Salary Cap Finishes 20th Year: Patriots are Parity Party Poopers

Belichick: "I've got their parity right here." - Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

On November 30th, 1958, NFL commissioner Bert Bell said "On any given Sunday, any team in the NFL can beat any other," following the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-10 win over the Chicago Bears. While "any given Sunday" has become one of the most important taglines in NFL history, it was not quite appropriate for describing the NFL in 1958 and would not be for a very long time. The phrase "any given Sunday" was the NFL's version of saying that any team could beat any other team on any day, suggesting that the outcome was not easily determined beforehand. "Any given Sunday" goes by another name, a word I'm sure many of you are familiar with. That word is parity, and it took the NFL roughly 35 years after Bell's quote to take real steps to make parity happen.

In 1994, the NFL implemented the Salary Cap which gave every single team in the league a certain amount of money that they had to operate with. Gone were the days that owners could spend as much as they could afford, awarding them a competitive advantage over the less financially equipped teams. The Salary Cap, coupled with free agency making it so players were not held to the same team their whole careers (which had its first meaningful step in 1993), sent the NFL into its first meaningful years as an "any given Sunday" league.

So did the NFL really create more parity with these moves? Some think so (check out the graphic below). Some don't.

An argument could be made that the NFL has become more "even" since the Salary Cap was implemented, but what is clear after twenty seasons is that the Patriots are indisputably the best. I'm sure you believe me, but it isn't fun to just say it and not show it. Besides, how can I make a claim like that without supporting myself? I decided that I would quantify the "best" with three categories. They are listed below.

1. Best Regular Season Record (Win %)
2. Best at Making the Playoffs (Playoff Appearance %)
3. Most Super Bowl Wins (Super Bowl Victories)

Before I start, it needs to be said that not every team in the study has played twenty seasons in the Salary Cap Era. Below are the teams that have not. For many of them, the reason is because they did not exist until after the Salary Cap was implemented. They obviously will not have had the same amount of chances to win the Super Bowl (category three), but the first two categories are not effected because they are percentages, meaning they are not judged on a set whole but on what each team faced.

Team Time Span Seasons Games Played
Baltimore Ravens 1996-2012 18 288
Carolina Panthers 1995-2012 19 304
Cleveland Browns 1994-1995, 1999-2012 17 272
Houston Texans 2002-2012 12 192
Jacksonville Jaguars 1995-2012 19 304

So which team of the Salary Cap Era was the best at winning in the regular season? Every team not listed above played in 320 games. I was thinking of saving space and putting just the top ten teams, but what fun is that? Those teams at the bottom should have their day as well, even if they don't want it!

Team Wins Losses Ties Win %
New England Patriots 217 103 0 67.813%
Green Bay Packers 204 115 1 63.906%
Pittsburgh Steelers 200 119 1 62.656%
Indianapolis Colts 194 126 0 60.625%
Denver Broncos 191 129 0 59.688%
Philadelphia Eagles 176 142 2 55.313%
Baltimore Ravens 158 129 1 55.035%
San Francisco 49ers 175 144 1 54.844%
Dallas Cowboys 170 150 0 53.125%
Minnesota Vikings 169 150 1 52.969%
New York Giants 168 151 1 52.656%
Seattle Seahawks 166 154 0 51.875%
Tennesee Titans 165 155 0 51.563%
San Diego Chargers 163 157 0 50.938%
Miami Dolphins 162 158 0 50.625%
Atlanta Falcons 160 159 1 50.156%
Kansas City Chiefs 160 160 0 50.000%
New Orleans Saints 157 163 0 49.063%
Chicago Bears 157 163 0 49.063%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 152 168 0 47.500%
New York Jets 152 168 0 47.500%
Jacksonville Jaguars 144 160 0 47.368%
Carolina Panthers 144 160 0 47.368%
Buffalo Bills 142 178 0 44.375%
Washington Redskins 136 183 1 42.656%
Cincinnati Bengals 134 185 1 42.031%
St. Louis Rams 133 186 1 41.719%
Houston Texans 79 113 0 41.145%
Oakland Raiders 130 190 0 40.625%
Arizona Cardinals 128 192 0 40.000%
Detroit Lions 115 205 0 35.938%
Cleveland Browns 93 179 0 34.191%

The Patriots have the most wins and the highest regular season winning percentage. Oh, and they also have the least amount of losses. That's right, the Patriots in 20 seasons have less losses (103) than the 2002 expansion Houston Texans (113) that have played only 12 seasons. That is clearly enough for them to claim being the best regular season team of the Salary Cap Era. But that's just the regular season. The regular season is just used to make the playoffs. If you don't make it to the dance, those wins mean nothing, right? That brings us to our next category.

I chose to use Playoff Appearance % because it reflects how often a team makes the playoffs in relation to how many seasons that it played. Winning in the regular season but missing the playoffs meant that the success was good, but not good enough to be in the Top 12 of that season (the NFL expanded to 12 playoff teams in 1990). The best team of an era needs to be in the playoffs the most.

Team Playoff Appearances Seasons Playoff Appearance %
New England Patriots 15 20 75.000%
Green Bay Packers 15 20 75.000%
Indianapolis Colts 15 20 75.000%
Pittsburgh Steelers 12 20 60.000%
Philadelphia Eagles 12 20 60.000%
Denver Broncos 10 20 50.000%
Baltimore Ravens 9 18 50.000%
San Francisco 49ers 10 20 50.000%
Minnesota Vikings 10 20 50.000%
Dallas Cowboys 9 20 45.000%
Seattle Seahawks 9 20 45.000%
New York Giants 8 20 40.000%
San Diego Chargers 8 20 40.000%
Miami Dolphins 8 20 40.000%
Atlanta Falcons 8 20 40.000%
Kansas City Chiefs 7 20 35.000%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7 20 35.000%
New York Jets 7 20 35.000%
Jacksonville Jaguars 6 19 31.600%
Tennesee Titans 6 20 30.000%
New Orleans Saints 6 20 30.000%
Chicago Bears 5 20 25.000%
Carolina Panthers 5 19 25.000%
Cincinnati Bengals 5 20 25.000%
St. Louis Rams 5 20 25.000%
Detroit Lions 5 20 25.000%
Buffalo Bills 4 20 20.000%
Washington Redskins 4 20 20.000%
Houston Texans 2 12 16.700%
Oakland Raiders 3 20 15.000%
Arizona Cardinals 3 20 15.000%
Cleveland Browns 2 17 11.765%

The Patriots find themselves tied at the top with the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts. Interestingly only five teams made the playoffs more than half the time. When it comes to this category, the Patriots can claim to be the best, but only in a three-way tie for first. Two times in the Belichick era have the Patriots had the best record in the division and lost on tie-breakers (2002 and 2008), keeping them out of the playoffs. They will have to live with being the best with the Packers and Colts at making the playoffs. The way things are shaping up around the league, chances are they all will make the playoffs again this year.

That brings us to our last category, the most important factor in determining which team is the best. Winning the Super Bowl is the goal of each season. Just as the regular season is used to get to the dance, the dance is used to determine who the best dancer around is. There have only been 13 Super Bowl winners during the Salary Cap Era, so this list only includes those teams. I also included playoff wins and playoff losses.

Team Super Bowl Wins Playoff Wins Playoff Losses
New England Patriots 3 21 12
Green Bay Packers 2 16 13
Pittsburgh Steelers 2 17 10
Denver Broncos 2 11 8
Baltimore Ravens 2 14 7
New York Giants 2 10 6
Indianapolis Colts 1 12 14
San Francisco 49ers 1 12 9
Dallas Cowboys 1 6 8
Seattle Seahawks 1 9 8
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1 5 6
New Orleans Saints 1 7 5
St. Louis Rams 1 6 4

Oh look, the Patriots are at the top! We all knew that they had three Super Bowl victories, as those are the only ones they have in franchise history. No other team has more than two in the Salary Cap Era. The Denver Broncos came close to winning their third last season, and the Pittsburgh Steelers came close to winning their third in 2010. The playoff wins are also in favor of the Patriots, as they have won four more than the next closest team, the Steelers. The Patriots take this category as well, giving them three first places in the three categories.

With the 21st season of the Salary Cap Era set to begin in September, the Patriots are hoping to add to each of these categories by season's end. An 11-5 record improves the regular season record winning percentage, a playoff appearance improves the playoff appearance percentage (and we all know 11-5 is no guarantee of a playoff appearance), and a Super Bowl win means I die happy. There is a lot that can happen to cause the king to fall from the top of the hill. Until that happens, I will be here, proudly proclaiming predictions of 19-0 until that record is no longer possible.

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