Balance of Power in NFL Shifting Towards NFC Dominance
By David A Lane of Predictem.com
Funny how it never seems to fail- parity always wins eventually in the National Football League. With the injury of New England Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady, the slow recovery of Payton Manning from a bursa sac inflammation in his knee, San Diego’s loss of stud Shawne Merriman for the year, and the Jacksonville Jaguars many team injury struggles, there seems to be some shifting afoot in the NFL. The AFC has been the most dominant conference in the league for years, but with just a bit of adversity, that seems to be in the past, at least for now.
Thus far, the AFC as a group are a lowly 3-7 straight up against NFC teams for the season, a stat that’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Last year, the AFC actually pushed against the NFC at 32-32 and the year before they dominated the match up at 40-24. It seems every year they’re slipping a bit more from the dominance they’ve enjoyed for almost a decade now if this trend continues, but why?
The Patriots having lost Tom Brady seems to have evened things out the most. No longer are the Patriots going to be feared for being infallible like they were last year when Brady had his remarkable MVP season. This makes it a distinct possibly that the Buffalo Bills might be the new favorite in the AFC East this season, certainly not a team that strikes fear into other teams. What was a weak division for the Pats to dominate already last season has become one MVP player weaker.
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The AFC South perennial powerhouse Indianapolis Colts look to be slipping in their division and the league- one that they’ve dominated for years. Peyton Manning is running for his life with a relatively inexperienced offensive line protecting him and wide receiver Marvin Harrison also seems to have been slowed a step coming off a knee injury- so this ex Super Bowl champion seems to be heading back to earth. Tennessee Titans seems to be the power here but this division is among the strongest in football. Don’t discount the Jacksonville Jags either- though they have an offensive line that’s completely decimated- but with the fall of the Colts these teams are young and not very playoff experienced.
AFC North appears to be weakening possibly the most. The Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, have all been inconsistent this season and shown major flaws in doing so. The Browns can’t score or stop anyone, the Bengals are a head case, and the Steelers can’t protect QB Big Ben Roethlisberger, all of which makes NFC teams look forward to playing them. The Baltimore Ravens, a team most picked for last, are trying to install themselves as at least the pretentious leader of a very bad division.
The slow starting San Diego Chargers loss of key defensive piece Merriman hurts them badly as well but the team remains a good one led by QB Phillip Rivers and others. The Denver Broncos seem to be resurgent, however, their defense gives up way too much and they’ve won at the end of the game one too many times already this season- often times appearing lucky! The Raiders and Chiefs are both behind here as NFC teams (any teams!) enjoy seeing them on the schedule.
Every season the top teams draft lower and the bottom ones draft higher making it an inevitability that things will even out in time for the most part. When the AFC was dominant, it’s clear that their teams drafted much later and later every season. Although some continue to struggle- apparently not taking advantage of the higher picks that they’ve been given- most do improve as the picks do.
Salary caps also have kept all teams on a more level playing field. Better teams with more key expensive talent to pay can leave management little money left over for depth- so one key injury can seriously adversely effect a team’s fortunes- especially if he happens to be a league MVP. If no team can overpay for its players then talent will be more evenly spread out generally. NFC teams having been seen as the lesser teams for about a decade have caught up by having this depth. In this world of slotting contracts per round/pick they were chosen in, parity rules the day. This really does bring the elite teams back down to the rest of the pack- see the Colts, Patriots, and Jags.
Things do change in a hurry as we’ve all seen. Injuries in sports have been called the great equalizer and in this NFL season it has already worked its magic. Whether or not NFC teams will continue to dominate this season depends on a lot but the early returns show a cyclical swing moving in their direction.