The short answer is no.. not quite. The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts are clearly superior to any other team in either conference. However, given the drop off of teams like the Steelers, Chargers, Broncos, Bengals and, yes folks, the Ravens, there is now a parity between the two conferences that has not been there for a number of years.
Right now there are six or seven teams in the NFC who can compete with any of the "second-tier" AFC teams. The NFC East may be the strongest division in all of football again. As an unapologetic Giants fan I know I’ll catch some grief from this but the New York Giants are playing better football right now than any of the above mentioned AFC teams. Like the Colts and Patriots, they’re not just beating teams, they’re demoralizing them. The Cowboys can play with anyone and the Eagles and Redskins show signs of emergence as well.
In the NFC Central, the Green Bay Packers have a defense that I’d stack up against most AFC opponents and Favre is having his best season since ’03. And let’s not discount the Bears completely either. Quarterback issues aside, the Bears have struggled with as many injuries as the Ravens and still appear to have enough talent, certainly defensively, to play tight games against the Jaguars, Chargers and Steelers while being more than capable of beating the Broncos, Bengals or Ravens.
The NFC WEST has been a major disappointment thus far. Injuries to the Cardinals, 49ers and St. Louis have made them mostly non-factors. However the Cardinals already beat the Steelers once and came very close against the Ravens.
Obviously, what I suggest can only be proven through direct competition and over the next few weeks there are a few key inter-conference matchups that will either support or refute my belief. Here’s five to watch:
Jacksoville at Tampa Bay- Two evenly matched teams square off in the Battle of Florida. The Bucs may surprise some people.
Denver at Chicago- Look for the Bears to have a healthier team, a quarterback who’s more in synch and a rather effortless home win against the Broncos.
Detroit at San Diego- A year ago this would’ve been a laugher but the Lions are young, improving and may even be in a Wild Card fight. Will they win this game? Not a chance. But you’ll see some things you might not have expected.
Baltimore at Seattle- Hard to gauge a game this late in the season. Will either team be playing for anything meaningful? If they are, and the Ravens will probably REALLY need this game, it’s going to be a sad day for team Purple. Seattle’s better at home.
New England at New York Giants- Super Bowl preview? Probably not. I don’t think the Giants are ready to make it that far. They’ll stumble somewhere. But if this game has any playoff implication at all, or if the Pats decide to go for 16-0, watch New York give the Patriots the best fight they’ve had this side of Indianapolis.
Thoughts? Comments? Am I nuts? Let’s hear what you have to say!