It was former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle who had the dream of seeing an NFL season finish with all 8-8 teams. The likelihood of that happening seems beyond comprehensible given that so much would have to happen for that to have any chance of occurring. For instance, every team would have to win all its home games and lose on the road.
I think Rozelle’s dream had less to do with records as it was intended to see a day when every NFL team was competitive and had a fair shot at winning the Super Bowl. And in today’s era of salary caps and free agency, it’s possible for a team to go from worst to first or vice versa in just one year’s time. In fact, we’ve seen it happen already.
Aside from such teams as Detroit, Cincinnati, Houston, and St. Louis — who are the remaining winless teams — and maybe a few others like Oakland, Cleveland, and Kansas City — the rest of the league is so wide-open right now, it’s hard to predict one team that stands out above the rest.
The first team you have to look at is the New York Giants, the defending Super Bowl champions and one of only two unbeaten teams — the Titans are the other. But the Giants are in the most competitive division in football where any of those teams — Dallas, Philadelphia, and Washington included — could wind up on top at season’s end.
Same goes for most of the other divisions. Arizona, San Francisco, and Seattle will likely be competitive in the NFC West. Carolina, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and New Orleans are all neck-and-neck in the NFC South. Chicago, Green Bay, and Minnesota will likely keep things close in the NFC North. In the AFC East, Buffalo, New England, NY Jets, and Miami are keeping the division balanced for the time being. Tennessee, Indianapolis, and Jacksonville make up a competitive AFC South.
The two weakest divisions — by comparison values — have to be the AFC North, where Pittsburgh and Baltimore are the lone competitors, and the AFC West, where Denver and San Diego are on their own.
I think the most telling example of why there’s such parity in the 2008 NFL is simply by looking at many of the preseason favorites. New England? Dallas? Indianapolis? Green Bay? Minnesota? None of these teams are meeting preseason expectations. Nor are Cleveland, New Orleans, San Diego, Jacksonville.
Obviously, it’s only been 5 weeks, so records are going to be close. By set aside the records for the time being and just look at pure talent and ability. There’s not much variance within each division and across the span of the entire league that makes one think, “This team is going to win it all this year.”
And that is exactly what Rozelle must have had in mind with his 8-8 analogy. I know I wouldn’t want it any other way.