The National Football League is set up to ensure, or at least attempt, some kind of parity among its 32 teams.
Revenue sharing, a salary cap and floor, the draft… All are measures that should mean fans don’t lose interest in a team that bottoms out for year after year after miserable year.
It doesn’t always work, of course. The New England Patriots have managed to override the system for the past 17 years with a genius coach and a once-in-a-generation quarterback. The Patriots have won the AFC East for the past eight seasons, a time span including two Super Bowl victories and six AFC Championship games.
The Cleveland Browns, meanwhile, have endured losing seasons every year since 2007. The Browns haven’t been to the playoffs since losing to the Steelers in the Wild Card round in 2002. The Browns have been so bad for so many years it is a testament to the doughtiness of anyone who still turns up at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Something happened on the first weekend of the 2017 season, though, to suggest that many of the NFL’s basement dwellers may experience long-awaited renaissances this season. Here is how the league’s worst franchises from last season got on.
Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer was solid on his NFL debut, completing 20 of 30 passes for 222 yards. Kizer was hit too often, though, and sacked seven times by the Steelers defense. Still, the Browns were in the game against the AFC’s second-strongest team until late in the fourth quarter.
The Bills got 110 yards rushing from LeSean McCoy, and a dominant defense held the Jets to 187 yards passing and 12 points in Buffalo Sunday. Any praise for the Bills must be tempered with “Yes, but they were facing the Jets.” But strong running from McCoy and that defense could have the Bills at least in contention for a Wild Card past October.
Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory could be one of the better running-back tandems in the league. The Jaguars ran rookie Fournette 26 times for 100 yards and chased Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage hard enough that Bill O’Brien was forced to put in his own rookie, Deshaun Watson, in Savage’s place. Whisper it, but the Jaguars could actually win a fairly appalling AFC South.
St. Louis Rams
Speaking of the ineptitude of the AFC South, the Rams piled up 46 points against the Indianapolis Colts as Jared Goff finally won an NFL game. Without Andrew Luck, the Colts are pretty much redundant, so any prognostications on the Rams’ season ahead can wait. But Goff did look pretty good.
Most popular: Why Are Schumer and Pelosi Doing Deals With Trump?
New York Jets
San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Shanahan may very well be an offensive genius, but he may need to be a magician to win with Brian Hoyer under center.
OK, so the Jets and 49ers still look really bad. But this was a pretty good weekend for Roger Goodell, at least in terms of the overall parity of the league. It even started with the Patriots getting blown out, which may give Goodell more than one reason to smile.
More from Newsweek