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NFC chock full of potential Super Bowl contender

Conference gap widening

Published: Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 11:42 p.m. CDT
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(Elaine Thompson)
AP Adrian Peterson leads the league in rushing through 9 weeks of the season. The Vikings (5-4) are part of the NFC, which is loaded with Super Bowl caliber teams.

Halfway through the season, something's missing – mostly – on a list of the league's elite teams.

The AFC.

It's difficult to make a case for including any team from the conference other than Houston among the league's best, while unbeaten Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago, Green Bay and the New York Giants could be considered in that category from the NFC.

Coming off three straight Super Bowl wins and four out of the last five, the NFC is playing some dominant football on both sides of the line.

In interconference play, it's up 23-13 on the AFC, led by the Falcons sweeping the AFC West, and the Bears going 3-0 against the AFC South – with Chicago meeting the Texans on Sunday in the biggest matchup of the season so far. The Bears are slight favorites in the showdown of 7-1 teams.

That's not too much of a surprise, really. Chicago is home and only Pittsburgh, 3-0 against the suddenly vulnerable NFC East, has showed strength among AFC teams when crossing over.

The NFC has outscored the AFC 1,012-767 in head-to-head matchups, and has a plus-30 turnover margin in those games.

"The quarterbacks as a group are deeper in the NFC," says former NFL executive Pat Kirwan, who has looked extensively at the differences in the conferences. "The bottom teams in the NFL are all in the AFC: Jacksonville, Kansas City and Cleveland."

Just as pronounced are the statistical rankings, with six of the top eight defensive teams coming from the NFC. In a league where just about everyone can play offense — sorry Jacksonville, your 117 points wouldn't cut it in the ACC — the efficient defenses tend to swing the pendulum of power.

But if you want offense, something the league is providing plenty of once again this year, note that seven of the 11 highest-rated passers are from the NFC, as are eight of the top 11 receivers. The ground game? Try the top four, led by Minnesota star Adrian Peterson, and six of the first 10 are NFCers.

There's far more balance to NFC attacks.

"I think the balance has to be more maybe not weekly but over the course of the season," said Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, whose team has averaged 36 points in winning three of the last four, two of those victories against — you guessed it — the AFC.

"You have to take what the defense gives you. Different weeks the defense is going to afford you different opportunities. I think that's the hardest thing, coaches being able to recognize it and if it's different than what they've shown, being able to adjust. And for your players being able to get that communicated to them and having a system that is flexible enough to change the game plan because of the way they are playing the offense."

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