With the NFL’s Week 7 slate of games finished, the oft-beleaguered Philadelphia Eagles hold the league’s best record. Given that the Eagles have never won a Super Bowl, perhaps this season really is atypical.

In all seriousness, though, we have arrived near the season’s midway point almost completely unsure of which teams are good and which are not.

First, let’s get the exceptions out of the way. The red-hot Eagles have only one loss and look like Super Bowl contenders. Despite their two losses, the Tom Brady-led Patriots will likely forge a path to another 12-or-more-wins season. Meanwhile, due to injuries and general ineptitude, the 0-7 Cleveland Browns, the 0-7 San Francisco 49ers and the 1-6 New York Giants are on their ways to lost seasons.

The remaining 27 teams in the league are close together with records between 2-5 and 5-2, with most teams holding either 3-4 or 4-3 records — just like a traffic jam where you cannot distinguish one car from the next.

In the NFC South, for example, can anyone passionately argue that the first place, 4-2 New Orleans Saints are discernibly superior to the fourth place, 2-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

How did the NFL become this way, and does its current state resemble a healthy parity or a sluggish mediocrity?

Former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle made it a point in the 1980s to achieve parity among the teams throughout the league. The commitment to parity manifests itself today in rules like the salary cap and the draft, starting with the team with the worst record. Teams would ignite their fan bases the best, the reasoning went, if each team always thought it could have a chance to make a playoff run to the Super Bowl.

And that’s true. In the past century, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers and Giants have all emerged from the mediocrity of the regular season to win Super Bowls with unimpressive 9-7 and 10-6 records.

Though the NFL has always been trending toward mediocrity, this trend has dramatically accelerated this season. In 2007, the unbeaten Patriots met the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts in Week 9, and the Patriots won their first 18 games that season. This year, the last remaining undefeated team lost in Week 6. Why?

I present two contributing factors: injuries and the absence of many stellar quarterbacks. With the game’s pace quickening, injuries become all the more frequent.

This year, we have already lost for the season Aaron Rodgers, arguably the league’s best quarterback; David Johnson, arguably the league’s best running back; and Odell Beckham Jr., arguably the league’s best receiver — not to mention countless other productive starters. This volatile atmosphere hinders teams’ development and limits the ability of talented, well-coached teams to separate themselves from the pack.

Meanwhile, on a broader level, the power balance of the NFL is in transition.

Of the quarterbacks who dominated the century’s first decade, only Tom Brady is truly still going strong. Peyton Manning is in his second year of retirement, and Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Drew Brees have shown serious wear and tear recently. These are the leaders whom we’ve long expected to captain the teams that rise above the mediocrity.

Some young signal-callers have stepped up to take their places, such as Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott and Jameis Winston. But more young quarterbacks have been duds than have been stars.

Those of the intermediate class between the old and new guard — think Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck — can also be hit-or-miss. Plenty of other teams simply have no long-term answer under center.

Thus, for the time being, there exists a leaguewide inability to break the mediocrity we currently watch every Sunday.

Is this parity or mediocrity a good thing? It is certainly not all bad.

As in years past, and perhaps to an even greater degree this year, a large majority of franchises will remain relevant until the last weeks of the regular season, teeing up an exciting finish.

Amid the league’s multitudinous off-the-field crises, from national-anthem-haranguing to domestic-abuse-excusing to concussion-epidemic-denying, it must be comforting for team owners that their clubs will likely be competing for a playoff spot until the bitter end.

Still, I think fans notice — I certainly do — that the mediocrity erodes the quality of the games, many of which have been sloppy, penalty- and turnover-filled affairs.

Gone, seemingly, are the days when four or five teams each season would captivate the nation with their disciplined dominance, star players, arms races and rivalries.

Will your favorite team finish 9-7 or 7-9? Stay tuned as the fall turns to winter for the dramatic reveal.

Ben Goodman is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. “WHAT’S THE CALL?” appears in print every other Friday.

One Comment

  1. Shaun Goodman says:

    This is a great article! I really haven’t been paying much attention to football except perhaps the NY Giants, but this sums up the season so far in a really unique way! Personally, I liked when there was four or five dominant teams, (and how the Giants won their Superbowl’s by sneaking their way to the championship game and proving they are the best.) Keep it up, Ben!

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