It took three consecutive years of NFC supremacy in the Super Bowl, an MVP from Green Bay, and a season without Peyton Manning for it to happen, but in September 2012 football analysts across the country were ready to label the NFC as the dominant conference in the National Football League. The pundits argued that the era of Brady vs. Manning had become the time of Rodgers vs. Manning; Eli Manning, not Peyton; that Drew Brees’ demolition of quarterbacking streaks was too difficult to ignore. They saw a revival in San Francisco, three playoff caliber teams from both the NFC North and NFC South, and the evolution of the QB position in Michael Vick, Cam Newton, and rookie Robert Griffin III. Top to bottom, the NFC looked poised to claim their fourth Super Bowl Championship in a row, with only a handful of AFC teams within striking distance of the Packers, Giants, Saints, 49ers, Bears, and Falcons.
Yet through 13 weeks, 3 of the 4 teams with double digit wins are AFC division leaders.
So what happened?
Well, the Packers started 2-2 with the help of the Golden Gate scandal, the Giants are who we thought they were: inconsistent, the Saints killed their head and left the body to die, the 49ers took an expected step back in the midst of an unnecessary quarterback controversy, the Bears proved their O-line was holier than the pope, and the Falcons have benefitted from a schedule with so many cupcakes BJ Raji is requesting a trade. That’s not to say that those teams are bad or out of Super Bowl contention, it just means that nobody is shaking in their boots at the mere thought of playing them. Nobody is saying, “this is the biggest game in franchise history” before a matchup with these guys. That honor goes a team in the American Football conference: the New England Patriots. The only other team capable of that category right now also lies within the AFC: Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos. Looks like it’s still Brady vs. Manning after all.
Consider this, in thirteen games played this season; the Broncos have scored 30 points 10 times and have lost to Houston, Atlanta, and New England; three teams who have a combined record of 31-7. The Patriots, on the other hand, have scored 40 points five times this season. But don’t forget the Texans. Plenty of people are writing them off following a 42- 14 drubbing by the Patriots, but as of right now the road to New Orleans still goes through Reliant Stadium.
The NFC may still have an overall advantage on the AFC as far as depth is concerned, but the difference between the top teams is smaller than advertised which is probably a good thing anyway. Just consider some of the possible Super Bowl matchups that are in the works: The Harbowl, Manning vs. Manning, Patriots vs. Giants III, or even a preview of the next decade in the Rookie Bowl (Redskins vs. Colts). Either way the NFL season is headed for a wild finish. In the end, the Lombardi trophy will be raised by the team that executes when it matters most, just don’t be surprised if that team is an AFC team. Hold on to your hats race fans, you’re about to get your money’s worth…. Maybe.