Why is the AFC So Superior?

Even if you haven't gotten a calculator out, it's hard not to notice how much better the AFC is than the NFC is this season.

After taking five of the six interconference games played on Sunday, the AFC has opened up an imposing 31-17 lead over the NFC in the interconference season series, which is already three-fifths complete.

(Remember that in the final week of the regular season, not only are all 16 games within the same conference, but also within the same division, accounting for why more than half of the interconference games have already been played.)

31-17 comes out to a .646 winning percentage — and if that holds up for the rest of the season, it will be the most lopsided domination by one conference over the other since the AFC went 44-20 (.688) versus the NFC in 2004.

(The all-time record disparities came in 1970, when the NFC won the interconference season series, 27-12-1, and in 1979, when the AFC prevailed, 36-16 — in both cases a .692 winning percentage.)

But what is causing the AFC to be so much better?

The answer can be summed up in one word: quarterback.

Just about all of the best quarterbacks in general, and the best young quarterbacks in particular, play for AFC teams — Tua Tagovailoa, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, and Joe Burrow.

So in a quarterback's league, naturally the AFC is the stronger conference — so much so that at this writing all four teams from the AFC North both have winning records and would make the playoffs, the first time that either such thing will have ever happened (see what the NBA's Pacific Division started?). And only one AFC team — the 2-7 Patriots — has a record that is worse than 3-5, while five NFC teams do (the 3-6 Rams, the 2-7 Giants and Bears, the 1-7 Panthers, and the 1-8 Cardinals).

And there may be no end in sight to this trend, as C.J. Stroud looks like he might be the man who finally breaks the "Ohio State Quarterback Jinx": through eight games, the Texans rookie has thrown for 14 touchdowns to just 1 interception and has a gaudy passer rating of 102.9 — and on Sunday he shredded Tampa Bay's 31st-ranked pass defense to the tune of completing 30-of-42 for 470 yards, with 5 touchdowns and no interceptions, and driving Houston 75 yards in six plays in just 46 seconds to score the winning touchdown on a 15-yard pass to the oddly-nicknamed wide receiver Tank Dell (he's 5'10", 165) with six seconds remaining.

(Stroud's Buckeye predecessor, Justin Fields, by contrast, is 6-25 as a starter after the Bears, an NFC team, drafted him in the first round in 2021 — and Bryce Young, who the Panthers, another NFC team, traded up to tab with the 2023 draft's first overall pick, is 1-6 as a starter and his passer rating of 77.1 is trailed only by Zach Wilson's 75.4 among quarterbacks who have made at least the same number of starts as the seven that Young has made.)

Either the decision-makers for the AFC teams have a better eye for talent at the quarterback position than their NFC counterparts, or a few rules changes might need to be made to foster more competitive balance between the pass-happy AFC and the more conservative NFC — which has been a problem for the NFL ever since the "chuck rule" was enacted in 1978. Toward this end, compelling all teams to use a base 4-3 defense could be a big help, as would getting rid of artificial turf — an idea that is gathering considerable momentum.

But don't expect anything to be done about this anytime soon — because, as always, there are many ways of doing something, but there is only one way of doing nothing.

Leave a Comment

Featured Site