While there are certain trends that hold true in the sports world over a long period of time, things tend to change over the course of a couple years. That holds true in the NFL as well, as within the span of one year, a team can go from a bottom feeder all the way to a Super Bowl contender. We have seen that narrative play out many times.
The strength of the league also shifts every few years naturally by way of draft picks, free agent signings and coaching changes. Many decades ago, it felt like the National Football Conference had the most talented teams, such as the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Green Bay Packers.
However, during the present time in the NFL, the American Football Conference seems to be home to the stronger group of teams in the league. If NFL fans are wagering on Bovada for certain franchises to make the playoffs in the AFC, they will have to sweat out some fierce competition week in and week out.
Let’s try to understand why the AFC is now the stronger of the two conferences in the NFL, and whether they will maintain that level of dominance in the future.
It is commonly said that the NFL is a quarterback driven league, so in order to help analyze the division of power between the two conferences, it is only reasonable that we start by looking at the young signal callers in the AFC.
It’s pretty remarkable how most of the franchises in the conference are very content with who they have playing under center, and figure to be so for a long time. Think about the Buffalo Bills, who just signed Josh Allen to a lucrative contract extension. Allen figures to be in the hunt for an NFL MVP award for the next decade, and has already shown that he is not afraid of the big moment.
The AFC North is chock full of amazing talent that plays each other multiple times a year. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is only in his third season in the NFL, and he can already say that he has led his team to the brink of winning a championship. Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens is going to get paid sooner or later, and he has won an NFL MVP award already in his young career.
That doesn’t even include Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was viewed as an elite option when he was on the field for the Houston Texans. Strictly taking his on-field performance into account, there is a scary possibility that Watson might be the best quarterback in his division once he returns to the lineup.
The Kansas City Chiefs have made the AFC championship game in four straight seasons thanks to Patrick Mahomes, who is proving to the world that he can excel without the game breaking speed of Tyreek Hill. Justin Herbert has also proven to be one of the best pure passers in the NFL for the Los Angeles Chargers.
We have just named several great players, and this does not even include the possibility of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa maintaining a high level of play, or Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence taking the next step in his development.
The Old Guard Fading into The Sunset
The NFC has some all-time legendary players in the conference, but they may not have too many years left. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time in the eyes of most, and it will be hard for any other player to surpass what he has accomplished. However, he is 45 years-old now, and does not figure to be in the NFL for much longer than a couple of years.
Green Bay Packers signal caller Aaron Rodgers is also in the twilight of his career. While he has had a spectacular run with the Packers, and might still have enough juice left to win another Super Bowl, he has already stated that he will not be in the NFL when he is in his mid-forties, like Brady is.
The New Orleans Saints were an NFC powerhouse for many years with head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. However, both have since left the team, and while New Orleans is still very talented, they don’t have the same type of ceiling with their new cast of characters.
Looking Into the Future
Through trades and free agency, the potential for the strength of the league to change conferences exists in each offseason. However, the AFC is very well positioned to be extremely competitive for at least the next five years, more so than the NFC.