The NFL, a Game Between the Haves and Have-Nots?

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 20: Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots scores a touchdown during NFL game action as Aaron Williams #23 of the Buffalo Bills tries to make the tackle at Ralph Wilson Stadium on September 20, 2015 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Source Tom Szczerbowski/Getty

Why you should care

Because NFL inequality isn’t that different from income inequality. 

Ever heard the football axiom that any team can win on any given Sunday? Al Pacino even made a movie based on it. Well, it’s bullshit. Or at least it was bullshit. This season’s it’s actually kinda true. Kinda. 

Nearing the season’s midway mark, there have already been 57 games decided by a touchdown or less, the fourth-most in league history for this time of year.

That means more than half of the games played so far have ended within a single possession. Last week, eight of the 14 matches came down to 8 points or fewer. And with five teams still undefeated, it’s been one of the more exciting seasons on the books. The Denver Broncos — one of the squads yet to lose — have won all but one of their games within a 7-point margin. The thing is, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a more evenly matched playing field. Instead, it’s all part of the masterfully orchestrated scheme that is the NFL.

In professional football, the common perception has been that the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys of the world are essentially in a different league from the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions. But the masterminds at the top have gone to great lengths to create the illusion of parity. There’s the revenue-sharing system and, of course, the salary cap to keep the small-market clubs from falling too far behind (think the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics). “The really sneaky thing they do is the unbalanced schedule,” says Michael J. Lopez, a Skidmore College statistics professor who studies parity in sports. Since 2002, when arranging the schedule, officiators have set teams with similar records against one another — bad versus bad, good versus good — to keep the games close.

Yet, with a handful of teams 6-0 (and the Patriots now 7-0) midway through the season — the most ever at this point since the AFL and NFL merged into one league in 1970 — it suggests the scales aren’t as balanced as the close calls might suggest. “Games are not coin flips,” Lopez says. The sport, in a sense, mimics the society so obsessed with it, with a battle raging between the haves and the have-nots. “There’s less of a football middle class than we’d expect,” stat analysts Neil Paine and Andrew Flowers wrote in a column for FiveThirtyEight. If the presidency thing doesn’t work out, maybe Bernie Sanders can run for Roger Goodell’s job.

 

 

 

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