Arizona Cardinals Got Hot At The Right Time
NFL

Is Getting Hot in The Playoffs and Winning it All The New NFL Trend?

1/22/09 in NFL   |   arihoring1   |   41 respect

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.

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1/23/09   |   100%InjuryRate   |   1283 respect

MarkW49ers wrote:

Ari, You have put a lot of time into writing a good article. But your arguments feel a little convoluted to me so I thought I would chime in…

Throughout the history of the NFL there have been three significant events and a handful of prominent individuals that together shaped and chiseled the keystones of the current NFL parity structure.

The framers:
Joseph Carr: (NFL Commissioner '21-'39)
Bert Bell: co-founder Eagles; co-owner and coach of Steelers and NFL Commissioner '46-'59);
Pete Rozelle: (Commissioner '60-'89);
Team Owners and
Paul Tagliabue: (Commissioner '89-'06)

The events:
The institution of the collegiate players draft in 1936
The institution of revenue sharing in 1960 and
The institution of the Salary Cap in 1994

Most NFL historians have scribed that in the '30's it was Bert Bell who championed, and Commissioner Carr, who ratified the use of the amateur draft to help bring parity to the league. The draft was structured using a reverse order format designed to allow the worst teams to make the first picks and thus acquire the best collegiate players. However, because many of the college greats of that era chose not to play in the pros, parity was slow in developing.

In 1960, an attempt to further enhance parity was engineered by Pete Rozelle. Rozelle persuaded the owners to equitably share market revenues, most notably television revenues. This principal allowed small market teams to compete on a financial level with big market teams. Thus Green Bay could now afford the same talent the New York Giants could afford. And since, like all businesses, the NFL is a financially driven vessel this policy proved critical in acheiving parity. And, it also helped to strengthen the talent parity provided by the draft.

Paul Tagliabue ushered in the third and what some feel was the most critical piece to the parity puzzle, the Salary Cap. In 1994 the NFL instituted the principal of essentially giving all teams the same amount of money to spend on players essentially telling them: "Here is your allowance, spend it any way you want but this is all you get". In addition to the Salary Cap, Tagliabue also enhanced the revenue sharing policy to further improve parity.

This ‘Readers Digest’ version of events represents the framework of how parity is achieved in the NFL. Of course, there is much, much more to the story but these facts will help in any conversation regarding parity in the NFL.

Now, until this moment I have yet to mention Free Agency and with good reason, Free Agency has nothing to do with parity. Without going into a study of socioeconomics, suffice it to say the efforts of the NFL to achieve parity left many players feeling restricted from achieving their true market value. Thus, the players fought for and won the right to collective bargaining or free agency. Free Agency has gone through many changes since its inception but essentially FA merely allows unrestricted players, whose contracts have expired, the right to negotiate their highest salary with other teams. It is the very capitalistic component of what is otherwise a very socialistic structure, but has nothing to do with parity. In fact there are many who make the argument that it actually hurts parity.

To conclude this discussion on parity let it be said that the efforts to level the playing field in the NFL are nothing short of spectacular, honestly. Could they be improved upon, sure, but trust me when I say this...The NFL as we know it today would not exist at all if it were not for these policies.

So, then, if the NFL has such strong parity policies how is it that a 9-7 team winds up in the Super Bowl…one word…Execution, the great intangible, the great equalizer. How well an entire organization; its administrators, its coaches and its players execute within rules of the game and within the boundaries set by the parity disciplines, determines the outcome of a single play, a single game and eventually, the entire season. (calls made by refs not withstanding)

To comment on your, ‘best team’ argument and this one always gets to me. When you break it down, using the application of logic, the term ‘The Best’ is truly without meaning. Stats, standings and everything else that is perceived as tangible never has and never will define ‘the best’ or, for that matter even ‘better’. As fans, we tend to gravitate towards these sources of information because we can see them, touch them and interpret them. But, in the end the only thing stats and standings can ever provide for us is a basis for stating a probability or making a prediction and that is all…just a prediction.

In closing consider this. The Super Bowl does not crown ‘The Best Team in the NFL’ and even a marginal research will reveal that it never has, ever, not once. The Super Bowl crowns a Champion and Champions are determined by blood, guts, sweat and 60 minutes of superior execution. And so, to your point Ari, if on Super Bowl Sunday, Arizona out executes Pittsburgh they will have rightfully earned the title and deserve the respect afforded to all Super Bowl Champions. It could be furthered argued that by virtue of the path taken to achieve this feat that their victory would actually personify the truest meaning of the word. You see, you can not just have the stats of a champion you must also have the heart of one.

What a great game!!!

I think we should turn this into a blog post for God's sake. Or two.

1/22/09   |   MarkW49ers   |   2 respect

Ari, You have put a lot of time into writing a good article. But your arguments feel a little convoluted to me so I thought I would chime in…

Throughout the history of the NFL there have been three significant events and a handful of prominent individuals that together shaped and chiseled the keystones of the current NFL parity structure.

The framers:
Joseph Carr: (NFL Commissioner '21-'39)
Bert Bell: co-founder Eagles; co-owner and coach of Steelers and NFL Commissioner '46-'59);
Pete Rozelle: (Commissioner '60-'89);
Team Owners and
Paul Tagliabue: (Commissioner '89-'06)

The events:
The institution of the collegiate players draft in 1936
The institution of revenue sharing in 1960 and
The institution of the Salary Cap in 1994

Most NFL historians have scribed that in the '30's it was Bert Bell who championed, and Commissioner Carr, who ratified the use of the amateur draft to help bring parity to the league. The draft was structured using a reverse order format designed to allow the worst teams to make the first picks and thus acquire the best collegiate players. However, because many of the college greats of that era chose not to play in the pros, parity was slow in developing.

In 1960, an attempt to further enhance parity was engineered by Pete Rozelle. Rozelle persuaded the owners to equitably share market revenues, most notably television revenues. This principal allowed small market teams to compete on a financial level with big market teams. Thus Green Bay could now afford the same talent the New York Giants could afford. And since, like all businesses, the NFL is a financially driven vessel this policy proved critical in acheiving parity. And, it also helped to strengthen the talent parity provided by the draft.

Paul Tagliabue ushered in the third and what some feel was the most critical piece to the parity puzzle, the Salary Cap. In 1994 the NFL instituted the principal of essentially giving all teams the same amount of money to spend on players essentially telling them: "Here is your allowance, spend it any way you want but this is all you get". In addition to the Salary Cap, Tagliabue also enhanced the revenue sharing policy to further improve parity.

This ‘Readers Digest’ version of events represents the framework of how parity is achieved in the NFL. Of course, there is much, much more to the story but these facts will help in any conversation regarding parity in the NFL.

Now, until this moment I have yet to mention Free Agency and with good reason, Free Agency has nothing to do with parity. Without going into a study of socioeconomics, suffice it to say the efforts of the NFL to achieve parity left many players feeling restricted from achieving their true market value. Thus, the players fought for and won the right to collective bargaining or free agency. Free Agency has gone through many changes since its inception but essentially FA merely allows unrestricted players, whose contracts have expired, the right to negotiate their highest salary with other teams. It is the very capitalistic component of what is otherwise a very socialistic structure, but has nothing to do with parity. In fact there are many who make the argument that it actually hurts parity.

To conclude this discussion on parity let it be said that the efforts to level the playing field in the NFL are nothing short of spectacular, honestly. Could they be improved upon, sure, but trust me when I say this...The NFL as we know it today would not exist at all if it were not for these policies.

So, then, if the NFL has such strong parity policies how is it that a 9-7 team winds up in the Super Bowl…one word…Execution, the great intangible, the great equalizer. How well an entire organization; its administrators, its coaches and its players execute within rules of the game and within the boundaries set by the parity disciplines, determines the outcome of a single play, a single game and eventually, the entire season. (calls made by refs not withstanding)

To comment on your, ‘best team’ argument and this one always gets to me. When you break it down, using the application of logic, the term ‘The Best’ is truly without meaning. Stats, standings and everything else that is perceived as tangible never has and never will define ‘the best’ or, for that matter even ‘better’. As fans, we tend to gravitate towards these sources of information because we can see them, touch them and interpret them. But, in the end the only thing stats and standings can ever provide for us is a basis for stating a probability or making a prediction and that is all…just a prediction.

In closing consider this. The Super Bowl does not crown ‘The Best Team in the NFL’ and even a marginal research will reveal that it never has, ever, not once. The Super Bowl crowns a Champion and Champions are determined by blood, guts, sweat and 60 minutes of superior execution. And so, to your point Ari, if on Super Bowl Sunday, Arizona out executes Pittsburgh they will have rightfully earned the title and deserve the respect afforded to all Super Bowl Champions. It could be furthered argued that by virtue of the path taken to achieve this feat that their victory would actually personify the truest meaning of the word. You see, you can not just have the stats of a champion you must also have the heart of one.

What a great game!!!

1/22/09   |   CalBoomer   |   43 respect

The whole concept of "best team" is strictly b*** s*** based on opinion. The only reason for a playoff system in any sport is money. Extra playoff games = more money. If you make it to the playoffs and you win the playoffs, you are the "winning" team. Who gives a s*** about some other "best" team. If you want to give a trophy to the team with the best record in the regular season and skip the playoffs, that is going to cost you a lot of money. Bottom line, it ain't ever gonna happen. So enjoy the playoffs. Whatever team wins will have deserved it.

1/22/09   |   phillydeac4life   |   20 respect

What makes the NFL unique from every other postseason is that 4 of the 12 or 25% of the field receive a bye. Therefore, comparing the results of the NFL Playoffs to the other 3 professional sports (MLB, NBA, NHL) is same as comparing apples and oranges.

There is one problem with your argument about is how more recently teams that get hot right before the playoffs have a better chance to win the Super Bowl. Your premise is that before the 2005 Steelers and 2007 Giants that only 3 Wild Card Teams had won the Super Bowl. Both the 2005 Steelers and 2007 Giants were “Hot” entering the Postseason, therefore if a “Hot” team enters the Postseason, then they have a good chance to win the Super Bowl. The problem with this is that you are not including the #3 or #4 seeds that won a Super Bowl. Isn’t only having to win 3 games compared to having to win 4 games the biggest advantage in the NFL Postseason? The only difference between a #3 and #4 seed vs. a #5 or #6 (Wild Card) is that the Wild Card teams have to play all of their games on the road (Unless theoretically both the Wild Card Teams go to the Title Game, and then the #5 team would have a home game, which has yet to every happen) .

To correct your premise I would compare the #1 and #2 seeds that have won the Super Bowl to the teams that do not receive a bye week, or in other words does the extra week off hurt or help a team win a Super Bowl.  

Personally, I believe the reason that lower seeds (less than #1 or #2) at least make a Super Bowl is due to the advancements in steroids. It has nothing to do with teams getting “Hot”. It is no secret that the majority of NFL Players use steroids, it is just swept under the rug because of the amount of money that is involved in the NFL (whatever happened to the Steelers’s and Panther’s doctors that got caught prescribing steroids to players?). Anyway, the ability to heal faster would be the most important factor when having to play an extra game as a lower seed. If you do not believe me, then think about this:

Only 3 #3 Seeds have made the Super Bowl – 2 were the 2003 Panthers and 2006 Colts
Only 4 #4 Seeds have made the Super Bowl – 3 were the 1997 Broncos, 1999 Titans, and 2000 Ravens
Only 1 #5 Seed has made the Super Bowl – 2007 Giants
Only 1 #6 Seed has made the Super Bowl – 2005 Steelers

Of the 9 teams to make the Super Bowl without a bye, 7 or 77.8% of them have been in the last 11 years. Does anyone see a trend? Or is just a mere “fate” that over a 30 year period (Super Bowl began in 1967) only 2 of the teams that did not receive a bye went to the Super Bowl; whereas within the last 11 years 7 teams have gone on to the Super Bowl?

1/22/09   |   Boski93   |   375 respect

The NFL Playoffs are fine as they are, I present the college bowl system to support my argument.

1/22/09   |   Scott   |   49501 respect

History has shown us that on any given day, any team can beat another.  Part of what makes sports so great is just that and in the NFL especially, you have to be ready to play and be at your best, especially when your playoffs are 1 game, winner takes all and advances.  Getting hot in the playoffs and winning it all happens in every sport though, just ask the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals.

1/22/09   |   dumpsterdave6   |   1 respect

The NFL playoffs have never been about who the best team was. Its about who can win the championship. The NCAA is more concerned with who the best team is. This is of course ridiculous. The Patriots might have beat the Giants 9 out of 10 times, but that one game happened to be Super Bowl. Asking who the best team is the wrong question. Anybody who wins the Super Bowl is the true champion of the NFL by the way.