Revisiting this post from two NFL seasons ago:
“There are too few dominant teams, too few absolutely hopeless teams, and too many in the mushy, Tennessee Titans middle. Way, way too many…. By what I mean by “too much parity” is this. Fans in sports accept, even expect, the presence of a certain number dynasty teams on one hand, and perennial loser squads on the other.”
Happily, this trend has reversed itself, and the league is enjoying the resulting rebound in ratings. Two years ago, I argued that if Tom Brady had been suspended for the whole year over deflategate, there would not have been a single top-tier team in the league. Now, tier 1 cozily welcomes the Rams, Chiefs, and, as usual, the Patriots (out of a six-tier system). Tier 2 is also well-stocked with the Saints, Vikings, and Chargers(!) reporting for the “playoff contender” slot.
And just as importantly for the strength of the sport, the cellar is also populated. Perennial losers are almost as important to any sports league as the dynasties — partly for the bingo free spot on other teams’ schedules, partly because one of the most reliable sports stories is on the long-suffering fans of such organizations, but mostly because they provide a foil to the average teams and their bases. “Well, at least we’re not the Padres;” that sort of thing. Dynasties could not exist without anti-dynasties to balance them out.
And on that note, 2018 enjoys a bottom-tier populated by the Cardinals, Raiders, Giants, Niners, Bills, and Raiders. That’s six absolutely hopeless squads that cannot even be charitably described as “rebuilding,” out of 32. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more shit-soup teams in a single season, and the boost they provide to the morale of the other 26 is hard to exaggerate. I haven’t seen any pieces on how laugher teams are almost as important to any given league as the champs, but it’s true.
Add in the six tier 1+2 squads, and we’re left with only 20 teams this year in the muddled mediocre middle defined, as always, by the Tennessee Titans.
Because too many Tennessee Titan squads are a cancer on any sports league. The more .500-average teams, the worse the league suffers. This is sports. Fans rightly expect winners and they expect losers, not a grey morass of adequacy. Stories last year were written about the Patriots and also the Browns, but not the fucking Titans. People tune in to a sports league because, at the end of the day, it’s a TV or streaming series with winners and losers, heroes and villains, same as any superhero movie franchise. They don’t tune in for the point-of-view of just some random guy.
It’s not even midseason yet, and already, twelve NFL teams have carved out their narratives for the year — for better or worse, and it almost doesn’t matter which. That right there is why ratings are up.