MCGANN: AFC loses dominance to rising NFC

Nathan McGann

As New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning emerged from a collapsed pocket of linemen and tossed a prayer to the helmet of receiver David Tyree during the waning seconds of Super Bowl XLII, few football fans thought this moment was anything other then the Giants destroying the undefeated dreams of the New England Patriots.

However, the ’08 season has shown that the Giants’ win was more than an upset. The improbable victory was the beginning of a changing of the guard in the NFL because, since last year’s Super Bowl, the NFC has emerged as the better conference and has relegated even the best teams in the AFC to championship hopefuls as opposed to championship favorites.

Whether the fall of the AFC is a product of better teams in the NFC or underperforming teams in the AFC is debatable. Nevertheless, it is hard to argue against the fact that the preseason AFC favorites have been affected by numerous unforeseen obstacles.

The reigning AFC Champion Patriots saw their season come to a crashing halt when franchise quarterback Tom Brady suffered a torn ACL and MCL in the season opener and was replaced by perennial backup Matt Cassel. Cassel, who attended USC where he backed up Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, had not started a game since high school.

The San Diego Chargers not only had to deal with the loss of All-Pro Shawne Merriman, but they had to battle with referee Ed Hochuli, who cost them a win against their division rival Denver Broncos with an ill-timed whistle toward the end of the game. Coupled with a difficult loss to the NFC’s Carolina Panthers, the Chargers find themselves in an early hole.

The Indianapolis Colts are beginning to show their age as Peyton Manning tries to return to form on a team that has seen its running game disappear and its injury-prone defense forget how to stop opposing offenses. Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars try to shed the blanket of mediocrity and perform better than their 3-3 record.

Last year’s Cinderella Story, the Cleveland Browns, entered this season expecting to have one of the league’s most potent passing attacks, which would lead them to only their second playoff appearance since 1995. Unfortunately for Browns fans, Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Anderson cannot seem to hit his receivers, and when he does, the receivers have grown accustomed to dropping the passes. As a result, the Browns sit at 2-3 and are near the bottom of the AFC standings.

With so many teams falling from the grace of the football gods, a few franchises have jumped at the opportunity for a successful ’08 campaign. The Tennessee Titans hold the league’s only undefeated record, thanks to a devastating defense. The Buffalo Bills have emerged as leaders in the AFC East with one of the more balanced teams in the conference, and a healthy Jay Cutler has led a potent passing attack in Denver, which sits atop the AFC West.

The powerhouses of the NFC now become not only the conference’s best but the league’s top franchises. One can argue that Dallas, New York, Washington and Philadelphia, all from the NFC East, are better than anything the AFC has to offer. This change in league dominance raises an interesting question. Is the fall of the AFC as football’s superior conference a good thing for the National Football League? After all, the NFL has flourished over the past decade – a decade when eight of 10 Super Bowl champions came out of the AFC prior to the Giants’ victory.

It was the AFC that gave this generation its sports dynasty by way of the New England Patriots. And it was the New England Patriots who gave this generation its Michael Jordan by way of Tom Brady. As the AFC continued to showcase its dominance, the NFL’s ratings and popularity continued to rise. So certainly the question is fair. Is the fall of the AFC a positive thing for the sport?

Without a doubt, the balance that appears to exist throughout the entire league is a good thing for the NFL. While the AFC has contributed significantly to the rise of football’s popularity, a heightened sense of competitiveness will do even more.

Football on Sunday afternoons is made more exciting because now all the games have a level of significance that was lacking last season. Aside from the clashing of the titans that occurred once in a while when the best teams in the conference crossed paths, the games were usually uneventful and predictable. All of that ceases to exist now that the AFC has come back to earth.

We love sports in this country because, for the most part, there is a degree of parity that gives every underdog hope. If everything happened the same way every year and the big name franchises simply imposed their will week after week, the magical playoff runs of the ’08 Tampa Bay Rays, the ’07 New York Giants or even the ’85 Villanova Wildcats never would have happened.

Former NFL Head Coach Herm Edwards once said, “Play to win the game.” In the NFL, it seems like every team now has a chance to win the game each week, and nothing could be better for the NFL.


Nathan McGann is a sophomore English major from Revere, MA. He can be reached at [email protected]