February 06, 2014

No parity in the NFL - only in baseball

....or not
(editor's note: This post first appeared on Ruben's Rants) 

With the  Super Bowl comes the usual "on any given Sunday" echoes of the superiority and balance of the NFL.  Thankfully this year a few nationally acclaimed writers chimed in to show why there is more parity in the MLB. 

Thought it was a good time to rerun this article written after the 2010 season.

Coming off 10-6 Green Bay's victory over the 12-4 Steelers, I again heard the sentiment that there is parity in the NFL and any team can win on any given Sunday. Kind of ironic given who was playing - Pittsburgh of course was playing in the game for the 8th time, and have an NFL record 6 championships, while it was Green Bay's 5th time, as well as both teams' 7th playoff appearance of the decade.  I'm thinking fans in Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo aren't feeling that same parity.  Anyhow, you know what I think of a sample size of one, so let me dig a little further.
In the MLB the only playoff teams from last year to appear again this season were the Yankees, Twins and Philadelphia - three out of eight teams with repeat appearances.  The Texas Rangers who hadn't been in the playoffs this century made it to the World Series where they lost to the Giants who hadn't made it since 2003.  The AL Central was won by the Reds who made the postseason for the first time in 15 years. The NFL's 'balance' resulted in playoff appearances for the Colts (9th year in a row), New England (7th time in 8 years), Green Bay (7 in 9 years), Philadelphia(9 in 11 years) defending world champion New Orleans,  and the Jets and Ravens who had been there last year as well - a total of 7 out of 12 teams.  To be fair, there were some new teams - such as Seattle who made the playoffs despite a sub .500 record (7-9) due to winning a very weak division, and the  Steelers who had a rare reprieve from the playoffs last season. 

So far I've only looked at playoff teams. But parity can mean more than that, so let's look at all the games played the whole season.  The Phillies led the majors with a 97-65 record - almost exactly a .600 winning percentage.  In the NFL, other than the aforementioned 7-9 Seahawks, the worst playoff team was 10-6 - a .625 winning percentage.  In fact the Giants and Bucaneers were also 10-6 but both missed the playoffs. So NONE of the playoff teams in baseball had a good enough record to make the playoffs in the NFL.  The Atlanta Braves made the baseball playoffs with a record slightly worst than a 9-7 NFL record. What about at the bottom end, and the cry that small market teams can't compete in the MLB since there is no salary cap?  Well, the worst team in the majors was the Pittsburgh Pirates who won 57 games - a .350 winning percentage.  Who in the NFL was that bad?  The Arizona Cardinals had a similar record - 5-11, a .313 wining percentage, the Bills, Bengals and Broncos each went 4-12 winning a quarter of their games. and the Carolina Panthers ended up 2-14. This is the equivalent of the MLB having 3 teams win only 40 games, and one team ending up 20-142. And New England's NFL best 14-2 record would be the equivalent of 142-20 record over 162 games.  There were a total of seven teams with 11 or more wins - that's over 110 wins in the MLB. 

Can you imagine the cries of inequality, if the Yankees, Phillies, Dodgers and all the playoff teams each won between 110 and 140 games, while the Pirates, Royals, Cubs and others struggled to win 40 games?? THAT would be a lack of parity.  That is also EXACTLY what happens in the NFL. Every. Single. Season.

But on any given Sunday any team can win in the NFL, you say. Just last season, the Super Bowl Champion Packers lost games to both the Dolphns (7-9) and Lions (6-10)! Ah yes, because in the MLB, a first place team never loses to a last place team, right?  At least not more than 40% of the time.  Which is pretty close to half.  Last year the Yankees lost 4 out 10 games to the lowly Mariners, and 3 out of 8 to the Royals.  What do you think is the over/under on wins if the Patriots played the Bills 10 times? 9.5? Is that because the QB is so important in football, it would be a better comparison if we only compared #1 pitchers in baseball? I can do that too.  The Phillies had the MLB best record at 97-65. What if their ace starter Roy Halliday pitched every game?  Their record in games he started was 22-11. A 108 win pace if he started all 162 games.  A slight improvement in the team's overall record, but it's the equivalent of taking an NFL team who would be expected to win 9.6 games, and making them into a team expected to win 10.6 games.  I'm not cherry picking teams or players here - you can take almost any pitcher on any team and find similar results.  Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young last year pitching for the last place Mariners - they finisehd 61-101.  They went 17-17 in games he started - would have won 81 games if he was somehow able to start them all.  That seems like a big difference - 20 extra wins. But in NFL terms, that's taking a 6-10 team to an 8-8 team. Tough to convince me that one single player makes all the difference.

Looking at all the teams in the MLB, the worst team is usually the equivalent of a 6-10 NFL team, and the best teams are rarely better than 10-6.  THAT IS PARITY.  What the NFL has is the exact opposite. But they do have a pretty good media machine that keeps the hype up. If perception is reality, then, and only then, is there parity in the NFL.

I recently read someone say there is consensus that the NFL has the most parity among the major sports league, and MLB is near the bottom.To me, that's like some rich guy in Nigeria thinking the 'consensus' is that West Africa is wealthier than the US, because he has a poor cousin here, and assuming everyone feels the same way.  Just because you think it don't make it so.

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