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The conference imbalance in the NFL isn’t getting better any time soon

It’s a problem if you happen to root for an NFC team in the crowded conference.

Pro Bowl Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The NFL, like every other sport, occasionally becomes imbalanced. The NFC is simply better than the AFC right now, in the same way that the Western Conference is better than the Eastern Conference in the NBA, and that has been the case for over a decade now in both sports. Eventually, chances are that it will tilt back the other way. Yet it also may get worse before it gets better.

Heading into the 2018 season, I think most NFL fans and analysts would tell you that 7-8 of the best teams in the NFL are in the NFC, including our own Falcons. Two of the three or so most dominant teams are clearly in the AFC—the Patriots and Steelers promise to be brutal outs yet again—but the AFC is otherwise a wasteland. The Chiefs should be good, the Chargers have some promise, the Colts would be decent if Andrew Luck could throw a football ever again, and the Jaguars have a legitimate shot to knock off New England or Pittsburgh if Blake doesn’t Bortles it up. But outside of that—and some promising young teams like the Titans and (weirdly) Browns—it’s the lesser conference in just about any way you can think up. The Patriots and Steelers come into 2018 with virtually no prospects of being legitimately challenged for their divisional titles yet again.

The concentration of power in the AFC always seems to belong to a handful of teams, dating back to the 1990s when the Bills (four times) and the Broncos (three times) represented the conference in the Super Bowl. But that imbalance has gotten worse in recent years, as the NFC has been full of a rotating cast of quality teams, and the AFC has been..not.

Dating back to the 2003, the last time a non-Patriots, Broncos, Colts, Steelers or Ravens AFC team made the Super Bowl, the American conference has sent the Pats seven times, the Steelers three times, the Broncos twice, the Colts twice, and the Ravens once. The NFC, on the other hand, has sent ten teams, with only the Panthers (who lost twice), Seahawks (1-1), Eagles (1-1), and Giants (2-0) repeating. With the NFC becoming an arms race between teams like the Eagles, Vikings, Falcons, Saints, Rams, Packers and to a lesser extent the Cowboys, Seahawks, and Panthers, it would take a tectonic shift in terms of injuries, trades, or free agent losses to make the AFC the superior conference any time in the future.

That’s not necessarily bad news for the game—although the prospect of watching yet another Patriots Super Bowl is extremely unappealing—but it is good news for those handful of AFC teams with bright immediate futures, and very bad news for the crop of contenders in the NFC who might play better than 14 out of 16 AFC teams and have nothing to show for it at the end of the year.