It is often assumed as a given that the AFC is the better conference. Last year they finished 34-30 over the NFC and ultimately won the Superbowl, thus reasonably establishing dominance as the better conference.
So what happened? What precipitated the NFC's meltdown and why was 2005 the year of the AFC (as was 2004)?
Much of that largely has to do with the teams at the top. The 10-6 Patriots, still fresh from a Superbowl win the previous year and playing behind the echoed cheers of "Dynasty, dynasty" were a more intimidating adversary than its record might suggest. Even the 10-6 Kansas City Chiefs, who didn't make the playoffs, would probably have been a playoff team had they been in the NFC. Likewise with their division rival San Diego Chargers.
The AFC wildcard teams were considerably more intimidating than their NFC counterparts. The Steelers would ultimately win it all, defeating the unquestioned best of the NFC Seahawks in Superbowl XL. At 12-4 the wildcard Jacksonville Jaguars had more wins than 15 NFC teams.
If the AFC were better than their records or playoff berths suggested, the NFC contrasted well with what turned out to be a bunch of paper tigers. The Bears were a great defense lacking an offense that benefitted from a weak division. The Seahawks won 13 games because they happened to share a conference with the Rams, 49ers, and Cardinals. The NFC East Giants would get subjugated 23-0 by the Carolina Panthers, who would go on to lose to the Seattle Seahawks, who would go on to lose to the AFC's 6th seed.
If you aren't sold yet on AFC hegemony in 2005, consider that AFC playoff-bound teams went 20-4 against the NFC, while NFC playoff-bound teams went 12-12 against the AFC.
So what's changed? Well for one the AFC studs aren't looking as intimidating as they were last year. The Patriots are a strong 3-1, with an impressive win at the expense of the Cincinnati Bengals, who look defeatable. The Current Universe Football Champion Pittsburgh Steelers are a surprising 1-2. The perennial contending Denver Broncos are averaging just 12 points a game and are only 2-1, including a bizarre loss to the NFC's St. Louis Rams. The Baltimore Ravens probably aren't as good as their 4-0 record would suggest, with 3 of those wins coming from non-contenders in TB, Cleveland (they tried to lose this game) and Oakland. Even the Colts look beatable, as they have struggled to win over teams they should have dispatched with ease. They barely beat the Giants in week 1 and the Jags last week, and needed some late game Manning-esque heroics to beat... the Jets?! Actually I'm not yet convinced that the Jets are nearly as bad a football team as they were last year.
On the other side of the aisle the cream of the NFC has looked pretty impressive thus far. The Chicago Bears looked frighteningly good in a win against the injured Seahawks. The NFC South looks like it has 3 potential post season teams, in the East the Eagles might just have returned to form. Even the best of the worst in the NFC actually looks a bit more impressive than their AFC counterparts, as it isn't yet clear that Oakland, Tennessee, Houston, Miami, and Cleveland can beat anyone besides each other.
With history as our only guide the AFC should come to its senses and collectively pimp-slap the NFC into submission. Perhaps, though, the NFC can uncharacteristically remain on top of the AFC and earn the respect we all think it deserves. At 2-0 against the AFC, the Redskins have certainly done thir part.
So readers, is 2006 the year of the NFC or is this just wishful thinking?