The League

Leonard Shapiro
Columnist

Leonard Shapiro

Washington Post sports reporter, editor and columnist who has served on the NFL HOF Selection Committee.

Pop the cork in South Beach

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Here's the bad news just over a quarter through the schedule. For the 38th consecutive season, there will not be an undefeated team in the National Football League.

The good news?

We can go at least another year without having to read an interview with any member of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only 17-0 team in league history. Nor will we have to watch tape at 6 and 11 as those old Dolphins pop corks on the champagne to celebrate the first loss of the last undefeated team.

In recent years, that clich├ęd ritual has been occurring regularly in the last quarter of the season, not the first. So what happened?

Clearly, there is no dominant team in the league this season, and plenty of pretty good ones. Even some of the perennial bad teams -- Detroit, Oakland, Cleveland -- now seem eminently capable of winning against anyone else in the league. And Kansas City, the last of the undefeated teams until they lost to Indianapolis this past Sunday, finally has a football team its passionate fans can embrace again.

Parity has never been more obvious, and the revolting high rates of injury all around the league may also be a factor. New Orleans, the defending Super Bowl champion, hasn't been the same offense since Reggie Bush went to the sidelines. And now Green Bay, considered by some to be a Super Bowl contender this year, has already lost its best linebacker for the season and may be without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who suffered a concussion against the Redskins on Sunday.

Could you believe the Raiders, with Jason Campbell coming off the bench to lead a second-half rally, beating the seemingly loaded Chargers? Or the Cowboys, another favorite to go deep into the postseason, slipping to 1-3?

There's other good news with all this parity. Division races and the hunt for wild card berths should be riveting down the stretch, with so many teams stuck in the middle and the difference between 8-8 and 10-6 amounting to a fortuitous bounce of the ball.

That's got to be great news for the league's television partners, who are already seeing a dramatic rise in ratings across the board. And as the NFL owners meet this week to discuss their labor strategy, those rocking stadium crowds and all those eyeballs on the television back home ought to knock a little sense into their own heads, as well.

With so many competitive teams, with so many tight division races, with these kind of staggering ratings, do the lords of football really want a lockout of their players in 2011, a move that could take years to get the fans back in their seats in stadiums, sports bars or rec rooms around the country? Would they dare kill the golden goose at the height of the game's popularity? Stay tuned, and at least enjoy a season when the competition has never been closer.

By Leonard Shapiro  |  October 12, 2010; 11:50 AM ET  | Category:  Green Bay Packers , Kansas City Chiefs , Leonard Shapiro , New Orleans Saints , Oakland Raiders Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Mr. Shapiro,

I think the owners would be so bold as to 'kill the golden goose', unable to forsee a scenario where the people don't come back. The reality is this fight, while positioned as 'the players are too greedy', is really between the owners and their own revenue sharing arrangement.

The parity is good and the ratings are up, but every week close to a third of the league's stadiums are struggling to get filled. Teams like the Bengals and Bills want others like the Skins and Cowboys to chip more into the pot and subsidize them. That's the real battle, and the players are just the scapegoats.

Posted by: walkdwalk | October 12, 2010 2:59 PM

@walkdwalk
~~~
Observant post.I agree absolutely.

Posted by: ArmchairGM | October 13, 2010 12:50 AM

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