You've seen and read the articles. The NFL has turned into a league of haves and have nots. 6 games decided by 28 points or more in one week...so many undefeated teams so late, so many winless teams too, and they are so, so bad!
But what if all the good teams played each other, and all the bad teams played each other too? Someone has to lose, and someone has to win, right?
Well that's how it was, in the pre-realignment days of before 2002 when the NFL took all their teams, added one for an even 32, and made a little more sense out of the divisions than having Arizona in the same division with 3 teams on the Atlantic; Atlanta in the same division with two teams off the Pacific, and Tampa Bay with 4 teams mere miles from the boarder of Canada!
They did a good job with that, moving teams around while not disturbing the traditional divison rivalries that have flourished for so long ( Dallas, Philly, Giants, Washington grouped together; Miami, Jets , Patriots and Bills too...) while creating new rivalries along geographic boarders. That, and they put Seattle back in the NFC where it started its rookie season back in 1976.
But then commisioner Paul Tagliabue took it too far. Whether he was trying to totally flip flop Pete Rozelle's idea of parity, or maybe he had his own version of what an even playing field meant.
Mind you, that you wouldn't be wrong if you call the scheduling system fair. Everyone plays everyone in a rotating schedule that sees teams in the same conference play each other home and away every 3 years, and every team in the other conference every 4 years. NFL schedules are now pretty much made up in advance for years to come. I can tell you who the Bucs will play in 2012 if you want to know, all except two games. Those are the two games that reward, or punish, (depending on your point of view) a team based on where they finished the year before.
And there we have the biggest difference. The old system had the same method of having at large games that you had no idea who you were going to play but more of them that were based on where you finished in the standings the year before. Finish in 3rd place? You would play a LOT of 3rd place teams. Finish first, you were going to play a first place schedule, and if you were like the Bucs back then, usually last? You would play a lot of other last place teams. Most divisions had 5 teams in them, so you played half of your schedule against division opponents, but that left 8 games against opponents, most of which were pretty much just like you. Heck the last place team would get TWO games against one of the other last place teams, in the same season. A home and away vs a last place team.
Today system is set up so entire divisions play entire other divisions. For example, this year the NFC South is playing the NFC East. Southern Division teams in the NFC also play the AFC's East team too, just by coincidence. That wont match up like that again for 12 years.
Now the first reaction you are probably having is...It doesnt matter, you have no idea if a team is going to be as good or bad as it was the year before. Teams like MIami who went 1-15 then 11-5 the next year, and there are plenty of other examples. But if you take a look at each years NFL standings at the end of the season, very few teams actually went from being bad to good and vice versa. Now take a look at how many teams have been good, or bad, for many years in a row. far more than the changers huh?
You get a schedule with New England, Indianapolis, or San Diego on it, and those teams are always good these days. Get Oakland, Detroit or St. Louis, and your probably going to win. With the old schedule, Good teams were pitted more against each other, resulting in losses; and poor teams were faced off against other poor teams, and that resulted in some wins.
Lets take a look at a Bucs Schedule from the early 90s, 1992 to be specific, and the record of the team the prior year in parentheses.
Home and Away vs Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota and Green Bay which were division teams.
Home against Arizona(4-12), LA Rams(3-13), Indianapolis(1-15), Atlanta(10-6)
Away games vs New Orleans(11-5), San Francisco(10-6), San Diego(4-12), and Arizona(4-12).
Notice two games vs Arizona(They were called Phoenix the year before), who finished 4-12 and in last place.
Yes there are two winning teams there, but thats because even back then, the teams played a rotating schedule year to year vs other divisions. This year was the Bucs turn (The whole NFC Central actually) to play the NFC West. So no choice in the matter. However, EVERY OTHER GAME is against a last place team, with TWO against the last place team of the division we DIDNT play this year(as I said, we played the NFC West, and we were IN the NFC Central, so that only leaves the NFC East).
The results? We swept the Cardinals, lost to the Rams, Colts, Saints and 49ers close, and were destroyed by Atlanta and San Diego. We went 3-5 in the division, and finished with a 5-11 record despite starting off 3-1.
Now were there drawbacks to this old way? Of Course, for one you never knew what kind of a team you had. A 10-6 record meant nothing, if you played all weak teams, and another team went 10-6 vs quality teams, it was more of a mystery who would win. Dont get me wrong, you have weak divisions (NFC West) and strong ones ( NFC East) today too, but you could count on a match up of a few good teams going against each other and a few poor teams doing the same.
We know Tennessee will have to play the Rams in week 14, but that kind of match up should be happening more often. It may not be good football to watch, but its more competitive that 42-7 games were getting today.