If there is to be a 2011 NFL season,
one trend people will keep an eye on is the disparity of parity
between the AFC and NFC.
In an unprecedented run of
unpredictability, the NFC has sent 10 different representatives to
the Super Bowl in as many seasons. On the other hand, the AFC has
seen the same three teams turn the trick the past eight years.
Many feel that there is a budding
dynasty in Titletown, where the Packers appear poised to establish
dominance in the conference just as they did in the mid-to-late 90’s
under the combo of Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren. After all, they won
the Super Bowl last year with an unheard of 16 players on injured
reserve and a mere 10-6 regular season record.
One obvious answer is the bevy of
dominant quarterbacks that the AFC boasts – Tom Brady, Peyton
Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger have become football’s version of the
Royal Family of QBs. Aaron Rodgers has a strong case to join that
elite class, but by in large the NFC has not had that the past
The last time someone other than the
Patriots, Steelers, or Colts represented the AFC in the big game was
another offensive juggernaut, the Rich Gannon-led Raiders in 2002.
Comparatively that season, it was the dominant defense of the
Buccaneers that ruled the day.
But Tampa Bay’s window was all but
shut after that, and that’s when things got a bit wacky. The
Panthers, behind unknown commodity Jake Delhomme, were the underdog
success story that hit big in 2003. The Eagles finally reached the
Super Bowl after three failed championship game appearances in ’04,
but they were subsequently supplanted by the Seahawks, Bears, Giants,
Cardinals (yes, the Cardinals), and Saints.
Though Kurt Warner and Drew Brees are
Hall of Fame-caliber signal-callers, their teams did not always pick
up the slack. That’s why Matt Hasselbeck, Rex Grossman, and Eli
Manning were able to reach the big stage in successive seasons prior
to Warner and Brees.
Brady, Manning, and Roethlisberger
have a combined six Super Bowl rings, and one would think they have
more to follow. Oddly enough they have all lost a Super Bowl within
the last four seasons, but they still have a stranglehold on their
conference because the likes of Philip Rivers, Mark Sanchez, and Joe
Flacco simply aren’t ready to oust them.
So looking ahead, can this unheard of
movement continue in the NFC? Brees and Rodgers are great
quarterbacks on very good teams, and after all there are only six
teams left to keep this thing going. The Redskins, Lions, Vikings,
49ers, Falcons, and Cowboys have been left out in the cold, though
all of those teams but the Vikings and Lions have won an NFC title in
the past 20 years.
The Falcons and Cowboys appear to at
least have a considerable shot in 2011, with Matt Ryan having led
Atlanta to a league-best 13 wins a year ago and Tony Romo returning
to health for always-hyped Big D. Atlanta took it a step further this
past April by orchestrating a big draft-day trade to grab Alabama’s
star wideout Julio Jones with the sixth overall pick.
Perhaps Ryan and Romo, neither of whom
have reached elite status, would be overmatched in the AFC, but the
NFC, as always, appears up for grabs. A healthy season for Rodgers
and his teammates makes Green Bay an awfully tough out, but no team
in the conference has established a dominant aura as the Big Three in
the AFC have the past decade.
My gut instinct is that the parity
madness has gone on long enough in the NFC, but stranger things have
happened. Like, the past 10 years for example.