NFL Playoffs 2012: How the NFC Has Surpassed the AFC for Conference Domination

Thomas J. Harrigan Jr.Correspondent IJanuary 12, 2012

The emergence of elite quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers have allowed the NFC to quietly surpass the AFC in the interconference battle.
The emergence of elite quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers have allowed the NFC to quietly surpass the AFC in the interconference battle.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

There was a time, not too long ago, when the AFC routinely beat down the NFC, treating the conference as something of a younger brother. 

The conference dominated the regular-season interconference matchups and won nine Super Bowl titles to the NFC's three from 1998 to 2009. 

Denver's John Elway won the first two of those nine championships, and he was followed by quarterbacking titans Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger as the AFC played the role of big bully when it came to the big game. 

The NFC was feeble by comparison, sending out forgettable names like Chris Chandler, Jake Delhomme and Rex Grossman to try to topple the AFC's best. 

From 1996 to 2010, the AFC either bested or tied the NFC in interconference wins, including 2004, when the AFC went 44-20 against its conference counterpart. 

But something has happened over the last three seasons, slowly shifting the balance of power back to the NFC.

When the NFC countered Manning with Drew Brees in Super Bowl XLIV and Roethlisberger with Aaron Rodgers in Super Bowl XLV, the NFC sent the message loud and clear that it was not going to take it anymore. 

Then, this season, the shift became more noticeable. 

Sure, Brady was still as good as ever, but Manning went down, Roethlisberger's ankle injury made him ineffective and the AFC was left with Tim Tebow, Andy Dalton, T.J. Yates and Joe Flacco to represent the conference alongside the Golden Boy and a banged-up Big Ben.

Meanwhile, the NFC has improved because of the emergence of the machine-like Rodgers, the continued excellence of Brees, and the ascent of Eli Manning, who rose from the shadows of his own big brother this season much like his conference has. 

The NFC quarterback class was so good in 2011 that 5,000-yard passer Matthew Stafford and 4,000-yard passer Matt Ryan were almost an afterthought as the playoffs started last weekend.

As the NFL prepares for the divisional round, it can boast four former Super Bowl MVPs still playing this weekend.

It's not a coincidence that three of those four ply their craft in the National Football Conference. 

Little brother has grown up, and big brother is running scared.