Give 'A' rating to AFC

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

You could call it parity in the NFC or just a poor parody of the better football being played in the superior conference.

Here's a vote for the latter.

There will be a team to meet the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship come late January, but who will it be and how much chance will they have?

The deeper the NFL season goes the more it is clear that the "haves" reside in the AFC, where two teams appear dominant and at least four more merit serious consideration.

Over in the NFC, meanwhile, it is the Eagles and everyone else.

Each with 8-1 records, the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots are the clear frontrunners as the season gets serious, but the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos and -- less so, the New York Jets -- can't be ruled out.

In fact, of the 10 NFL teams with a record of 6-3 or better, eight reside in the AFC. In inter-conference play so far, the AFC has won 23 games to 15 by the NFC.

The Eagles at 8-1 are indeed the class of the NFC, followed by the Falcons at 7-2.

But who else would you even consider as a threat just to keep it close against the Steelers or Patriots?

Beyond the Eagles -- and remember they have lost three NFC Championship games in a row -- other pretenders don't exactly strike fear.

POOR DIVISION

Give the Green Bay Packers credit for rallying nicely from a 1-4 record to get to 5-4 and a share of first in the NFC North.

But look at that division.

The Minnesota Vikings are also 5-4 just one game a head of the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.

The Packers could be in the basement by Christmas, especially if quarterback Brett Favre's thumb acts up.

The Falcons are atop the NFC South and the closest alternative to legit, but it depends which week you are watching them. Will they play like they did last week in an easy win over the Tampa Bay Bucs? Or like a few weeks back when they were thrashed 56-10 by the Kansas City Chiefs?

Falcons quarterback Michael Vick is stunning to watch and can win a game on his own, but let's see how he responds when the pressure gets ratcheted up in December and January.

The Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams in the NFC West ... get serious.

The Rams alternate between horrible and barely efficient, the type of profile that can win you one playoff game but not the three or four required to go all the way.

Don't look now, but the Arizona Cardinals are just a game out of first for crying out loud.

Who else?

The New York Giants started out gangbusters but already have bailed on quarterback Kurt Warner.

His replacement, wide-eyed rookie Eli Manning, will need to be as good as his brother Peyton in his debut this Sunday if he is to compensate for his team's poor offensive line.

Elsewhere, the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Bucs essentially checked out of contention with losses this past weekend.

The upside to the depth in the AFC is that the playoff bracket here could and should be wildly entertaining.

Imagine a Steelers-Patriots rematch of their meeting earlier this month. Or a Patriots-Colts redux of last year's AFC Championship Game. Or the Ravens defence matching up against any of those contenders.

Forget the records for a moment and rate the teams on style.

The Patriots and Steelers get big marks for the balance they have within their offences -- both can run and pass with efficiency -- and for tough enough defences.

The Colts have a ways to go on 'D', but the way the elder Manning has them scoring at will, there won't be too many games where Indy doesn't at least have a shot.

Meanwhile, when they were thrashed by the Steelers two weeks ago, the Eagles showed they are vulnerable to both stopping the run and making it go.

Bookmakers in Las Vegas currently have the Eagles and Pats as 2-1 Super Bowl co-favourites, followed by the Steelers (4-1), Colts (6-1) and Falcons (8-1).

The smart money goes to the AFC bunch.

Unless, and the possibility certainly exists, they take too much of a pounding just getting out of their conference.


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