Through most of the first half-dozen weeks of the season, the commonly held opinion was that the AFC ruled the NFL.
However, the results of the last few weeks have caused the discussion to change.
"I think the balance of power has evened out," former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker and current ESPN analyst Derrick Brooks said. "I thought early on, the AFC was getting too much of the credit, and the NFC, rightfully so, was being looked at as an inferior conference. But the past three weeks, heading into the second half of the season, I definitely see more of a shift in terms of balance between the AFC and the NFC."
Former Patriots linebacker and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi doesn't expect either conference to gain much, if any, ground on the other through the balance of the season.
Preview: Week 10
In his mind, nothing really separates the AFC or NFC teams beyond their conference logos.
"What the league is to me now is a bunch of teams that have similar talent levels all getting together and playing on Sundays and (most of the games) being decided in the fourth quarter," Bruschi said. "The best teams in the NFL are (determined by) the quality of the coaching they're going to receive and the play at the quarterback position. So instead of looking at it as the AFC and the NFC, you look at guys like (Tom) Coughlin and Andy Reid, two quality coaches in the NFC, and (Bill) Belichick, (Mike) Tomlin, and the (AFC) quarterbacks are (Tom) Brady and (Ben) Roethlisberger) and (Peyton) Manning and the other Manning (Eli in the NFC)."
Is it possible that a lot of us were guilty of overhyping the AFC?
Sure. It was easy to get caught up in the mystique of the Steelers' dominant defense, and it seemed logical to assume, after their 3-1 start while Roethlisberger served a suspension, they would be much better once he returned. It was easy to get carried away with all of the preseason conversation about the Jets' abundance of talent, their overpowering defense, and the brashness of coach Rex Ryan. It was easy to assume that Peyton Manning would be able to will the Colts on another Super Bowl run.
Is it possible that that a lot of us overlooked the NFC?
Absolutely. The NFC certainly doesn't have the level of star power found in the AFC. Yes, Drew Brees became much more of a high-profile figure after the Super Bowl, but he and his Saints teammates were mostly admired for their Cinderella story, rather than great talent. Yes, Minnesota's Brett Favre is virtually a franchise onto himself, but much of that has been driven by negativity this season.
Gunslingers of the future
NFL.com's Steve Wyche spoke to a collection of coaches and general managers to get a sense of who is the NFL's best young QB. You might be surprised at their thoughts. More ...
As is usually the case, however, a whole new perspective is created by what happens on the field.
Most league observers aren't expecting any team, or a cluster from either conference, to run away from the competition.
"We're going to get a lot of fun football in the second half of the season," Brooks said. "It's going to be more unpredictable than ever, in my opinion."
Said Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations: "I don't think there's any sure walk-throughs. Look at what Cleveland's done over the last couple of weeks, knocking off New Orleans and New England. Are they a 3-5 team? I don't know. It seems like they're getting better. Detroit beat Washington and damn near beat the Jets. Even at 0-8, Buffalo has taken three teams in a row to the wire. There are no easy games."