Since my hometown team was humiliated on Monday Night Football last night, I would normally be reluctant to weigh into a football debate. But the New England Patriots don’t look as bad as some of the sports commentary coming out of the Bay State. From the Boston Globe: “While we’re here … Can we please put to rest the ridiculous notion that the AFC is so much superior to the NFC? Like, right now? OK?”
Now, the difference between the AFC and the NFC is nowhere near as stark as the gap between the American League and the National League in baseball. NFC teams regularly win Super Bowls and Pro Bowls. There are some elite teams in the NFC. But the argument for parity between the conferences just doesn’t wash. Consider how the Globe sportswriter makes his case: “Look at the top three clubs, today, in each conference …” He proceeds to compare their win-loss records, with the AFC’s Colts (11-0), Bengals (8-3), Chargers (8-3) stacked up against the NFC’s Saints (11-0), Vikings (10-1), Cowboys (8-3). “See?” he seems to be saying. “The NFC’s top three have better records.”
The New Orleans Saints and the Minnesota Vikings are indisputably playing some of the best football in the NFL. But after them, you immediately drop off to the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys have struggled mightily on offense. Jumbo stadiums, Jerry-trons, and all the other bread and circus notwithstanding, they are a franchise with some big wins, painful losses, and exceedingly narrow victories over terrible teams. The Cowboys barely lead a division that is teeming with mediocrity, as the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants are only consistent in their inconsistency. The less that is said about the Washington Redskins (a team the Cowboys beat by just one point after scoring only a single, last-minute touchdown), the better. By the end of the season, it should be clear that Dallas isn’t as good as NFC rivals like the Arizona Cardinals.
When you get below the top three teams in the AFC based on current win-loss record, you still have the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Denver Broncos, the Baltimore Ravens, and yes, even in their attenuated form, the Patriots. The fact that AFC teams, aside from the Colts, don’t have overpowering winning records is itself a testament to the strength of competition rather than proof of weakness. The AFC North, for example, contains three powerhouse teams that were considered legitimate contenders for at least the AFC Championship game.
That says something right there: Most experts are already predicting a New Orleans vs. Minnesota showdown for the NFC title. Relatively few will venture a guess as to the AFC contenders. Sure, the Saints and the Vikings are as good as any team in the AFC and have proven it by repeatedly winning interconference games. But just because you can find a woman who is taller than a man doesn’t mean that men aren’t taller than women on average.
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