8*, 11-5* (46-27) (4)
(D) Chicago 4-4, 9-7, 7-9, 13-3*, 11-5* (44-28) (2)
(A) Denver 6-2, 8-8, 7-9, 9-7, 13-3* (43-29) (1)
(C) Carolina 3-5, 12-4*, 7-9, 8-8, 11-5* (41-31) (2)
(B) Jacksonville 4-4, 5-11, 11-5*, 8-8, 12-4* (40-32) (2)
(A) Minnesota 7-1, 10-6*, 8-8, 6-10, 9-7 (40-32) (1)
(C) Baltimore 4-4, 11-5*, 5-11, 13-3*, 6-10 (39-33) (2)
(C) Seattle 3-5, 4-12, 10-6*, 9-7*, 13-3* (39-33) (3)
(B) Philadelphia 5-3, 9-6-1*, 8-8, 10-6*, 6-10 (38-33-1) (2)
(D) Tennessee 2-6, 13-3*, 10-6*, 8-8, 4-12 (37-35) (2)
(A+) Cincinnati 6-2, 4-11-1, 7-9, 8-8, 11-5* (36-35-1) (1)
(A+) New Orleans 8-0, 8-8, 7-9, 10-6*, 3-13 (36-36) (1)

HAVE-NOTS

(B) Atlanta 5-3, 11-5*, 4-12, 7-9, 8-8 (35-37) (1)
(C) Green Bay 4-4, 6-10, 13-3*, 8-8, 4-12 (35-37) (1)
(F) Tampa Bay 1-7, 9-7, 9-7*, 4-12, 11-5* (34-38) (2)
(D-) Washington 2-6, 8-8, 9-7*, 5-11, 10-6* (34-38) (2)
(B) Arizona 5-3, 9-7*, 8-8, 5-11, 5-11 (32-40) (1)
(C+) New York Jets 4-4, 9-7, 4-12, 10-6*, 4-12 (31-41) (1)
(B-) Miami 3-5, 11-5*, 1-15, 6-10, 9-7 (30-42) (1)
(D) Buffalo 3-5, 7-9, 7-9, 7-9, 5-11 (29-43) (0)
(B) Houston 5-4, 8-8, 8-8, 6-10, 2-14 (29-44) (0)
(F) Kansas City 1-7, 2-14, 4-12, 9-7*, 10-6 (26-46) (1)
(B) San Francisco 3-5, 7-9, 5-11, 7-9, 4-12 (26-46) (0)
(F) Cleveland 1-7, 4-12, 10-6, 4-12, 6-10 (25-47) (0)
(C-) St. Louis 1-7, 2-14, 3-13, 8-8, 6-10 (20-52) (0)
(D) Oakland 2-6, 5-11, 4-12, 2-14, 4-12 (17-55) (0)
(C-) Detroit 1-7, 0-16, 7-9, 3-13, 5-11 (16-56) (0)

Now note that only two teams in the HAVES (again, those with records of .500 or better over the last 4 1/2 seasons) are graded below-average.  That would be the aforementioned Bears and the Tennessee Titans, who inexplicably went from having the best record in the NFL in 2008 to starting the 2009 season with 6 consecutive losses.

Likewise, a majority of the HAVE-NOTS are not able to break out with above-average grades in 2009.  The short list (at least, according to Clayton) includes Atlanta, Arizona, Miami, Houston, and the also-aforementioned 49ers.  I personally would question the inclusion of Miami and San Francisco, but let’s not split hairs.

Even with the two borderline cases included, that still acounts for only 7 teams (or less than 25% of the league) who have performed outside of their category this season when based on cumulative records from 2005-09. 

And, in the all-important playoff appearance category, the HAVES outnumber the HAVE-NOTS by a wide 38 to 10 margin coming into this season.  That doesn’t sound much like parity to me and the gap is destined to widen once this season’s playoff berths are awarded.

So, what does this means for fans of the HAVE-NOTS?  Well, the way I see it, the teams in the HAVE-NOTS really occupy two categories themselves.

There are those that are horrifically bad (i.e. Oakland, Cleveland, and Detroit) whose fans know that the playoffs are but a pipe-dream when training camp kicks off in late July. 

And there are those that tease their fans every year with the promise that things will be different and very little evidence in the end that it will. 

There’s a good reason why the entire group of HAVE-NOTS had won just two playoff games combined before Arizona’s unlikely rise to the Super Bowl last season.  These franchises just aren’t very good right now.

Things can change.  Arizona proved it last year and appears to be on its way to showing it again.  But change doesn’t come easy.  And, for the HAVE-NOTS, rolling out the same management team every year is the quickest way to ensure that it won’t come at all.

As a fan, you can expect a change in results if you dare.  But the numbers here don’t lie.  It’s going to be a long second half of the season for the teams who have had it the worst for far too long.  Salvation lies ahead in the off-season, but only if these teams are willing to embrace significant change.

Finally, as a note of thanks, I must point out that the greatest reference site on the web for all things NFL-related is the peerless Pro-Football-Reference.com.  If they don’t have it, you don’t need it.  And their incredibly easy-to-use site made this research a joy to undertake.

Now, back to the field where the HAVES and the HAVE-NOTS will have 127 more chances to affirm or disprove my analysis.  I’ll be watching and I have a feeling that you will be too.

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~ by acm213 on November 12, 2009.

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