Monday, December 20, 2004

The New Junior Varsity

Remember the days when the NFC rolled off 14 consecutive Super Bowl victories? Mighty teams such as the Bears, Giants, Redskins, Cowboys and 49ers dominated the league. Even the Eagles, though they never even made it to an NFC Champoinship game, fielded some great teams in those days. I remember growing up and watching some classic games between the Giants and Niners, or Giants and Redskins, or Giants and Eagles. And then there were those bloody battles between the Niners and Cowboys in the early 90;s; Steve Young vs. Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith running it up the gut. I remember Smith single-armedly (literally) leading the Cowboys to the NFC East division title against the Giants on the final day of the 1993 season. It was a tough loss for the men in blue, but it was an epic showdown. Truly the NFC was the varsity to the AFC's junior varsity.

So what in the blue blazes has happened to the NFC? As it stands now the Eagles are 13-1, the Falcons are 11-3 (though not as good as their record suggests), and the Packers and Vikings are 8-6. Everyone else in the conference is .500 or worse. What's more, the NFC has gotten absolutely shalacked by the AFC in head-to-head matchups. No NFC wild card team will sport better than a 9-7 record, and in fact at least one wild card team could be 7-9. The Seattle Seahawks, a rather pathetic team that has no defense to speak of, currently leads the NFC West with a staggering 7-7 record. Today I even heard serious talk on the radio here in DC of the 5-9 Redskins making the playoffs. You know what? They're right. If the Skins win their next two games, not an altogether outrageous proposition, then they have a pretty good chance at making the playoffs. Heck, the freaking Arizona Cardinals - THE ARIZONA CARDINALS - have a shot at the post-season.

Outside of the Philadelphia Eagles, there is simply not a dominating team in this conference. Even the Falcons have many weaknesses. In fact the best team in the conference outside the Eagles may be the Carolina Panthers, a team that started the season 1-7.

Switch to the AFC, and you see a completely different picture. Two teams, the Steelers and Patriots, are 13-1 and 12-1 respectively, and exhibit no glaring shortcomings other than the fact that the former has a rookie starting quarterback - a rookie that has yet to lose a professional game. The Colts and Chargers are each 11-3 and are currently sizzling. There is no better player in the game right now than Peyton Manning, who is simply unconscience at qb. He's got three - count them, three - receivers who will end the season with over 1,000 yards receiving and ten touchdowns each. Oh, by the way, they've also got the league's reading rusher in Edgerrin James. And did I mention the Jets are 10-4? In fact, if the Jets win out - again, not unlikely - the AFC may very well wind up with five teams with 12 or more wins. And with four 8-6 teams, there might very well be a team or two that finishes with 10 wins and still fails to make the playoffs. Not to mention a couple of very tough non-playoff teams such as the Bengals and Chiefs, and the AFC is quite simply whooping the NFC's butt this year.

So, my question is, what the hell happened? How did the NFC become the NFL's version of the NBA's Eastern Conference? How can an entire conference absolutely suck so bad? Okay, that's three questions. Still, truly disheartening for an NFC fan.


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