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Parity. Finally. Maybe.
by Mickey Charles

It appears that the NFL may finally have made one of their fondest wishes come true—giving credence to the adage that “Any team on any given day can best another... with the outcome forever in doubt.” Symmetry and balance have been achieved, creating a oneness and monotony to professional football that will soon have it chasing Major League Baseball for the symbolic trophy of losing the most fans fastest!

There are two basic reasons sports junkies love dominance—they want to see a really good team in action and watch them win over the years—the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Yankees, Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, or conversely, they want to witness underdogs topple big dogs. We are, after all, a country and society that favors the little guy... sometimes!

Look around the NFL these days and study their recent new alignment. In the AFC North, Baltimore is no longer the Super Bowl team they professed to be. They will be fighting it out with Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The Steelers, if they can rid themselves of the silly game losing errors that have become tradition, will be the team to beat among this group, and many are capable of doing just that... on any given day.

In the AFC South you never know who is going to show up to play. Houston is the latest entry and they will be building with Lego blocks. The other three, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Tennessee, have playbooks with sections on how to make every contest interesting with fumbles, missed tackles and field goals, errant passes that take interception percentages to new heights, and play calling and time management that gives new meaning to incompetence.

In the AFC East, we find the New England Patriots, the Super Bowl champions, defending their title. Miami should win but does not. New York should win but does not. Buffalo is a long way from reaching any level of respectability so they just might be the representatives in the sport that disproves the theory of any team being capable of beating any other on a given day.

Denver, in the AFC West, is still bemoaning the fact that they cannot coax John Elway out of retirement. Kansas City keeps the public confused, and its mercurial play, up one week, down the next, is enough to keep it among the also-rans. Oakland is threatening but can be had. San Diego might win three or four in a row but can the same number of losses be far behind?

The NFC North brings us the “Does anyone know the way to the Super Bowl?” Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears who depend more on the weather than talent, and the Detroit Lions, whose battle with Barry Sanders cost them any hint of dignity and integrity. Then there are the Green Bay Packers, a team whose best hours are spent reflecting on the days of yesteryear.

Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, and Tampa Bay are making more dubious promises than the politicians in their respective states. “Close, but no cigar,” should be the motto of this group. An occasional win will not deter from the fact that there is not a potential champion among them. The NFC South would be better off spending time recreating the Confederacy than showing up on the playing field every Sunday.

Right about now the TV networks are cringing over the schedules, wondering who will be on the tube. Heidi will probably get a welcoming committee and a standing ovation coast-to-coast if it is replayed during any game of the upcoming season.

Dallas had a good draft but that is not enough to take it to the prominence of years gone by. The pre-season leader in the NFC East is Philadelphia, on the back of its quarterback, with little else to show for early predictions except a coach focused more on showing who is the final word than what is the good word. The New York Giants have the opposite situation with their quarterback. They will go nowhere with him and his seeing-eye dog style of play. And the boys from our nation’s capital, the Washington Redskins, have proven that money cannot buy happiness or titles.

Bringing up the rear is the NFC West, new home of the Arizona Cardinals, who are not likely to instill fear into the hearts of St. Louis, San Francisco or Seattle. The fastest guns in the west, the Rams, proved that speed is not the complete answer. The 49ers almost looked like contenders but that is not to be. The bubble popped for them and they are still wondering why. The Seahawks send signals that they are ready and then we discover that they are not.

Should any of these teams start promising Super Bowl appearances? Not unless they plan on purchasing tickets. Balance is the order of the day and it is not for the best. Not in the opinion of this writer. How does this translate for those among you who are waiting for your three hours, sometimes six, of degeneracy, investment, pain, anguish, pleasure, elation, smaller bankrolls and some expanded ones? Wondering whether you should take a pass or a closer look at the DirecTV pay per view movie schedule for the fall and winter? College football might take on a new perspective and interest with more family time spent on Sundays. Nahhhhh, bad thought and not realistic!

So, what to do? The fact of the matter is that sameness does create an inability to compare and make some judgments. Set the teams down side-by-side, contrast, offset and pit one against the other on paper and in your mind. Simplify and streamline your thinking. Reduce it down to the bare facts and identify the slightest edge. The months ahead will hold new meaning for weather reports, injury updates, last week’s scores and effort, travel, and standings. All the intangibles that you once discounted will now enter the equation and be the determining factors in your choice of teams for the weekend and Monday night.

Recognizing that a wager or two is going to take place does not exactly condemn any of us to eternal damnation (as the NFL would like us to believe). Gambling is a forever thing and it will not go away. More people are at risk driving or crossing the roads of this great nation than are in harm’s way by saying, “Raiders minus the 4.” Child porn and bomb-making sites on the Internet would seem to be a bit more worthy of attention than the fact that you, or anyone, felt like enhancing your enjoyment of the football game with the investment of a few quid on the outcome. It is a nonsensical, hypocritical approach that spits in the face of reality.

But is that not what the NFL has done with its parity, brought everyone down to a single level of play that will equalize the game and handicap the contest into a vanilla day at the park? If all of the teams were really, really, good, that would be another matter. However, to achieve this cloak of unity with everyone on the same footing, talent has been sacrificed. Teams have been emasculated to be equal. That is the fault of the NFL, team ownership and management, agents, and the players themselves. Interestingly enough, it was, and is, a team effort! Parity is here and the NFL is none the better for it. Nor will you be unless you finally do your homework.

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