The NFL has generally not had much parity for most of its existence. Before 2006, only three previous wild-card teams out of the 39 Super Bowl Champions had won the Super Bowl (Oakland Raiders- Super Bowl XV, Denver Broncos- Super Bowl XXXII, Baltimore Ravens-Super Bowl XXXV).
However since 2006, two wild card teams in the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants have both won Super Bowls. This year a wild card team can’t win the Super Bowl, but the first 9-7 team ever can.
This year is the first time that a 9-7 team has made it to the Super Bowl since the 9-7 Rams lost to the Steelers in 1979.
But what has caused this apparent recent surge in parity?
The NFL adopted the current free agency system in 1993, but even so, eight out of the 13 Super Bowl championships from 1993-2006 have gone to three teams. Has it taken until to 2006 for the new free agency system to give the NFL more parity or is there still a lack of parity?
I don’t think it’s fair to look at the Giants, Steelers, and Cardinals as examples of parity growing in the NFL. In reality, only 15 teams made up 38 out of the last 48 seeds in the last four years. That means that 17 teams made the playoffs once or zero times in the last four years. Therefore this apparent parity is actually just a case of low seeded teams getting hot in the playoffs.
The NFL playoffs seem to be becoming similar to other professional league playoffs. In other professional leagues besides the NBA such as the MLB, NHL, and MLS, every team that makes the playoffs has a chance to win.
If one of their professional teams can get hot around playoff time, they can easily run the table and win a championship. Just like the Cardinals, the last three Super Bowl Champions all got hot once entering the playoffs.
In the 2006 playoffs, the sixth seeded Steelers got hot and surprisingly won the Super Bowl.
In the 2007 playoffs, the Colts who had lost four out of their last seven game due to their awful run defense, turned everything around once entering the playoffs. Their run defense suddenly started playing great in the playoffs and they unexpectedly won the Super Bowl.
In the 2008 playoffs, the 10-win Giants, who had lost two out of their last three games, suddenly started playing great in the playoffs and shockingly upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
This year coming into the playoffs, the Cardinals, who had lost four out of their last six games, were pronounced by many as one of the worst playoff teams and division winners ever. However, after entering the playoffs, the Cardinals are all of a sudden playing like an elite team.
Their offense and defense has been clicking on all cylinders and nobody really knows what to attribute their sudden leap to greatness to. The Cardinals seem to have gotten hot at the right time and nobody, even their own team, really saw it coming.
While the Cardinals making the Super Bowl is surprising, in reality, the last three years before this have all been surprising as well. There is nothing you can specifically point at that explains why these teams suddenly started playing great.
But regardless of the cause, are these surprising champions good for the NFL or not?
Underdogs having a chance to win can no doubt make a sport more exciting to watch. However, one of the great things about the NFL in the past was that fans generally felt as though the best teams won.
When the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl last year, were they the best team?
If the Cardinals beat the Steelers this year, are people going to consider them the best team?
Most people this year, just like they considered the Giants still not to be the best team last year, will most likely consider the Cardinals not to be either.
Besides all the fans who were happy watching such a monumental upset last year, how many other fans were upset that they watched the Patriots dominate the entire season just to watch them lose one game and ruin their season.
The Patriots finished with a record of 18-1 on the season but were somehow not considered NFL Champions. While upsets can be fun to watch, they can in a way make an entire season seem worthless.
I’ve heard arguments that the BCS is good for college football because a team like the Giants can’t suddenly get hot and beat a team who has been playing better than them all season.
BCS supporters argue that the top two teams of the season get to play each other and their sport's winner every year is the true champion. In a way, BCS supporters might be right.
Why should the Cardinals who went 9-7 in the regular season be able to say they earned their championship?
Would it have been more fair to have had the Titans play the Giants in the Super Bowl?
Although I almost just convinced myself to agree with this, the truth is that the playoffs do show who the real champion is. When all is on the line with everyone watching, real champions step up to the occasion.
An Olympian isn’t considered the best in their sport because of how talented they are, but whether they step up to the occasion in the Olympics when the pressure is on and win that cherished gold medal.
The Cardinals may not be as talented on paper as many of the teams they beat, but when they knew that their season was on the line, their players rose to the occasion.
If the Cardinals do win the Super Bowl this year, they will be the true Champions of the NFL.