By: Kenny Doyle
For the majority of NFL history, the AFC has been the NFL’s superior conference. The AFC has been so dominant that if you add up all the games that an AFC team played against an NFC team and find out the record in those games, the AFC went 15 straight seasons from 1996-2010 without a losing record against the NFC, but that has changed in these past few seasons.
Since 2011, the NFC has had a winning record against the AFC in 4 of the 6 seasons and the NFC will have a winning record again this season, but that’s only half the story. In inter conference play so far this season the NFC is 24-14 and are on pace to go 40-24. If that were to hold up it would tie for the 7th most lopsided record between conferences in NFL history. It would also be the best season for the NFC since 1991 and there’s a good chance it could actually be even more lopsided. The Patriots are done with inter conference play this season and the Steelers only have 1 game left against an NFC team, so the NFC won’t have to deal much with the AFC’s two best teams for the rest of the season.
Right now, there are just 6 teams in the AFC who are .500 or better vs 10 teams in the NFC who are .500 or better. The AFC playoff race is already shaping up to be far less competitive than the NFC where it looks like at least 4 good will miss out on a playoff spot. This will lead to a ultra competitive NFC playoffs and what will likely be a cakewalk for whoever represents the AFC in the Super Bowl. As it stands right now, the #1 seed Pittsburgh Steelers would get a bye week and then play either the Jaguars, Bills, or Titans, the latter of whom they just beat 40-14.
Despite their records, the Jaguars, Bills, and Titans have all shown massive flaws and are extremely inferior to the top teams in the AFC. Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles, and Nathan Peterman don’t strike fear into the likes of Andy Reid, Mike Tomlin, and Bill Belichick. Whoever gets the gift that will be a divisional round game against one of those teams or an AFC team that is currently behind them in the standings will fall backwards into an AFC title game, the only tough game they will have to play to make it to the Super Bowl.
So why does this matter? As aforementioned, this would be tied for the 7th most lopsided season in inter conference play in NFL history if the record continues at it’s current rate. In those other 7 seasons, the team representing the more dominant conference in the Super Bowl is 5-2 with the only losses coming in Super Bowl IV, which was the first year after the NFL-AFL merger, and in 2000, when the Rams beat the Titans in the famous “1 yard short” game.
The team that had a tougher path to the Super Bowl has tended to benefit from it. This season, the NFC is the tougher conference and whoever represents that conference in the Super Bowl will be much more battle tested than the team that emerges from the AFC. While that’s not the end all be all, it certainly looks like a positive thing for NFC playoff teams. It may seem like having the weaker conference would benefit the best teams in the AFC, but it might be the reason they ultimately come up short.