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Wednesday, May 25, 2005 

Any Given Sunday

Much has been written about the level of parity in today's NFL, so this isn't a news flash, but the Patriots recent run of success made me wonder how this era stacks up historically. There are a lot of ways to look at parity, including regular season records, but since the ultimate objective is to win the Super Bowl, I decided to look at the NFL's version of the "final four". If greater parity includes the top teams in the league, then over the past 5 years we'd expect to see a more diverse group of teams reaching the conference championship games and the Super Bowl than during a 5 year period in the 1970's, for example. Since the league keeps expanding, it makes it less likely statistically that teams will repeat, and makes it more likely that we'll see five different teams win the Super Bowl over any given 5 year period.

For instance, from 2000-2004, 3 different teams won the Super Bowl, 8 different teams reached the Super Bowl, and 13 teams reached the conference title games. If you look at the period from 1999-2003, the numbers are identical except that 4 different teams won the Super Bowl.

The contrast between now and the 1970's is stark. From 1973 to 1977, 4 different teams won the Super Bowl and 6 different teams reached the big game, but just 7 unique teams played in the conference championship games:

AFC: Miami, Pittsburgh, Oakland, Denver
NFC: Dallas, Minnesota, Los Angeles

This entire period from the 1970's was similar (1974 to 1978 was even less diverse), with plenty of repeat appearances by a small group of great teams. Even with the recent success of the Patriots and Eagles, the salary cap and revenue sharing have led to much greater parity.

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