Baseball BeatJanuary 02, 2006
American Idols
By Rich Lederer

The National Football League concluded its regular season on Sunday. The playoffs begin next Saturday with what is called Wildcard Weekend.

Saturday, January 7:
Washington (10-6) at Tampa Bay (11-5)
Jacksonville (12-4) at New England (10-6)

Sunday, January 8:
Carolina (11-5) at N.Y. Giants (11-5)
Pittsburgh (11-5) at Cincinnati (11-5)

The Indianapolis Colts (14-2), Denver Broncos (13-3), Seattle Seahawks (13-3), and Chicago Bears (11-5) all have byes.

Here's my question: does anybody really believe that one of the teams from the National Football Conference has a legitimate chance to win Super Bowl XL? From my vantage point, the American Football Conference appears to be as stacked as Major League Baseball's American League. Bookmakers, in fact, have already installed the AFC representative as a 10 1/2-point favorite to win the extra large one this year.

What is it with these AFC and AL teams? The Americans have beaten the Nationals in each of the last two Super Bowls and World Series. I would be surprised if they don't make it a three-peat in both.

The AFC includes the team with the best record in football as well as the two-time defending Super Bowl champs. The Steelers, the sixth and last seed in the AFC, are probably better than every team in the NFC, with the exception of the Seahawks.

Da Bears have no almost no shot. I mean, this isn't 1986. That Super Bowl victory has been in the Fridge for 20 years. Tampa Bay? Yes, they won it three years ago, but this is Chris Simms at quarterback -- not Phil. New York Giants? They've got the right surname at QB, just the wrong version. The Carolina Panthers have the Sports Illustrated cover jinx working against them. Joe Gibbs is back with the Redskins but, unfortunately, Mark Rypien, Doug Williams, and John Riggins have all long retired.

The AFC has not only won four of the last five Super Bowls, but it went 34-30 against the NFC this year. Kinda reminds me of the superiority of the AL over the NL. The AL, which has won six of the last eight World Series, beat up the NL in interleague play to the tune of 136-116 last year.

I think the National League may have only two teams that are as good as the top seven in the Americal League. Other than the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets, I don't see a NL club that can compete with the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels, Cleveland Indians, Oakland A's, or Toronto Blue Jays.

Thanks to the Sox (Soxes? Socks?), the AL has swept each of the past two World Series. That's right, the NL hasn't won a World Series game since Josh Beckett pitched a five-hit shutout against the Yankees in Game Six of the 2003 Series. But it's not just about what happens in October.

Only four AL teams had losing records vs. the NL last year. Conversely, only four NL teams had winning records vs. the AL. The two leagues look more unbalanced than their schedules.

I'm reluctant to count out the Atlanta Braves because I have been proven wrong when doing so in the past. Arguments could also be made on behalf of the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies. However, all three teams went 7-8 in interleague play last year. Outside of the teams mentioned and the Milwaukee Brewers, who are young and poised to get better, I don't see another club in the NL that could put up a .500 record in any of the three divisions in the American League.

Don't even suggest that the San Diego Padres or the new and improved Los Angeles Dodgers are up to the task of beating these AL teams. The NL West, which looks like a Triple-A league when compared to the AL, went 32-55 in interleague play last year. There are so many old players in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, one would think California had become Florida.

Just as the AFC is far removed from the old American Football League (you know, the one looking to merge with its more established National Football League brethren), the AL is no longer MLB's junior circuit. If anything, it appears as if the NL has been short circuited.


These things come in waves. There was a time in the 1980s in the NFL where the NFC was dominating the Super Bowls, and it happened in baseball, too, though not in the 1980s. At some point, the tide will change, and there will be talk of another conference/league dominance. After awhile, to me, it doesn't seem so amazing, anymore. Ah, the ebbs and tides of sports....

I agree with what you said about the Steelers.

But seeing "almost no shot" while expressing great reverence for the number conjured by the bookmakers worries me. The casinos can put the line wherever they want the line. It's more a piece of PR than it's a sabermetrically accurate measure of relative strength. The so-called certainty that the AFC will dominate the NFC is just an early and potent piece of hype in what will be a massively hyped viewing and gambling experience.

Most of the public will rally to the 10-point underdog, if there is a 10-point underdog. It's true the AFC was better and deeper this year, but almost anything can happen in the Super Bowl, so that fact will be pretty meaningless at kickoff.

Football is a weird animal statistically; the events are too context-dependent to make much sense of them using mathematical methods. As far as sports books are concerned, people bet on the home team regardless of their feelings, and so every year the Yanks are 3:1 favorites to capture another set of rings. That doesn't mean it will happen that way, though.

Any of the six NFC teams could win the Super Bowl, and it'd not be a big surprise. You could have made the same points you made about the AFC in 2001, when the Patriots shocked the Rams, or in 2003, when the Panthers almost stopped the Pats.

The reason the oddsmakers have set the spread as such is because the strong AFC teams have decent defenses and strong offenses, while the strong NFC teams have decent offenses and strong defenses. If it's a close game, that favors the NFC teams. The only way you're going to see a blowout is if an AFC team is the victor. So, do you want to set the odds at NFC+3 or AFC+10?

This is probably the worst - in terms of dull, ugly games - NFL season that I remember in my life, though I'm only 31. There's so many bad teams. People have been saying the NFL should EXPAND the playoffs when there's already a whole bunch of downright bad teams in the playoffs as it is.