- Ray Ratto
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With all the fresh complaints about NFL parity, especially as it pertains to the laughable morass that is the NFC, it is time to note a few things:
One, the NFL is the single most successful devotee of industrial engineering ever conceived by man.
Two, the NFL doesn't get nearly enough credit for the phenomenon appropriated by youth soccer leagues known as "Everyone Plays, More Or Less."
And three, not even the NFL can help everyone.
Thus, while you rage on about so many teams that still have playoff dreams (and here, we exempt the Jets, Raiders, Falcons, Chargers, Jaguars, Steelers and Lions), consider for a moment The Teams That Parity Forgot.
These are the teams that have not benefited from the near quarter-century of 16-game schedules weighted by incompetence. These are the teams that can't get the art of the high draft choice right. These are the teams that, in good years and bad, are still mostly bad.
These, ladies and gentlemen and open-mindeds, are the Magnanimous Five.
They're good this year, which means that parity works, right? Well ... it hadn't worked much before that for them, and they did need to change conferences, and they needed two front office restructurings, one to make Mike Holmgren the king and another to install a vice-king, Bob Ferguson.
Overall, though, really not good. A winning percentage of .439, five playoff appearances, a record of 3-5, one conference title game, and a point differential of minus-14. Nothing really awful, but a relentless parade of mediocrity (17 seasons within a game's reach of .500). This is different than parity, though many people are confused by that difference.
Never mind the current burst of success, based on the blind-pig-finds-acorn/stopped-clock-goes-2-for-24-every-day theory. The Colts, both in Baltimore and Indianapolis, have largely avoided the postseason going back to the Ki-Jana Carter administration. An overall winning percentage of .398, five playoff appearances since 1978, one win, six losses and a point differential of minus-81 in those games.
You could make a case for parity working in their favor because they will have made the playoffs in four of the last five seasons, but that's largely due to finding a quarterback who stays healthy and doesn't stink. Everyone should try it.
3. NEW ORLEANS
Never mind the recent failures, based on the go-argue-with-history-smart-ass theory. The Saints have had one brief burst of hey-look-at-us, surrounded by long stretches of way-not-good. How not good, you ask? Well, the overall winning percentage of .457 isn't swell, but if you carve the Saints' history into three distinct eras, Before They Were Good, When They Were Good and After They Were Good, here's what you get:
Before: 51-84, 50.5 games behind the division winner.
While: 62-33, four playoff appearances, all losses, point differential of minus-67.
Since: 66-94, one playoff appearance, an actual win (a 31-28 win over the post-Super Bowl Rams), and way too much sideline dancing from Tom Benson.
In all, poor. Very poor.
A tough call here, because the Bengals did make two Super Bowls, which skews the postseason numbers (5-4, point differential of plus-27). Getting Joe Montana'd twice in eight years is no shame.
The problem is they've only made the playoffs two other times, and haven't had a sniff since 1990. The overall winning percentage is .390, .286 since 1990, and the midpoint of those two numbers is the percentage of a Saturday Night Live skit actually being funny. People are excited about Marvin Lewis, as they probably should be, but they lost to Arizona last week, which is usually a very bad idea.
And finally ...
Where do we start? Better, why? Seven playoff games total, one fewer than Jacksonville, which has spotted the Cardinals 75 years of existence. Three playoff games since 1978, one of which was a win over Dallas and resulted in two coaches being fired by Jerry Jones and the resuscitation of Bill Parcells.
The numbers really don't matter after that, except for the fact that the other time the Cardinals made the postseason in the modern era, the season was shortened to nine games because of a strike. That team went 5-4 and was outscored 170-135, leading a sensible person to think that the only thing that saved them was the fact that gravity didn't get a chance to work its usual magic.
Of these teams, the Colts are still good, Seattle might be, and the other three are as they have been. Parity, sure, fine. The meek have been inheriting the earth like crazy over the past several Super Bowls.
But the NFL's reach still isn't so long that it can tie its shoes by bending over at the waist. To get the Cardinals, Bengals or Saints back in play, they're just going to have to spot them four wins, or admit that no system of artificial wealth distribution is perfect.
Yeah, parity. Right.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com
Not every team has been effected by the balance of power in the NFL.