With the National Football League (NFL) moving into the second half of its 2013 season, neither the American Football Conference (AFC) nor the National Football Conference (NFC) has a runaway favourite to win the league. Two contributors weigh in on which conference boasts the most talent in a league renowned for its parity.
No team in the NFC compares to the offensive powerhouse that is the Denver Broncos. Led by Peyton Manning and his new favourite target Wes Welker, the Broncos are on pace to shatter just about every scoring record, including most points in a single season. Manning is also slated to break Tom Brady’s record of 50 TD passes set in 2007. With weapons like Demayrius Thomas, Julius Thomas, and Eric Decker, no defence in the NFC—or AFC for that matter—has the personnel to match the Broncos for a full 60 minutes. Moreover, the top four AFC teams have outscored the top four NFC teams by a 933-877 margin, as well as 111 touchdowns to 98, respectively.
On the surface, it may appear that the AFC is disadvantaged because much of the media coverage focuses on the strong defensive units of the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. What many overlook, however, is Kansas City’s defence, which leads the league in points allowed, sacks, and fumble recoveries. Additional statistics prove the AFC’s defensive prowess. Seven of the NFL’s top 10 defensive teams in terms of points allowed hail from the AFC. Of the 10 teams that lead the league in sacks, eight come from the AFC. Seven of the top 10 stingiest units in terms of yardage allowed and yards-per-play also are from the NFC. Finally, four of the five worst defences in terms of yardage allowed and points allowed are from the NFC, showing that there is depth from the top to bottom in the AFC.
In terms of coaching, the AFC stands well above its NFC counterpart. Andy Reid has taken a Kansas City team that went 2-14 last year and turned them into a legitimate Super Bowl contender, boasting the league’s only remaining undefeated record. Over in New England, Bill Belichick—one of the greatest football minds of our generation—has led a Patriots team decimated by injuries and free agency to an AFC East best 6-2 record. No matter what players are lining up on the field, or what team they are playing, Belichick devises game plans that put his team in a position to win each week. In Indianapolis, Chuck Pagano, who overcame his battle with cancer last year, is leading a young Colts team to one of its best starts in franchise history. Having taken his second-year quarterback Andrew Luck under his wing, Pagano and the Colts have handed out huge losses to NFL powerhouses such as Seattle, San Francisco, and Denver.
— Drew Allen
At the halfway point in the NFL season, it is clear that the league’s most lethal offences reside in the NFC. With the read-option tearing through defences and versatile quarterbacks dotting the conference landscape, NFC teams are virtually unstoppable.
The NFC North is home to the league’s top quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, while running back Adrian Peterson and wideout Calvin Johnson are also the standard bearers at their respective positions. Julio Jones, Cam Newton, and Drew Brees light up the scoreboard on a weekly basis and give the NFC South some of the most electrifying players in the league. The NFC East may lack an elite team, but with Dez Bryant, LeSean McCoy, and Robert Griffin III, it has no shortage of thrilling young offensive stars in intriguing systems. The future of the NFL resides in the NFC West as Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson both lead two of the NFL’s flashiest young teams.
Unlike in the AFC where defensive statistics are skewed by weak offences, NFC teams have the tough task of taking on a slew of talented offensive players each week. TThe truth is that the most daunting and imposing defensive players dwell in the NFC. Led by Richard Sherman and Patrick Willis, the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are two of the league’s premiere defensive units. The teams combined to make up over half the All-Pro defensive team last season, and have continued to puzzle offensive coordinators and quarterbacks alike in 2013.
In the trenches, the NFC is anchored by Ndamukong Suh and Jared Allen who make even the best offensive lines look like sieves. Linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Clay Matthews have wreaked havoc for opposing teams’ quarterbacks, while Lance Briggs, NaVarro Bowman, and Sean Lee have been spectacular at stonewalling rushing attacks. In the secondary, Charles Tillman and Darelle Revis cause headaches for offensive coordinators with their shutdown defensive abilities. These elite defences can dominate any AFC opponent.
Ever since Lombardi and Landry roamed the sidelines in the 60s and 70s, the NFC has been home to the league’s best NFL minds. Other than the presence of Bill Belichick, the AFC has merely a weak fraternity of coaches.
The New Orleans Saints saw the importance of coaching first-hand in 2012, as their record dropped from 13-3 in 2011 to 7-9 the following season in large part because of the absence of Head Coach Sean Payton. The NFC has offensive masterminds such as Mike McCarthy, who has taken his Packers to the playoffs in four straight seasons and looks to add another Lombardi trophy to his resumé. Mike Shanahan and Tom Coughlin are two of the biggest names in the business—with a pair of Super Bowl rings to back up their claim. Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll represent the new wave of NFL coaches rising from the college system, and it won’t be long before their knuckles are lined with championship rings too.
— Aaron Rose
Editor’s pick: The NFC
Although the AFC may have the statistics to back up offensive and defensive success, the conference’s numbers are skewed by the presence of a few elite teams, namely the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, and New England Patriots. These teams have been able to pad the score sheet with the aid of weak schedules, in contrast to the steady excellence of the NFC.