The election is over. The NFL’s problems with decreased viewership will now go away. (sarcasm font). The reasons for that decrease no doubt have several disparate explanations and causes, but among them is this: the NFL is actually at peak parity in 2016. Yesterday, I wrote about Peyton Manning and how popular he was, and wondered if the league can ever get back to those peaks.
Sure, we still have the New England Patriots, on their way to yet another AFC East title and first round bye, like much of the past 15 years. But the NFL may also be catching the aftermath of parity, and it’s counterpart: lack of great teams.
Chase Stuart wrote about the lack of great teams earlier this year, and here are more indicators of the NFL and parity, or if you prefer, mediocrity.
Here’s a chart showing the number of teams that have a point differential of at least 50 points after Week 9:
Just three years ago, we had nine teams at that mark. That was far from the parity that the NFL has crowed about, but it also created great interest in the exploits of Manning’s Broncos, Brady’s Patriots, the Seahawks, the Packers, etc.
This year is tied for the lowest since 1990, with only three, and one of those, Philadelphia, has a 4-4 record and has lost 4 of the last 5. In contrast, back in 1997, the last time there were so few, all were at least +98, and the defending champion Packers were not among them (but were 6-2).
Here’s another one showing the number of teams with between 3 and 5 wins at this point, another indicator of how bunched up teams are.
Twenty-two of the 32 teams are sitting at between 3 and 5 wins right now. That is the most since 1990, along with 2004 and 1995.
We’ve seen flawed teams have hot and cold stretches, often right after each other. The teams that started 3-0 have gone 11-15 since, saved only by the Patriots with Brady’s return.
Twenty-one teams in the league this year have both a winning streak and losing streak of at least two games. The Giants won two games, then lost three in a row, and have now won three more. The Eagles started 3-0 and sit at 4-4. Buffalo lost two games, Rex Ryan was on the hot seat, then they won four straight, before losing three in a row now. The Rams have a three-game win streak and a four-game losing streak already. The Saints started 0-3, and are now 4-4. The examples go on and on. There is no guarantee that the currently hot teams will stay hot.
Looking at the global numbers, scoring is at its 2nd-highest point ever (0.2 points per team game behind 2013). Yards are the highest ever. Turnovers are at their lowest ever point as well. And more teams are about even with each other than just about any year ever.
That’s great for local fans–and the league ratings have seen the smallest declines in the early Sunday games when the local markets tend to be featured in stand-alone games. But it’s not great at building national drama. For primetime broadcasts, something like 75% or more of the audience must come from viewers who are not fans of either team directly. Super teams, great QB matchups, and all the other things that casual viewers love must keep the interest.
Maybe the Cowboys’ story will draw more interest after a 7-1 start. The Raiders are a great story at 7-2 (though I would note they are only +22 in point difference, and have lost at home to the two best teams they played). The Patriots are the one proven draw. The Seahawks are in the mix again and have several big names that resonate nationally. Otherwise, you have big-name quarterbacks with flawed teams, or great defenses with uninspiring quarterbacks.
With so many teams close in the standings, it should be a wild finish where there is quite the race for 9-7 and winning on tiebreakers, but it’s not clear whether the public will care.