Biggest Fish in the Littlest Pond
The AFC was 40-24 in interconference match-ups this season. That's the second best margin ever. But that doesn't necessarily tell us anything about what will happen in the Super Bowl. The most lopsided season in interconference history was two years ago: the 2004 season culminating in Super Bowl XXXIX. In the single most dominant season in the history of the AFC, the Patriots edged out the Eagles by only three points in the Super Bowl.
Of course, a single occurrence proves nothing. In Super Bowl XII, the Cowboys beat the Broncos by a healthy 27-10 margin. That game capped the 1977 season, in which the AFC had a nearly .700 winning percentage head-to-head. It was one of the four most unbalanced seasons in the history of conference play. But that game came in the midst of a streak during which the AFC won eight of nine Super Bowls while also besting the NFC head-to-head in nine straight years.
So, there is some evidence on each side. Some evidence, such as the AFC's dominance in the 1970's suggests that we should pay attention to the conference's head-to-head records. Other evidence, however, such as Super Bowl XII, St. Louis's win in Super Bowl XXXIV, or the seven NFC teams that won Super Bowls during the 80's and 90's in years in which the AFC won the head-to-head battle, suggests that interconference records don't mean much.
The truth is, there has been nothing cyclical about the balance of power between the conferences, and yet dominance in the Super Bowl has been cyclical. For three decades now the AFC has owned the NFC when it comes to interconference play. The AFC has had the better record in 22 of the 31 seasons since the merger. But the NFC has won 17 of the 31 Super Bowls.
The superiority of the AFC will be a common story this week. It's an easy way to say something about the game, look like your providing insight, but avoid any actual in-depth analysis. Don't let the simple story fool you. Like Tom Brady's clutchness or Peyton Manning's inability to win "the big one," analytical story lines that fell by the wayside in the conference championship game, the balance of power between the conferences is a red herring. Those who try to glean something from the AFC's dominance this year are wasting their time. Only actual analysis of the two teams involved in this specific game will shed any light on the proceedings. So, for the rest of the week, we'll leave the obvious story lines to the highly paid columnists, and focus solely on breaking down key match-ups between the Bears and the Colts, who, unlike the NFC and AFC, will actually meet on the field in Super Bowl XLI.