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Parity in the NFL and Playoff Expansion

As the famous saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

via Fox Sports
via Fox Sports

Among the many topics on the table at the NFL owners meetings in May was a potential NFL playoff expansion. At these meetings in Atlanta, commissioner Roger Goodell announced that he believed that the number of teams in the playoffs would expand as soon as next season. He did not specify a particular number, but reports indicate a move from 12 to 14 or 16 teams. More games mean more money for the league and that is the clear motive for them, but what about from a fan’s perspective? Disclaimer: this article is not an argument from the NFL’s perspective; this is solely one fan voicing his opinion.

One of the main reasons that the NFL is a nine-billion dollar industry and the most popular sport in the country is its parity and how difficult it is to win games and make the playoffs. However, do not confuse parity with mediocrity. Parity is having just two teams – the Patriots and Packers – make the playoffs each of the past four seasons. Or having a different champion each of the past six seasons. Mediocrity, on the other hand, is awarding the 38-44 Atlanta Hawks a playoff berth while half of the teams in the conference tank for a better draft pick. Mediocrity is having just four different NBA champions in the past 10 years. It is hard to win games and championships, and that is what makes the NFL so competitive. Any given Sunday any team can beat any other team.

If the NFL was to add two or four more teams per year to the playoffs, that parity would slowly drift into mediocrity. In sports like the NBA, NHL, and NCAA basketball, the regular season is devalued due to the ease with which a team can make the playoffs. So if the NFL conformed more toward those sports, the integrity of the sport and the importance of the regular season would slowly disintegrate along with it. This move reeks of the NFL seeking monetary gain over the quality of the game, and while in the end this league is a business, I would rather be blind to that side of the NFL as a fan.

The Atlanta Falcons, coming off of a 13-3 season and an NFC title game birth, won just four games in 2013. The Falcons lost eight games by seven points or fewer; a clear indication of parity. One of the main reasons the Falcons lost so many games was the foot injury to receiver Julio Jones and the increasing age of some of their best players – Asante Samuel, Steven Jackson, and Roddy White. The NBA comparison to the 2013 Atlanta Falcons is currently playing in the NBA finals and looking for a third straight title. The Heat, too, lost one of their best players, Dwyane Wade, for an extended period of time during the regular season. The Heat, like the Falcons, experienced struggles with aging players – Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, and Rashard Lewis. The difference? The Heat cruised to a 54-28 record and the second seed in the East. The NBA regular season carries little importance because, with a few variables, the same teams will make the playoffs year in and year out. In fact, seven teams have made the playoffs in the NBA each of the past four seasons – a stark contrast to just two in the NFL. The distinct difference between the mediocrity of one sport and the parity of another guided the polar seasons of these two teams. The NFL should not expand its playoffs because that would dilute the quality of play that makes the NFL unparalleled.

Roger Goodell, it ain’t broke, so please don’t fix it.



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