Commentary

12 Things: The two sides of NFL parity

Has competitive balance taken hold, or is the league just more mediocre than ever?

Updated: October 15, 2010, 12:00 PM ET
By David Fleming | ESPN The Magazine
Detroit LionsGregory Shamus/Getty ImagesParity sounds great, but not when it creates a world where the Lions are better than the Saints.

I'm sitting here staring at the AFC South standings, wondering, is this parity in the NFL -- or a parody of the NFL?

With all four teams locked in at 3-2, I honestly can't tell. Are the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans all tied for first place in their division, or last? Are the Texans for real? Has that run defense finally caught up to the Colts? Sure, the Titans beat the Dallas Cowboys, but lately everyone does. And two weeks ago I could have sworn Jags coach Jack Del Rio was on the hot seat.

Welcome to NFL uber-parity, a league where the young, fast Kansas City Chiefs are 3-1 and everyone's Super Bowl fave Cowboys are 1-3. Michael Vick is up. Carson Palmer is down. The Oakland Raiders pound the San Diego Chargers and the Arizona Cardinals beat the New Orleans Saints. Seven of the eight defending division champs from 2009 are not in first place in the standings. Heck, if it weren't for the 0-for-Bills nothing would make sense.

Yes, the games are close, the outcomes are unpredictable and even fans in Tampa have reason to be hopeful. But I wonder, is this kind of unmatched competitive balance in 2010 a sign of parity -- or mediocrity?

Well, let's find out by examining 12 ways parity has changed the NFL landscape this season, for better or worse: