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Expect NFL to see extreme parity in 2017

The National Football League has long been built on parity. While we have seen a few teams maintain their statuses as top dogs (or doormats), most have been drawn to the middle more often than not.

In recent years, we have seen parity reign supreme. The 2016 NFC Championship Game featured the 15-1 Carolina Panthers beating up on the Arizona Cardinals, the winner of the NFC West. In the following campaign, we witnessed both teams finish with a losing record, eliminated from postseason contention by Halloween.

The AFC champion, the Denver Broncos, regressed from 12 wins to a respectable nine, but also missed the playoffs. Of the 12 playoff teams last year, only two NFC franchises made a return trip (Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks) while the AFC was more static, giving us four familiar contenders (Houston Texans, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs).

All told, the prospects of getting back into the playoffs are 50-50.

This year, the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders are two candidates for regression, along with the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants. All went from missing the postseason to winning at least for more games than the previous year, while getting to the playoffs.

In the previous 10 seasons, 29 teams that have fit that criteria outside of the aforementioned four. Of those squads, only 11 returned to the playoffs and just four did better in terms of wins. In other words, the idea of Dallas and Oakland making deep runs toward the Super Bowl is unlikely. It’s much more likely that both miss the playoffs entirely.

So why focus on those teams instead of Miami and New York? For starters, the Giants have a top-notch defense. New York also has a second-place schedule as opposed to Dallas’ first-place docket. The Dolphins have the luxury of playing in a division that should be donating four wins to them. Miami also has the best coach of the bunch in a young but brilliant Adam Gase.

As for teams on the rise, there are a few obvious candidates. Both the Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers won nine games last year and don’t face first-place schedules. They could be looking at division titles or, at the very least, be checking into the playoffs as wild card teams.

Also look at teams rebounding from poor performance. The Panthers and Cardinals could both be back in the 10-11 range, especially playing easier slates than the teams above them in their respective divisions. Carolina actually sees a last-place schedule, so it is a prime candidate.

Training camp doesn’t start for a few months yet, but keep in mind that predicting 2017 based on 2016 is a fool’s game.

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