NFL expert A.C. Boyle discusses the implications of the much talked about NFL standings, which left about half the league with 3-0 and 0-3 records.
Last Monday, Sept. 23, the Washington Redskins lost an NFL Monday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears, dropping their season record to 0-3 three weeks into the season.
The loss itself wasn’t the only surprising feature here. The Redskins are the sixth team to start the season 0-3, and the seventh team to start the first three games without a win.
This contrasts dramatically with the seven NFL teams that are 3-0 heading into week four and the undefeated Detroit Tigers who have two wins and one draw against Arizona.
It is common sense that you want to start out of the gate fast; winning games early before the late season playoff push can give you the crucial edge and can make the difference between being on the field in January and chomping down Chex Mix while playing “Madden” on the L-shaped couch in January.
Many teams that start the season 3-0 make the playoffs and do well there.
On the other hand, teams that start the season 0-3 are almost always in panic mode. Of the 173 teams since 1980 to start the season 0-3, only five have made it into the playoffs. The last team to do it were the Bills in 1998.
The sad and unspoken truth of the league, however, is that when you start your season 0-3, you don’t try to turn it around. Instead, 0-3 teams stop trying to win so they can get a higher draft pick. This is called tanking, and it is the league’s monster under the rug — the open secret that nobody wants to ac- knowledge.
Some of the teams that have started the season 0-3 aren’t as bad as others. The Bengals and Steelers are only 0-3 because they have had very bad luck so far. They are far better than the Jets and Dolphins and still have a chance to turn things around.
They will actually be playing each other next week, and the winner will gain a chance for light at the end of the tunnel. I’d put my money on the Bengals, who are less dysfunctional.
Of the seven 3-0 teams, five are legitimate contenders to win the Super Bowl this year, and two are genuine surprises. The Buffalo Bills and the San Francisco 49ers have caught skeptics by surprise this far, although it should be noted that many of their wins so far were close.
If either of these teams can make the playoffs, it will be a testament to what a difference a single year can make in a sports program. On the other hand, you have the teams you expect to start 3-0. You have the Patriots, Chiefs and Cowboys, who all look like they are locks to win their divisions, likely to get playoff byes and maybe even win 14 games or more.
The Chiefs and Pats, in particular, seem to be breaking all glass ceilings on an inevitable path to a titanic AFC Championship rematch, one that could rival the Ali-Frazier rematch in both scale and attention.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, are looking at the 3-0 Packers, perhaps ready to get even for their tragic playoff losses to Green Bay in the past. Not many teams can say they are this lucky.
Which brings us to the crucial point made by all this winning (and losing): Is the NFL experiencing a parity problem this year?
Well, there are many ways to look at this. For one, there have only been three games played so far, and it isn’t that unlikely to have a coin toss end up heads three times in a row. I highly doubt that there will be six 8-0 or six 0-8 teams in five weeks time.
Also, many of these 3-0 teams will soon be playing each other, like the Patriots and Bills for example, and, barring a tie, one of those teams will end up with a blemish.
My Pick here is a bold one: I think the Bills will surprise New England. The bigger question here is whether or not these teams will remain stellar or execrable, and how the middle-of-the-pack teams will fare.
Personally, I think the NFL does not have a significant parity problem. In the NFL, there is always a hierarchy of skill for each year.
There are always five or six teams at the very top of the league who are playoff locks. This is followed by the dark horse teams, the mediocre teams, the bad teams and finally the disastrous teams. It’s been like this for a very long time, and it will continue to be that way. And that’s a good thing, since Super Bowl hangovers, injuries and free agency seem to constantly be shifting the balance of power (unless, of course, your team is coached by Belicheck the hoodie man).
This reality is not fully ideal, especially with the tanking, which creates too many garbage-time games where the teams don’t really try to win.
But it is much, much better than the parity of Major League Baseball, which is just the big market teams bullying and cannibalizing the small market teams, and it’s way better than the NBA where 27 of the 30 teams every year end up imitating the Washington Generals, while silently whispering, “lottery pick … Zion,” to their death rattle.
The NFL is the biggest, flashiest American sport, and the strategy behind it is more complex than the other three major U.S. professional sports; meaning sustained success (and failure) is hard. Things aren’t as static as they seem. But if you are still going to complain about the lack of parity in the NFL, then I suggest you acquaint yourself with the glorious sport of NHL Hockey — the league that has mastered the art of parity.
In the NHL, a team that was dead-last in the standings in January could rebound and win the whole thing just five months later. They had a reason to keep fighting.
By comparison, I don’t think the Redskins will be coming back from anything.