BY STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Times Staff Writer
TAMPA – For a sport that generates untold fortunes for the
gambling industry, trying to pick winners in an unpredictable NFL
season such as this sure feels like a losing proposition.
Lately, point spreads mean nothing. And relying on favorites is
The NFL has always sought to have a level of parity unparalleled
in sports, and it might finally be there.
* Through the first month of the regular season, there are 23
teams either in first place or within a game of their division
lead, the most through four weeks in NFL history. That includes the
Bucs, who, at 2-1, trail the 3-1
Saints and Falcons by half a game in the NFC South. No 2009
division winner has sole possession of first place.
* There is just one remaining unbeaten team – 3-0 Kansas City –
and it faces long odds in the next two weeks with games at
Indianapolis and at Houston.
* Final margins have been slim, too. Through four weeks, 33 of
the 62 games played have been decided by seven points or fewer.
That’s the most through four weeks in the past 22 years.
Don’t think the
Bucs, who were 3-13 last season,
aren’t paying heed – despite the many tough games that await
“The importance of conference and division wins are going to be
paramount this year because I think there’s going to be a lot of
tiebreakers this year,”
Bucs center Jeff Faine said.
“There’s going to be a lot of (scenarios) where one team has to win
and these two teams have to lose or whatever for a team to get into
the playoffs. It’s going to happen. It’s just the way the games are
playing out. Hopefully we can just take care of business on our
Perhaps four weeks don’t equal a trend, but what’s happening
can’t be dismissed, either. This is especially true given the
For example, two teams entered Week 15 with perfect records last
season, the Saints and Colts both sitting at 13-0. And in 2007, the
Patriots finished their regular season an unblemished 16-0,
remaining unbeaten until losing to the Giants in the Super
This season couldn’t be any different.
Drawing conclusions about matchups on paper has long been
difficult in the NFL. But now, seemingly more than ever, that’s a
“In the National Football League, you can’t sit around and say,
‘Hey, we beat Cleveland, and Cleveland beat Cincinnati,’??” said
Bucs coach Raheem Morris, whose team
plays the Bengals on Sunday.
“That doesn’t mean anything. Pittsburgh kicked our butt and
Baltimore beat them. That doesn’t mean anything. You have to go out
and prepare every single week to play our brand of football. Play
hard, play fast, play smart and, somehow, find a way to be
consistent, and you’ll have a chance to win the football game. This
league (has) parity every single year.”
Is something behind the apparent shift this fall? That’s not
clear, but there are some theories.
“When I was growing up, you had all these marquee players who
had been playing for a long time on the same team,” guard Davin
Joseph said. “What we have now is a lot of young marquee players.
I’m talking about players such as Ronnie Brown (Dolphins) and Matt
Ryan and Roddy White (Falcons), Patrick Willis (49ers), Adrian
Peterson (Vikings) – guys who have established themselves really
early and are making this league better. Chris Johnson (Titans) is
“It’s balanced. We’re getting a lot of elite players, and it’s
really making things competitive. It seems if you look around the
league, every team has a marquee player and that’s why it’s making
things more competitive. Every Sunday, it’s a fight.”
Whatever the reason, the level playing field can only help young
teams such as the
Bucs, Rams and Chiefs that are sure
to encounter growing pains in efforts to rebuild.
“I was talking to (offensive line) coach Pete Mangurian, and he
was saying there was one year when his team went 11-5 and didn’t
make the playoffs,” Faine said. “This year, you’ll see a team
that’s .500 make the playoffs. Shoot, maybe even a 7-9 team.
Whatever it is, there’s definitely a lot of parity this year.”
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at [email protected] Follow
the team at
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