No one has any idea what to make of the NFC, other than the fair certainty that Green Bay with home-field will be as tough to beat this season as Seattle with home-field was last season, but beat whom? No one knows for sure.
In the AFC, however, the narrative has been the same from the beginning, more or less.
It’s Denver and New England, New England and Denver, the Broncos and the Pats, the Pats and the Broncos, Brady and Manning, Manning and Brady, and the Colts.
Whichever way the top 2 end up, conventional wisdom has placed the Colts and wunderkind quarterback Andrew Luck third, having lost to both of the top 2 already this season, with a host of others parading in as potential (but not really) challengers.
Beautifully balanced Cincinnati (stomped 43-17 by the Patriots), Philip Rivers-led San Diego, finally bolstered by a great defense (self-destructed in week 7), and pass rush happy Kansas City (self-destructed in week 12), have all, at times, looked at least as good as the Colts before not looking so good anymore.
And the trouble is, the Colts aren’t good enough. No way. In fact, I’m convinced they’re not even the third best team in the AFC.
No, the real challengers to the big 2 have been there all along, are the only teams in the Brady-Manning era to win the AFC, to win Super Bowls, and it’s those old rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
In fact, the last quarterback to play in a Super Bowl from the AFC who wasn’t playing for Pittsburgh or Baltimore, or wasn’t Manning or Brady, retired a decade ago and is the same age as me. The last one before him isn’t even alive anymore.
The Steelers and Ravens have bona fides. Can you honestly imagine any of these other AFC clowns going into New England in January and beating the Patriots?
Can you honestly imagine any of them beating Denver in Denver?
You don’t have to try too hard to imagine the Steelers and Ravens doing that, because both of them in the last half dozen years or so have done it. And don’t look now, but both of these teams are just a half game behind the Bengals, who have to play @Cleveland, host Denver and @Pittsburgh in their final three.
By contrast, the Ravens last three will be Jacksonville, @Houston (who will probably be eliminated by then), and Cleveland. I like them to win the division and get the 3-seed.
Sure, the AFC Conference Championship game will probably be Denver vs. New England, just like everyone expects, but don’t be surprised if one of those teams doesn’t show up, replaced instead by a Steelers or Ravens club both ready and able to beat them before they get there.
Featured image via Mike Ehrmann