This should give one pause that maybe 2012 is an aberration... or perhaps a sign of seasons to come, read on:
NFL parity: An equality of mediocrity
By Chase Stuart
New York Timestwincities.com
Posted: 10/17/2012 12:01:00 AM CDT
The former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle dreamed of parity in the league whereby any team could win on a given Sunday. If alive today, he would surely smile at how the 2012 season has started.
Half of the league's 32 teams have 2-3, 3-3 or 3-2 records, only the third time since 1970 that the league has been so tightly packed after six weeks.
Only in the 2001 season, when New England became one of the unlikeliest Super Bowl champions, were more teams (17) within a half-game of .500 after six weeks. In the last two seasons, roughly two-thirds of the teams had at least two more wins than losses or losses than wins.
But the first third of this season has been among the most unpredictable stretches in modern NFL history.
Consider that underdogs are 57-32-2 against the spread this season, the second-highest rate after six weeks in 35 seasons, after the 1999 season. Since 1978, underdogs have won more than 50 percent of games against the spread during the first six weeks of a season. Underdogs are 40-51 in games this season, the first time in NFL history that 40 underdogs have won games outright after six weeks.
In the AFC, parity is a euphemism for mediocrity:
In August, the Patriots were the favorites to win the Super Bowl; in mid-October, they are 3-3 with a defense that is allowing 8.1 net yards per pass attempt. The Patriots were just about everyone's choice to win the AFC East, and there was similar consensus that Miami would occupy the division's cellar.
Now, all four teams in the division are 3-3, with Miami having the longest winning streak -- two games.
-- The Pittsburgh Steelers won 12 games and led the league in points allowed in three of the last four seasons before 2012. This year, Pittsburgh, with an aging defense, is 2-3 and ranks in the bottom half of the league in points allowed.
-- Last year's surprise team in the AFC was the Cincinnati Bengals, who built on that success by starting this year 3-1 -- before promptly losing consecutive games as favorites in Weeks 5 and 6.
-- The Tennessee Titans looked to be one of the worst teams in the league entering Week 6 but emerged with an upset win over Pittsburgh.
-- The Indianapolis Colts appeared to have "arrived" after rallying to victory over Green Bay, only to be returned to sender by halftime in their game against the previously hapless Jets.
-- A few days ago, Houston was considered by many the best team in the league at 5-0, but last Sunday, the Texans lost to ... the Packers, who could not beat the Colts in Week 5, who could not beat the Jets last week, who could not beat ... Houston in Week 5.
-- The Raiders had been outscored by 15 points per game entering last Sunday's game in Atlanta, home of the only undefeated team in the league. Shockingly -- or in 2012 parlance, as expected -- Oakland led most of the game, losing only in the final seconds on a 55-yard field goal.
-- On Monday night, the Chargers (3-2) hosted the Broncos (2-3), so obviously Denver won after San Diego raced to a 24-0 halftime lead. The Broncos became the first team to trail by 24 or more points at halftime and win by double digits.
The NFC may have the more talented teams, but it is not immune from the parity virus:
-- Last season, the Giants swept the Dallas Cowboys, stealing the NFC East in the process en route to another Super Bowl title. In the season opener, the Cowboys went on the road and upset the Giants, a sign that the ghosts of 2011 were behind them. Six weeks later, the Cowboys are last in the division while the Giants are first, although the Giants are 0-2 in the division.
-- Philadelphia became the first team to start a season 2-0 with consecutive one-point victories; it has since lost three of its last four, but the one win was over ... the Giants.
-- The Packers went 15-1 last season but started this season 2-3. After winning in Houston on Sunday night, however, they now are simultaneously the definition of average at 3-3 and in possession of one of the most impressive victories of the season.
-- The NFC North is similarly confounding. The Detroit Lions were the breakout team in the NFC in 2011 but started this year 1-4; Minnesota, with a 4-1 start, appeared to take the mantle as the breakout team of 2012. Then on Sunday, the Lions won (at Philadelphia) and the Vikings lost (at Washington).
-- Cam Newton helped turn Carolina into one of the most exciting offenses in the NFC in 2011; the Panthers have scored just 92 points this season, fewest in the conference.
-- The Atlanta Falcons won 43 games between 2008 and 2011, but no playoff games, causing experts to question how good the Falcons really were. It appears Atlanta is planning to go 16-0 this season out of spite.
But the topsy-turvy nature of the NFL is epitomized by the NFC West. From 2002 to 2011, the division had by far the worst record. In nonconference games over that decade, the division had a 37.8 winning percentage, well behind the second-worst NFC North (46.2 winning percentage).
This season, the Cardinals and the Seahawks have already beaten the mighty Patriots, while the 49ers embarrassed the Bills and the Jets in consecutive weeks. Parity still exists in the West -- in Week 6, those same Bills beat the Cardinals, who are now 4-2 after a 4-0 start, and the 49ers inexplicably were dominated at home against the Giants on Sunday -- but the division now appears to be the best in the NFL.