Parity is a fickle mistress, and a poorly misunderstood one as well. The word is defined as “the quality or state of being equivalent.” In sports, it’s a way of expressing the ideal that every team is on more or less equal footing, thus, theoretically speaking, any team can transform itself into a winner. In my lifetime, the NFL has gone to great lengths to create parity through salary caps, profit sharing, draft structure, free agency, etc.
In the past ten years, 29 of 32 teams have made at least one playoff appearance. 14 of those 29 have played in a Super Bowl. Seven have won. The median number of playoff appearances per team in that stretch is three, with ten teams having made it at least five times. If you expand back another five years, every team except the Houston Texans–only now in their tenth year of operation–had at least one appearance. 17 teams have played in a Super Bowl, ten have won, and the median number of playoff appearances per team is six.
Rosters are fluid, and the overwhelming majority of players don’t have 10 or 15 year careers; thus, parity over that broad a window can be somewhat obscured. I did a detailed analysis of the last five seasons. Here’s the breakdown:
* 27 teams (84%) had at least one winning season; 26 (81%) had at least one losing season.
* 2 teams (6%) failed to reach 8-8, securing losing records across the board. The Chiefs have lost to both of those teams this season.
* 29 teams (91%) ranked in the bottom half of their division at least once. 15 of them (47%) were there at least three times.
* 14 teams (44%) had at least three winning seasons. 2 (6%) had five winning seasons and another 5 (16%) had four.
* 24 teams (75%) made the playoffs at least once. 12 (38%) were there at least three times.
* 8 teams (25%) played in a Super Bowl, and each year a different team won.
* 4 of the Super Bowl winning quarterbacks were first round selections, as were 3 of the losing QBs (two of them are overlapping). The fifth winner was the first pick in the second round.
This next part isn’t much fun for us Chiefs fans, but it’s paramount to understanding why the team we love is where it is.
10 teams averaged 9.5 or more wins a season during the stretch. Combined, they have four losing seasons. All ten made the playoffs at least three times. Those teams, by order of winning percentage, are the Patriots, Colts, Chargers, Steelers, Ravens, Saints, Packers, Eagles, Giants, and Cowboys. Some of those teams had great wide receivers. Others didn’t. Some had a feared pass rush. Others didn’t.
I’ll bet you can name all of their quarterbacks off the top of your head though, can’t you?
Of those ten quarterbacks (twelve if you count Vick and Favre), seven were drafted in the first round (eight including Vick), one high in the second (two including Favre), one in the sixth, and one undrafted. Of those ten (or twelve), nine (or eleven) have playoff wins over a quarterback with a Super Bowl ring. The one who has failed to produce a postseason victory over a champion signal caller is the one who wasn’t drafted: Tony Romo.
Two other teams with lesser average regular season records also made three playoff appearances: the Jets and Seahawks. The Jets have a guy whom they believe to be a franchise quarterback. I have my doubts, but he does have a playoff win over a Super Bowl champion. The Seahawks were a more dominant force earlier in the decade, prior to coach Mike Holmgren’s departure and QB Matt Hasselbeck’s Super Bowl loss and subsequent multiple injuries. Hasselbeck very famously took down incumbent champ Drew Brees in January of this year.
Aside from the original ten teams mentioned, there are five other teams with winning records over the five year window, but fewer than 9.5 wins a season: the Bears, Titans, Jets, Falcons, and Vikings. All five failed to maintain consistency at the top spot. The Bears, Jets, and Falcons all believe they’ve located their long term solution in the past two or three years. The Falcons are probably correct. They’re averaging 11.0 wins a season in Matt Ryan’s three year tenure. I don’t have the same faith in Jay Cutler or Mark Sanchez, but the Bears are 18-14 (9.0 average) and the Jets are 20-10 (10.0) over the past two seasons, so maybe I’m wrong. All three of the aforementioned are first round picks. The Titans found their success alternating between Vince Young and Kerry Collins, both also first round picks. The Vikings are a disaster.
That covers sixteen teams. Half the league. To recap, excepting injury or suspension replacements, eight of them used the same quarterback for the full five years: the Patriots, Colts, Steelers, Saints, Giants, Chargers, Cowboys, and Seahawks–five first round picks, one high second round, one sixth round, and one undrafted. Two more made relatively smooth transitions: the Packers and Eagles–a second rounder and a first rounder, both giving way to first rounders. Another, the aforementioned Titans, alternated between first rounders.
Of the remaining five, four had rough transitions. The Ravens were successful with stopgap Steve McNair (first round) when he was healthy, but close to awful when he wasn’t. Flacco (first) has fixed that–he hasn’t missed the playoffs yet. The Falcons had success on the bookends with Vick and Ryan, but flopped in the middle with Joey Harrington. All three were first round picks. The Jets were moderately successful with Chad Pennington (first), unsuccessful when he was injured, successful again when Favre replaced him, and now seemingly consistently successful with Sanchez (first). Beginning before the five year window, the Bears alternated between Rex Grossman (first) and Kyle Orton (fourth), occasionally finding success, but not consistently, and have now settled on Jay Cutler (first).
That leaves the Vikings, who threw everything at the wall–Brett Favre, Gus Frerotte, Tarvaris Jackson, even Brad Johnson–except a first rounder.
If this was a courtroom and I was a prosecutor, what I’m doing would probably be referred to as leading the witness. That’s a pretty accurate descriptor of my intent. Some of you are probably asking how any of this pertains to the Chiefs beating the Vikings last Sunday. It doesn’t, and that’s the issue.
Matt Cassel just did what he’s done about once every four to six weeks in his career as an NFL starter: he played a quality game wherein he made important and sometimes challenging throws, and he posted a decent, laudable passer rating as a result. It was fun to watch. It was also a ruse, but undoubtedly one that will reaffirm faith in him to some. Maybe he just had a rough start.
That’s one possibility. The other is that those first three losses came to teams that presently have winning records, and the win was over a team on the fast track to matching the 2008 Detroit Lions. The math is simple. In 2009 and 2010, Cassel averaged 235.4 yards a game against teams with losing records, with 31 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Against winning teams, he averaged 141.0 yards a game, with 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Numbers like that can work out relatively well for quarterbacks facing a creampuff schedule (see: 2010 Chiefs regular season).
That’s not what the Chiefs need. The numbers don’t lie. Wanna win games? You’re gonna need a quarterback who can outgun Super Bowl winning quarterbacks. There are only 12 of them in the league right now, so they’re not always easy to find. Here’s a clue to simplify the process, however: draft one in the first round. That’s where eight of the twelve came from, with the ninth coming from the first pick in the second round. Not all first round quarterbacks pan out, but if your measure of success is consistently winning and making the playoffs, that’s where you need to start.
Back to the game…. The defense played well. Bowe and Breaston played well. Succop played exceptionally well. None of which matters. Don’t be fooled by the win. Cassel isn’t the guy.