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The Seahawks did beat the Patriots yesterday, so it brings up the important question: Just how much better is the NFC than the AFC right now?
Now seems like a good time to go over something that's been scratching at my brain for the past couple weeks as the 2012 season has unfolded a little bit more. Since the Seahawks just upset the Patriots, a team that had to be considered one of the top three in the AFC, it opens up the door for discussion on just how far the NFC has gone past the conference that people had said for a long time was the best.
I'm going to open the discussion, and then I'm going to slam it shut with some mind-boggling statistics to show how far this side of football has come.
It starts with the Super Bowl trends. The Broncos win in 1997 sparked a run that finished with nine AFC champions over twelve seasons. The Rams in 1999, the Buccaneers in 2002, and the Giants in 2007 as the only exceptions. However if the current trend continues the NFC could best the AFC's mark rather easily, hearkening back to the NFC's dominance from 1984-1996. These things come around, and it looks like it's coming back. No, it is back.
The NFC has won three straight Super Bowls and four of the last five. The days of winning a division with a mediocre record seem long behind us and it could be to the point where even 11-5 could leave you at home. Especially if the NFC teams keep beating up on those guys in "American."
After six weeks of football play, there is no winning team in the AFC East. On the bright side, there is no losing team either since they are all 3-3. The Bills, a team that gave up 45 or more three times in five games, are tied with the Patriots. So are the offensively challenged Dolphins. And of course, so are the Sanch-bows. So far the Patriots, a team that blew out Tennessee, Buffalo, and Denver (for most of the game), are 0-2 against the NFC West.
Of course, Miami and Buffalo got to .500 by beating NFC teams, so kudos to them. But we'll get to that later.
The Chargers play the Broncos tonight and if they beat them, it will give the AFC two divisions without a team that has a winning record. Overall, it will leave the AFC with just two teams above .500: The Ravens and Texans. Oh, about them... The 5-1 Baltimore Ravens have a case as one of the best teams in the NFL. Their defense isn't where they're used to it being, but the offense is pretty good. However, what version of this team shows up in the next ten games might not be one of the best in the NFL.
Not without your heart Ray Lewis. Not without your starting corner Lardarius Webb. Not if Haloti Ngata misses any time. A dominating team that had already lost Terrell Suggs, just got significantly more deflated. (Oh, and the Ravens are 4-0 against the AFC and 1-1 against the NFC after narrowly escaping the Cowboys yesterday.)
The Texans seemed to be the class of the AFC after a 5-0 start that saw them balanced, talented, and experienced on both offense and defense. Like clockwork, the Texans lost a star player to injury when Brian Cushing went out for the season. In their first game without him and their first game against the NFC, the 5-0 Texans got brutalized by Aaron Rodgers and lost 42-24 last night. Also, Arian Foster is down to 3.8 yards per carry and Andre Johnson is having his least productive season since 2005.
So with all that news, who is the class of the AFC? Better yet, where would the best AFC team even fit in against the NFC? How would the Texans do in the West? How would the Ravens do in the NFC North? There are three winning teams in the AFC for at least a few more hours, there are seven in the NFC.
There are nine teams in the AFC that have a negative scoring differential, compared to six in the NFC. More importantly though, the worst six scoring differentials belong to AFC teams. The worst in the NFC is the Panthers at -33 in five games compared to -90 for the Titans after six games.
The Texans +58 after last night is tops in the AFC and ranks tied for fourth overall. Currently the Bears lead at +78, the Giants at +64 and the Falcons, 49ers at +58. The Dolphins and Steelers barely escape negatives at +3 and +1, respectively, while the Rams barely fall short at -1.
Defensively, the AFC is like an infomercial that promises to make any man look like Tom Brady! The pass defense of the Titans, Chiefs, Colts, Raiders, Patriots, and Bengals make up six of the seven worst in the NFL, with the Saints sneaking in at number three. I use QB rating against in this example only because it gives us the most complete view even if it's bad. It's not enough to say yards because that's stupid if you saw Brady yesterday. It's also not enough to say Y/A because the Bucs give up 8.2 yards per attempt and have allowed 4 touchdowns and 8 INT in five games. And I'm not ready to use ESPN's QB thingy.
Let's just get to the fun part because why would we be waiting for the fun part anyway? You guys totally held out for the fun part. The head-to-head matchups.
Look, it's not just that the NFC is 19-9 against the AFC this year. That much should be obvious by now. But it's not only if you win, but how you win. The NFC has won big.
I counted ten games where an opponent beat an out-of-conference opponent by more than a touchdown. All ten winners came from the NFC, all by way of a blowout much bigger than seven:
- Bears 41, Colts 21
- Falcons 40, Chiefs 24
- Falcons 27, Chargers 3
- 49ers 34, Jets 0
- Bears 41, Jaguars 3
- Vikings 30, Titans 7
- Giants 41, Browns 27
- 49ers 45, Bills 3
- Buccaneers 38, Chiefs 16
- Packers 42, Texans 24
I had to lay that out in it's entirety so you could see what I mean by blowout. Even if the Jags, Browns, Bills or Chiefs are pretty bad, they don't get as embarrassed as often as that in the AFC. When I counted games I saw as "upsets" I found ten such games and this is what I found:
- Cardinals 20, Patriots 18
- Eagles 24, Ravens 23
- Chiefs 27, Saints 24
- Titans 44, Lions 41
- Colts 30, Packers 27
- Saints 31, Chargers 24
- Steelers 16, Eagles 14
- Bills 19, Cardinals 16 (OT)
- Dolphins 17, Rams 14
- Seahawks 24, Patriots 23
You can see that the AFC has six "upset" wins of three points or less. When you consider it, they're close to getting much more thoroughly dominated than 19-9, while the NFC has all the blowouts.
We have to ask "Why" this all happened, because it's neat, interesting, and gives us perspective. The defenses are great, but the quarterbacks rule this game. Look at the influx of NFC quarterback talent in the last four years:
- Cam Newton
- Jay Cutler traded from AFC to NFC
- Kevin Kolb traded by way of Vick signing
- Aaron Rodgers
- Matt Ryan
- Alex Smith
Of course, that doesn't include Drew Brees a little earlier than that, going from the AFC to the NFC. The real "weak spots" at QB in the NFC are probably the Cardinals situation, whatever is going on with Vick, Tony Romo mistakes, Stafford mistakes, Freeman at times, Newton's sophomore slump, Wilson's mistakes, and Smith at times. However, all 16 teams feel like they have someone, at least. Most seem set, but you could see Vick released or Kolb released or something unforeseen. Otherwise, pretty solid at that position.
How about this list: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, Matt Hasselbeck, Blaine Gabbert, Matt Cassel/Brady Quinn, zombie Carson Palmer. And that list excluded rookies, where you see Andrew Luck go through struggles but also gains. Nothing like Brandon Weeden and most of Ryan Tannehill's rookie seasons.
That's something that could improve over time, of course. But with the first and second year pros, including Jake Locker and Andy Dalton, there is a lot more uncertainty. Who are the elites of the AFC? Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Philip Rivers are as close as it gets. By the way, how many more years do those first three have and how good is Rivers really?
So is it good news for the Seahawks that the NFC is displaying such dominance right now or bad news because the road to the Super Bowl is that much harder? I think that the display of Super Bowl runs by both conferences at different times shows that it's much better to get through the gauntlet of the better conference than to sneak in through the crappy one.
Either way it's going to come down to one thing: Just being great.
The Seahawks are great on defense, so at the very least that should keep us in games. And at the very worst, maybe they'll let us move back to the AFC.