AFC not as dominant in recent years
Headed toward an historically inept season, the Kansas City Chiefs, who have not led in any of their games for even a minute, will drag their 1-7 record into Heinz Field on Monday night to play the Steelers.
“That's been a surprise,” said former NFL general manager Charley Casserly, an analyst for CBS and the NFL Network. “Everyone looked at them to be a playoff contender. But they've had an inordinate number of turnovers (29), and their quarterback play hasn't been very good.”
The quarterback play in Cleveland, Tennessee, Oakland, Jacksonville and Buffalo hasn't been so hot, either. In some cases, it's been downright awful and so have other facets of the game, like playing defense. Including the Chiefs, these six teams are a combined 13-38.
Not far away are a few more AFC clubs, including the Jets, who know something about poor quarterback play and who visit tough Seattle on Sunday. A loss would put them at 3-6. A turnaround is possible (or guaranteed, according to cornerback Antonio Cromartie), and the same goes for Cincinnati, which has lost four in a row, and the always mystifying Chargers. But they can go the other way, too.
So what's happened to the AFC? Since the twilight of the last century it could be argued that it was the stronger of the two conferences. But now that's a flimsy case.
“There are not a lot of very good football teams (in the AFC) right now,” said former Ravens coach Brian Billick, an analyst with Fox and the NFL Network.
Or, as ESPN analyst and former NFL offensive line Mark Schlereth put it, “There are a lot of bad teams.”
The eyeball test is one way to check. (Did you catch Jacksonville the other night?)
Another is polls or statistical rankings of all 32 teams. In ESPN's poll this week, seven of the bottom eight teams and eight of the last 10 reside in the AFC.
In Football Outsiders' efficiency ratings, which uses the type of complicated math popularized by advanced baseball statistics, nine of the bottom 10 this week are AFC teams (last week the bottom nine was entirely AFC). Pro Football Reference, which has its own mathematical formula, ranks eight AFC clubs lower than any NFC team.
“Half a season doesn't make a trend,” Casserly said.
No, but it does make for some lousy football.
Point differentials do not entirely reflect a team's performance; a one-point win counts as much as a blowout. Still, it might not be coincidence that five AFC teams have been outscored by more than 50 points compared to none in the NFC. Three of those teams — the Jaguars, Chiefs and Titans — have been outscored by more than 100 points.
In head-to-head competition, the NFC leads, 23-13. Last year the NFC beat the AFC, 33-31. And before that? You have to go back to 1995 for the last time the NFC won most of its games against the AFC. In 2006, the AFC had a 16-game advantage. That also was the season in which Indianapolis beat Chicago for the AFC's eighth Super Bowl win in 10 years. NFC teams have won the past three and four of the past five.
The Steelers, overcoming a 2-3 start and the widespread panic that resulted, are likely to benefit from the sorry state of affairs in the AFC. Beating the Chiefs would be a fourth consecutive win.
“This is a very confident Steelers team, and that was before they won in New York,” said Billick, who worked the telecast of their win over Giants last week. “And I mean this in a good way, there's an athletic arrogance about them.”
Of the Steelers' eight remaining games, seven are against AFC foes, including two with their big rivals, Baltimore, and two against the Browns. They also play the Chargers and Bengals. Dallas is the lone NFC opponent.
Baltimore, in fact, might be another indicator of the AFC's weakness despite their 6-2 record. The Ravens, who lead the Steelers by one game in the AFC North, have underperformed for a month. They trailed Cleveland in the fourth quarter before scoring 10 unanswered points, lost to Houston, 43-13, yielded almost 500 yards in a close win over Dallas, 31-29, and barely beat the sorry Chiefs, 9-6.
The Ravens and Steelers meet twice in three weeks, and if one team can pull off a sweep, it might decide the division race. Billick, who is very familiar with the rivalry, warned against putting much stock in the teams' recent play whenever they get together. But he acknowledged that the Ravens' defense “is the most vulnerable it's been in years.”
Minus injured linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Ladarius Webb, it isn't what it used to be. Neither is the AFC.
Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7810.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers running backs Bell, Blount will face drug charges
- Starkey: Stupid Steelers
- It’s only exhibition, but these Steelers could solidify roster spots vs. Eagles
- Commitment by Steelers’ Gilbert pays off
- Steelers are hoping to mirror Eagles’ full-bore, no-huddle offense
- Rossi: Blount brings back Steelers’ swagger
- Run game not primary focal point for Steelers
- Steelers sign tackle Gilbert to $30 million deal
- Steelers notebook: Polamalu not concerned with being old man among safeties
- Steelers re-sign Keisel to bolster depth on defensive line
- Steelers believe Wheaton ready to step in as No. 2 receiver