Which NFL Conference is truly the Best?
Throughout the history of the NFL we have seen shifts of power through its two conferences: the NFC and AFC. Each conference has had its periods of dominance and its periods of mediocrity. But in order to show the balance that the conferences have exhibited is evident through their respective Super Bowl Championships: the NFC with 23 and the AFC with 21. The question I raise is: who is the NFL’s dominant conference now.
For most of the last decade the AFC has had its way with the NFC winning 7 of the 10 last Super Bowls. Based on that statistic alone it is reasonable to say that the NFC has been the AFC’s perennial whipping boy. But as Bob Dylan once said “The Times they are a Changin”. While we approach a new decade of NFL Football (contingent on the NFL and Unions annual whiny bitch fest also known as CBA Negotiations) I aim to examine which conference will step up and win the Battle of the New Decade.
The gap between the NFC and AFC has greatly been narrowed over the last few years. From 2000 to 2006 the AFC won 6 of 7 Super Bowls; but over the last three years the NFC has won 2 of 3 with stunning performances from underdog Giants and Saints while the Cardinals competed in one of the best Super Bowls in a long time. It’s a clear sign that the conferences are entering a stage of parity, with each conference battling to gain the edge.
While the AFC has had the clear edge in the last decade it’s starting to lose its luster Its top teams of the decade are at a cross roads. The Colts suffered playoff misery with their defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. Their coaching staff is in transition and they need to continue to remain ahead of the curve. Something a lot of teams fail to do.
Along with the Colts, the New England Patriots are at a turning point: Ever since their monumental loss to the New York Giants the Pats have really begun a slow downward spiral. With the infusion of youth during the last two drafts the Patriots will struggle to remain amongst the Elite, but with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick anything is possible. The Steelers have to deal with the distraction of Ben Rapelisberger (couldn’t resist) and the Chargers are monumental chokers.
Those four teams used to be consistently at the top of their divisions but now they face a lot of obstacles in their path of success. The AFC used to be the ROCK of the NFL but now it seems that it’s losing its foundation; with the creeping advancement of the NFC the AFC will have to work hard to maintain its dominance.
I think the main reason the NFC has gained traction on the AFC can be traced back to the Quarterback position. During the time of AFC domination (2000-2006) Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger all hosted the Lombardi Trophy (along with some balding afterthought known as Trent Dilfer, widely considered one of the worst QB’s to win the big game.) In comparison during that time frame the NFC sent QB’s such as: Kerry Collins, Brad Johnson, Jake Delhomme, Matt Hasslebeck, and Rexy “not so sexy” Grossman (along with future hall of famers Kurt Warner and Donovan McNabb, But they both failed to win the big one as well).
It’s clear that from the 2000-2006 seasons the NFC really struggled to develop the Franchise Quarterback capable of winning the big game. It’s safe to say the NFC really had average quarterback play during the early part of the decade. I believe the tide began to shift during from the 2007 season to the end of the decade as the NFC stepped up its quarterbacking core.
Old guns began playing young again as Kurt Warner and Brett Favre experienced a career renaissance. Established QBs such as Donovan McNabb and Drew Brees maintained their stellar play. Along with young guns such as Tony Romo and Eli Manning making their mark on the NFL along with future stars such as Aaron Rodgers and future cornerstone Matt Ryan. From 2007 to 2009 the NFC gained an influx of talent in their QB ranks that could compare to the elite of the AFC. From the 2007 season to the end of the decade Eli Manning and Drew Brees were able to win the Super Bowl and establish the credibility of the NFC.
What made their victories so special was that they came against the AFC Elite in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Winning can be traced to the quarterback position and you can see that the NFC may have a fighting chance to win the battle with the AFC.
Along with the Quarterback one of the most vital areas of success is the skill and experience of the Head Coaches. And during the period of AFC Dominance the AFC boasted future hall of fame coaches such as: Bill Belichick, Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan and Jeff Fisher. While the NFC can boast coaches such as Andy Reid, Mike Holmgren, Tom Coughlin and John Fox, those coaches are nowhere near the caliber of the AFC.
Through the AFC coaches you had some of the best game planners, game managers and scouts the NFL has ever seen. The NFC constantly had coaches coming and going with teams repeatedly having to change philosophies and personnel. The stability that the AFC had during this time frame allowed their teams to maintain philosophies and really develop their teams in their image.
But with the shift towards parity in the NFL the NFC has had coaches such as Ken Whisenhunt, Sean Peyton, Mike McCarthy and Brad Childress, who throw their names into the conversation as the future elite coaches in the NFL. We will soon be able to tell if the new blood in the NFC will help narrow the gap between the conferences.
The last issue I’d like to address is the overall talent increase in the NFC. You can look at the NFC and find elite players at every position. While it’s true you can find equally talented players in the AFC it has been a long time since the NFC has been able to boast talent that it has today: Quarterbacks such as Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, and Tony Romo can all be argued as top 5 NFL QBs.
You have the best all around running back in Adrian Peterson. Wide Receivers such as Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin “Megatron” Johnson (yes a Lion can be amongst the best players in the NFL), Miles Austin, Michael Crabtree and many other blossoming stars. Some of the best defenses reside in the NFC with players like DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen, Charles Woodson, and Julius Peppers wreaking havoc on opposing QB’s while giving offensive coordinators nightmares. The talent level of the NFC has reached a level not seen in the NFC since the days of the Cowboys Triplets.
This is truly a golden age for the NFC and if its vast talent can finally step up, the NFC can take over as the dominant conference. But don’t think the AFC will concede this battle as they still boast talented players and masterminds at the coaching position. While I still consider the AFC as the dominant conference, for the first time in almost a decade the NFC is in position to do something about it and I can’t wait for the war known as the 2010 season.