Unabated to the Quarterback, Week 15: AFC v. NFC

“Nothing is given to mankind, and what little men can conquer must be paid for with unjust deaths. But man’s grandeur lies elsewhere, in his decision to rise above his condition.”

–Albert Camus

For virtually the entirety of the Aughts, the AFC has been far more intriguing than the NFC. After pulling two Super Bowl upsets to start the decade (one little upset by a big margin, one big upset by a little), the AFC has been favored to win the NFL’s title game the last seven seasons. It has given us the decade’s best rivalry (New England vs. Indianapolis), its transcendent players (you can make a case that the best player to spend most of the decade in the NFC is Torry Holt), its best individual teams, and its best franchises.

Suffice to say, the story of the NFL in the Aughts was almost always the story of the AFC.

And I wanted to write how that was changing this season, how the NFC—by being the home of a team that reached 13-0 for the first time in the conference’s history, of the league’s most polarizing figure in Brett Favre,* of what portended to be its best division (the NFC Beast)—was the more interesting conference in professional football. I was going to use the glut of 7-7 teams corrupting the AFC playoff picture—including a Texans’ team that hasn’t won a big game in its franchise history and a Jets’ squad that seems like it has more interceptions this year than touchdowns—as a starting point to talk about how the NFC is deeper, how its playoffs will be a thrilling toss-up where pretty much any team can emerge and then provide a legitimate challenge to the AFC champion in the Super Bowl.

*Is it possible to call Favre “polarizing” still? That seems to imply some people still like him, and I imagine even Vikings fans cheer for him somewhat begrudgingly—at least the good ones.

Those things are still kind of true, especially the part about the NFC playoffs being a toss-up now that the Saints and Vikings have shown weaknesses, the Eagles and Cowboys unexpected strengths, and the Cardinals the ability to play really well on any week. It wouldn’t be surprising to see a team from Wild Card Weekend make the Super Bowl from the NFC for the third consecutive season.

BUT, I still have to admit that the intrigue remains in the AFC, what with the possibly perfect Colts potentially having to go through their two nemeses in the Patriots and Chargers to get back to the Super Bowl, and the Bengals proving again on Sunday that they’re a legitimate contender in the conference. (We should all be rooting for Cincinnati to pass New England in the conference standings to nail down the third seed, setting up a New England-Indianapolis rematch in the second round, provided the Bengals win their first-round game to set up a rematch of yesterday’s thriller in San Diego.) Throw in that the Titans might still make the playoffs after starting 0-6 and get the chance to showcase the league’s can’t-miss player of the season in Chris Johnson, or that the Ravens should do the same with their own Ray Rice (Jersey guy…sort of), and the AFC is still the home of the NFL’s best stories.

  • Look on the bright side, Jet fans: At least Favre was terrible, too.
  • It was nice to see Jerome Harrison finally live up to his potential in Cleveland.
  • Can we get the Vikings on Sunday Night Football a bit more often?
  • Watching the Panthers on Sunday night, I remembered, “Wait a minute…this was the team that came within a blown 11-point lead of being the top seed in the NFC last season; you know, the one I was scared of for the Giants’ sake in the playoffs (the only one I was really scared of).” It’s weird to realize that, pretty much immediately after Jake Delhomme’s collapse in Week 1, the Panthers haven’t been relevant this entire season, only one year removed from being one of the league’s best teams. At the same time, this seems to be Carolina’s modus operandi: They’ve never made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
  • If the playoffs started today, none of the four teams that received byes last season would make the postseason. My research indicates that this would be the first time that’s happened since the NFL expanded its playoffs to 12 teams for the 1990 season. Of course, it would also be the third straight year and fifth this decade that neither of the NFC bye teams made the playoffs the following season.
  • That just goes to show you how difficult it is to maintain success in the NFL, since that success is often built on things like a favorable schedule and a lack of injuries. Just look at the Falcons: A quarterback maturing, a great running back and wide receiver returning, and adding the best tight end ever suggested that they’d be better this year than they were last year. But that’s not the case by a long shot because the schedule is tougher, Matt Ryan and Michael Turner have fought through injuries, and like most teams, they’ve had a lot of turnover on the defensive side of the ball.
  • Anyone still thinking Jeff Fisher gets too much credit? If they make the playoffs—which is still a longer shot than I’d hoped, since all seven of their losses are in conference and they’d lose a tiebreaker with pretty much every other team in the AFC—Fisher should win Coach of the Year. Caldwell will get it (maybe Marvin Lewis), but Fisher deserves it more.
  • Speaking of, is Caldwell putting to rest the myth that college coaches can’t make it in the NFL? Him and Tom Cable have really stepped it up.
  • Do we have to admit that Norv Turner is a good coach yet? No? Good.
  • I was a bit disappointed in Tim Keown’s article on the death of parity in the NFL for ESPN: The Magazine this week. It really wasn’t a whole lot more than some stats pointing out that there are more really bad teams this year than most other years without much in-depth investigation as to why (aside from pointing out pretty obvious things like the Raiders draft terribly). Keown tried to tie it into blackouts and financial issues, and while it’s true that some historically proud franchises in Oakland, Detroit, Cleveland, and Kansas City have now been mired in the cellar for a few years now (although to be fair, CLE and KC have each had a 10-win season within the last four years), the biggest financial problem appears to be in Jacksonville, whose attendance woes don’t have as much to do with a lack of competitiveness. Methinks it may be the economy that’s the primary culprit here; not a death of NFL parity, which will almost certainly rear its head either in the playoffs or next season.
  • I think the current Eagles’ offense is the best Philly has had under Andy Reid. There’s just so much speed with DeSean Jackson—who’s showing why people thought he could win a Heisman at Cal—Jeremy Maclin, and LeSean McCoy. McNabb’s mobility—reduced but still there—means he can often find an extra second to allow those wideouts to get open in the secondary and make a big play. Plus, Brent Celek and Leonard Weaver have emerged as excellent secondary options, and Reid is starting to properly use Michael Vick. I know the Giants’ defense isn’t good, but it takes some firepower to post 85 on a divisional foe in a single season.
  • Shakeup at the top of the SBCS!!! It’s not that significant: Indy replaces Nawlins at the top, with San Diego inching past Minnesota for the third spot. Philly rounds out the top five.
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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John S on December 22, 2009 at 4:00 PM

    Why does Jeff Fisher get credit for starting out 0-6 and then fighting with the owner about a QB change that has clearly been a resounding success? I’m not saying he’s not good, I’d just like some elaboration.

    Reply

  2. You’re overstating the “fighting with the owner” point, unless you think Fisher was in the wrong in sticking with Kerry Collins all of last season. I have a hard time believing he wasn’t going to with Vince Young in Week 8 even before Bud Adams’ comments, but I admit I’m not 100 percent sure. I just think leading a team back from 0-6 (with the last loss being by 59 points), when pretty much all the evidence in NFL history suggests you have nothing left to play for, is VERY impressive. More impressive even than what Caldwell has done in Indy (which is to say, nothing). You’ll hear no complaints from me, though, if Marvin Lewis gets CoY.

    Reply

    • Posted by John S on December 23, 2009 at 3:10 AM

      I mean, it’s not like Jeff Fisher was on a leave of absence during that 0-6 start. That’s like saying David Ortiz should have won AL MVP last season because he ended up with 28 home runs after only hitting 1 in the first two months.

      Reply

  3. Old fogie intervention here. Coach Fisher did a heck of a job last year with a retread QB starting for him. His other choice was a suicidal QB who may have scored the lowest Wonderlic (IQ) test ever. So, either way I think he’s done a good job. The guy has a .578 winning percentage with the Titans over 12 seasons which is close to a Hall of Fame ratio. I agree with both of you in that Fisher should be applauded for keeping his team in the hunt, and at the same time questioned about his stubbornness. But, as noted he had to choose between a bad egg and a bad apple. Interestingly, both Collins and Young have career QB ratings around 73.5. Yes, Collins is at the end and Young may be on the way up, but if I were Jeff Fisher, I would be singing “So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 1999”, you know, the old Prince song (hint, the Titans went to the Super Bowl that year with the late, great Steve McNair).

    Reply

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