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NFL will never have a team like the Warriors

There’s a level of dominance in the NBA by Golden State that we’ll never see in the NFL.

NFL: Washington Redskins at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors wrapped up their second NBA championship in three years Monday night with a 129-120 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. They’re an NBA dynasty in the making — a team that is leaps and bounds better than the NBA’s second-best team. It’s something we’ll never see in the NFL.

The New England Patriots are the closest thing the NFL has had to a team that talented. They’ve won five Super Bowls in the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick era dating back to 2001, and there’s no question that’s an impressive feat. But with the Warriors, we’re talking about a season of utter dominance, a team that destroyed everybody in its path and has shown no signs of slowing down in the near future.

After all, they coasted throughout the entire postseason, nearly becoming the first team to go undefeated in the playoffs. Instead, they settled for being the first team in NBA history to ever go 16-1 in the process. The Patriots’ most commanding season ended in a Super Bowl defeat after an 18-0 start in 2007.

Golden State has been so good that in the blink of an eye it went from a likable team that was new and different to villains in the eyes of many sports fans. (I personally don’t mind the Warriors — for now.) It’s not just that creating a team so powerful — we know the end result of the season before it starts — is difficult to do.

The NFL has limitations the NBA does not, which makes it impossible to create a “superteam” like Golden State did by just adding a future Hall of Famer like Kevin Durant.

It’s hard to nail draft selections as perfectly as the Warriors did

Drafting players who would have the same impact that Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green have had for the Warriors is a lot to ask. For most other NBA teams, any one of those three would be a franchise player: One of the best ball-handling guards who’s also the best shooter we’ve ever seen (Curry); one of the most pure shooters of all time who can also put the clamps on defense (Thompson); and a glue guy who’s the NBA Defensive Player of the Year favorite (Green). Aside from their specific and well-fitting talents, those players allow the Warriors a better chance at longevity for a couple of reasons.

The first and most obvious reason is that they’ll have Curry, Thompson, and Green in their primes. They’ve played together since the beginning of each other’s careers, and the continuity and on-court chemistry is some of the best in the NBA.

Second, because the Warriors selected them, they will be able to take advantage of a salary cap rule called the Larry Bird exception. It allows teams to exceed the cap in order to keep their free agents who have been with a team for at least three seasons. The NFL doesn’t care how long Super Bowl MVP Von Miller has been with the Broncos, or four-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady has been with the Patriots. Those teams can’t go over the salary cap to retain them.

Which leads to the next issue.

The NFL has a hard cap, making roster continuity much shorter

The greatest obstacle in loading up on talent like the Warriors did is the salary cap. In the NBA, there are 10 different exceptions that allow teams to go over the cap — the most well-known being the Bird exception. It’s what we call a “soft cap.”

In the NFL, the cap is “hard,” meaning there are zero exceptions. If a team attempts to make a trade or a signing that would put them over the cap, the NFL would reject the move. It’s not like we can have a Summer of J.J. Watt where we have Twitter notifications turned on our phones for Adam Schefter, anxiously waiting for an update, Woj-style, to find out where the three-time Defensive Player of the Year will land. It’s an annual tradition in the NBA, where we’ve done it with LeBron James, LaMarcus Aldridge, and most recently, Kevin Durant.

The ability to go over the cap is ultimately what has helped the Warriors take the next step into being a team that’s so damn good that some people find it boring to watch. Many of those exceptions reward teams that are able to draft well, but also retain key pieces. I won’t get too into the weeds of the salary cap Olympics here, but if Durant were to take a pay cut, players like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston could stay because the Warriors will own their Bird rights for tenure.

The closest comparison the NFL has to that is players restructuring their contracts. They can do it to lessen cap hits, but when it comes down to it, the battle is against the cap number.

The viciousness of the NFL makes longevity too tall of a task

Football is the highest-impact sport that is professionally played in the United States. The nature of the game results in sprains, broken bones, and concussions — the biggest injury concern in pro sports.

Basketball has its own similar risks, but they are fewer and farther between. It’s still a contact sport — though the chances of players suffering career, or even season-ending injuries are much lower. Curry dealt with ankle injuries early in his career, Durant missed 19 games this season with an MCL sprain, but was able to come back in time for the Warriors’ playoff push.

Injuries could still derail the Warriors in the future, or at least make them less powerful — but they have the benefit of not having to worry about a Von Miller or J.J. Watt coming after them.

In the NFL, the impact is bigger with fewer games. Watt and Luke Kuechly, who together account for all of the Defensive Player of the Year awards from 2012-15, both missed significant time in 2016 with injuries. Watt played in just three games until a back injury ended his season, while Kuechly suffered a concussion that forced him to miss the final six games.

The Warriors rested their players more during the 2016-17 season than 2015-16, and it paid off for them in the Finals. That’s a luxury NFL teams just don’t have. Every week is a grind, and unless a playoff spot has been clinched, players will be on the field.

In the NFL, the other team has to be better for just one night

The beauty of the NBA is that seven-game series are played to help determine a champion. That’s impossible to ask of the NFL because of the wear and tear the game has on the body. At the same time, it makes completing a championship run more difficult, with less room for error.

There’s no better proof of this than in 2007, when the Giants knocked off the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. That season, the Patriots set offensive records for most points in a season, most games scoring 30 or more points, and touchdowns scored in one season (all of which were later surpassed by the 2013 Denver Broncos).

All it took to take this team down was a little bit of luck. The Giants seemed dead, and then David Tyree’s helmet catch turned everything around, ending the Patriots’ chance of being the best team of all time. Now we talk about that Super Bowl because of the Giants, and not the Patriots’ perfection. Lucky for the Patriots, they’ve been on the other side of Super Bowl heartbreak — like intercepting a ball at the goal line two years ago and overcoming a 28-3 deficit to win this year.

The Warriors have also been on the other side. After all, they did become one of the most widely used sports memes after blowing a 3-1 lead in last year’s Finals. The only difference is the Warriors added the second-best player in the league the following season. The Cavaliers were better than the Warriors for one night this year, and in the NFL, that’s all it takes. But in a seven-game series, the best team prevails more often than not.

The NFL not having a team like the Warriors is fine. Parity in the NFL has made seasons interesting year in and year out. Nobody could have envisioned the 2015 Panthers going 15-1, only to follow it up with a 6-10 season. The Falcons making the Super Bowl was a big surprise as well.

For teams like the Patriots that are able to string together five championships in 16 years, it’s even more impressive. We’re never going to see the NFL version of the Warriors, but it’s what makes the league unique, and keeps fans coming back for more each fall.