Does the NFL have a conference problem?

USA Today

In the NBA, many are quick to point out how the Western Conference is far superior to the Eastern Conference. What’s happened between the NFC and AFC in the NFL is similar. The NFC is superior to the AFC, and this past season proved it, with the NFC dominating the AFC in interconference games, going 42-22 in those matchups. It is significantly harder to make the playoffs in the NFC than it is the AFC. To show why, let’s compare the AFC and NFC from top to bottom, matching up a first-place NFC team with a first-place AFC team from the same regional conference, second-place NFC with a second-place AFC, and so on.

Comparing AFC East and NFC East teams

 2017-2018 first place teams: New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles

Each of these teams finished the regular season as the No. 1 seed in their respective conference with a 13-3 record, squaring off in the Super Bowl. As we all know, the Eagles defeated the Patriots in a classic, which is why they get the edge here.

2017 -2018 second place teams: Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys

Despite the Cowboys and Bills both finishing with the same 9-7 record this past season, it’s easy to tell who is the better team entering this upcoming season. The Cowboys had a better point differential of +79 points, plus they were without star running back Ezekiel Elliot for six games. If he played in those games, it’s a safe bet that the Cowboys would have finished better than 9-7, because they went 13-3 just a year ago with Elliot healthy for an entire 16 regular season games.

2017-2018 third place teams: Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins

The Redskins had a better record than the Dolphins this past season. Also, Miami got worse in the offseason by losing Ndamukong Suh, Mike Pouncey, and Jarvis Landry. I’ll give the nod to the Redskins here.

2017-2018 fourth place teams: New York Jets and New York Giants

Battle of New York. The Jets were better than the Giants this past season and made some good moves in free agency, as well as drafting their hopeful QB of the future in Sam Darnold. I’ll take Gang Green here.

Comparing AFC and NFC North teams

 2017-2018 first place teams: Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are very good, but the Vikings have the best roster in all of football. They have the best defense in the league, and on offense, they have Kirk Cousins coming in, Dalvin Cook returning, plus an excellent WR duo in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

2017-2018 second place teams: Baltimore Ravens and Detroit Lions

The Ravens and Lions shared identical records this past season as the Ravens convincingly beat them in their head-to-head matchup. The Ravens get the edge here.

2017-2018 third place teams: Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers

Do I really need to go into detail here? Aaron Rodgers missed seven games this past season. If he played all 16, they would have easily had a better record than the Bengals. Let’s move on.

2017-2018 fourth place teams: Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears

This one is easy. I’m not sure if any team improved more than the Bears did this offseason. Also, the Browns failed to win a single game in 2017.

Comparing AFC and NFC South teams

 2017-2018 first place teams: Jacksonville Jaguars and New Orleans Saints

The gap between the Saints offense and the Jaguars offense is wider than the Jaguars defense and the Saints defense. With that said, the Saints are better than the Jaguars.

2017-2018 second place teams: Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers

The Panthers had a better record than the Titans in a harder division. This is not hard to figure out.

2017-2018 third place teams: Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans

The Texans have gotten hyped this offseason with the return of Deshaun Watson. However, they were 3-4 before his season-ending injury. The Falcons are clearly the better team here.

2017-2018 fourth place teams: Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts

The Colts getting Andrew Luck back will help them tremendously, as he is better than Jameis Winston.

Comparing AFC and NFC West teams

2017-2018 first place teams: Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams

The Rams had a better record than the Chiefs this past season and improved in the offseason with the additions of Marcus Peters (traded from the Chiefs), Aqib Talib, Ndamukong Suh and Brandin Cooks.

2017-2018 second place teams: Los Angeles Chargers and Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks will need Russell Wilson to carry them this season because the Chargers have the better all-around roster.

2017-2018 third place teams: Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals

Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen are both significant upgrades at QB for the Cardinals than last year. Getting David Johnson back helps a lot, too. However, I think John Gruden will get Derek Carr back on the right track after a disappointing season in 2017. Raiders get the edge here.

2017-2018 fourth place teams: Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have received a lot of attention this offseason, but I’m not buying all the Jimmy Garoppolo hype yet. He’s only started five games for the 49ers so far. The Broncos, on the other hand, are two years removed from a Superbowl victory. Given that Denver still has an elite defense, you could argue all they need is a competent QB. They may have found that in Case Keenum.

NFC teams got the edge in 10 of these 16 comparisons. Just by looking at that, one can already say that it’s harder to make the playoffs in the NFC. Also, when looking closer at these comparisons, the gap is even greater. The first place NFC teams went 4-0, in addition, none of the AFC teams that got the edge made the playoffs this past season. Further, Half the AFC teams that got the nods were last place teams, which is irrelevant when looking at the playoff picture. It’s very easy to tell that it’s harder to make the playoffs in the NFC than the AFC.

 What should the NFL do about this? How about removing conferences for playoff seeding? Just pick the 12 best teams. People have requested that the NBA do the same. However, one problem with that proposal is travel. Let’s say the New York Knicks had to play the Portland Trailblazers in the first round, that’s a lot of back and forth traveling. In the NFL, that would not be a problem because there are no seven-game series, it’s just one game.

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