NFL: Where’s the power? NFC has big edge on AFC in 2017

  • File-This Dec. 24, 2017, file photo shows Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Chris Conte (23) pushes Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (1) out of bounds during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C. Newton and Seattle's Russell Wilson have a chance to join the rare fraternity of quarterbacks to lead their team in rushing for a season. Newton is barely ahead of teammate Jonathan Stewart headed into the season finale, while there is no question that Wilson will end up leading the Seahawks in yards rushing. Newton has 695 yards this season to Stewart's 680. Wilson has 550 yards rushing, which is 300 yards more than any of Seattle's stable of running backs, a group that has done very little all season. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone, File)

The NFC dominated the AFC in interconference matchups this season in a fashion the conference hadn’t done since the first year of the merger.

The NFC won 41 of the 64 head-to-head matchups against the AFC, with the .641 winning percentage being the best for the NFC since going 27-12-1 in 1970 against the upstart AFC for a .688 winning percentage.

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Since the NFL went to the eight-division format in 2002, this marked just the third time one conference won at least 60 percent of its games against the other conference, with the AFC going 40-24 in 2006 (.625) and 44-20 in 2004 (.688).

The NFC won all four division matchups this season, led by the NFC West going 12-4 against the AFC South. The NFC North went 10-6 against the AFC North, the NFC South also took 10 of 16 games against the AFC East, and the NFC East held a 9-7 edge over the AFC West.

Cleveland and the Jets were the only teams to go winless against the other conference, while the Rams, Carolina and even last-place Chicago all swept the four games.

The discrepancy is easily noted in the playoff race, where three teams with 8-7 records are still in the hunt in the AFC, while Seattle is in danger of missing the playoffs with 10 wins in the NFC.

NO NIGHT GAME

There is not Sunday night game to end the NFL season this year. None of the matchups could guarantee that any night contest would have significance.

For example, had Carolina at Atlanta — the best matchup of the 16 games — been switched to the evening and Seattle lost in the afternoon, the Falcons would already have qualified for the offseason. If New Orleans were to beat Tampa Bay in the afternoon, the Panthers would be stuck as the No. 5 seed.

Plus, it’s New Year’s Eve, when the viewing audience might not be as big as previous Sundays, and flexing a game to night time on that day might not have made much sense.

NBC likely will get some compensation from the league down the road, probably an additional prime-time game next season. But competitively, it seems a wise move to not play Sunday night.

“This is a long-term partnership,” said NBC spokesman Greg Hughes, “and this was the best decision for the parties concerned here: the NFL the fans and us.”

NUMB TO NUMBERS?

Demaryius Thomas isn’t really into numbers, but he knows he’s 108 yards shy of reaching 1,000 receiving yards for the sixth straight season.

“Everybody telling me” is how he keeps track, he said. “Last week I knew it was 160 because I found out in the meeting. Of course I’m going to remember. I was never a number guy, but hey, that’s a cool thing to know.”

Thomas said he’d cherish the accomplishment, especially considering the Broncos this season have cycled through three quarterbacks:— Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch, who gets his second start Sunday against Kansas City.

“Being able to come out and do that with three different quarterbacks … it says a lot,” Thomas figured.

Thomas turned 30 last week, but that’s one number he isn’t worried about.

“Not at all. I don’t even know how old I am,” Thomas said. “I feel like I’m 20-something. I’m young. I still got the juice, baby. Can’t act like it didn’t happen, but as long as you got the juice, 30 is the new 20 and 50 is the new 30.”

QB RUNS

Carolina’s Cam Newton and Seattle’s Russell Wilson have a chance to join the rare fraternity of quarterbacks to lead their team in rushing for a season.

Newton is barely ahead of teammate Jonathan Stewart headed into the season finale, while there is no question that Wilson will end up leading the Seahawks in yards rushing. Newton has 695 yards this season to Stewart’s 680. Wilson has 550 yards rushing, which is 300 yards more than any of Seattle’s stable of running backs, a group that has done very little all season.

Chris Carson, who hasn’t played since Week 4, still has the most yards rushing by a Seattle running back with 208.

Newton has done this before, leading the Panthers in rushing in 2012. Others QBs who have led their team in rushing include Donovan McNabb with Philadelphia in 2000, and Randall Cunningham for the Eagles in three straight seasons (1988-90).

TEMPORARY ACCOMMODATIONS

Jay Cutler has lived in a hotel near the Miami Dolphins’ complex for the past five months, while his wife and children remained back home in Nashville. It’s a small price to pay for coming out of retirement to sign a $10 million, one-year deal as an emergency replacement for an injured Ryan Tannehill.

Cutler’s contract made the long-term hotel stay affordable.

“It was cool at first,” he said. “Maid service every day, that’s kind of nice. You get the on-demand movies, but they don’t change as often as you would like. It’s kind of a monthly thing. So after you watch them all in a month, you’ve got to wait a little while.

“But it was fine. I wasn’t there that much.”

Cutler will start Sunday’s season finale against Buffalo, and it might be his career finale. At any rate, he’ll be ready to check out of the hotel.

“I did get the points,” he said. “That’ll pay off somewhere down the line, right?”

THE LATER THE BETTER

Dan Quinn wants Falcons fans to party like it’s 2018 at Sunday’s game against Carolina.

Quinn celebrated the league’s decision to push the kickoff back from 1 p.m. to 4:25 p.m. because that will give fans more time to get fired up for the game. Quinn says the game atmosphere is better for later starts, and he says that’s a trend he noticed in the Georgia Dome as well as the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

He used the team’s 20-17 win over the Saints on Dec. 7, a Thursday night game, as an example.

“The later the better,” Quinn said. “It gives our crowd a little more time to get warmed-up. The fact that it’s at 4:25, to me I think it’s awesome. You really felt their energy in the stadium a couple Thursdays ago when we played, so we’re calling on them again.”

Added Quinn: “We’re making an official declaration New Year’s starts at 4:25.”

WHO’S GOT TICKETS?

Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone is getting hounded for tickets — to a road game.

And by people who don’t necessarily want to root for the AFC South champion Jaguars (10-5), who play at Tennessee (8-7) on Sunday.

“This game is a little bit different for me more so because of the family stuff,” said Marrone, whose wife, Helen, is a daughter of longtime Middle Tennessee State coach and College Football Hall of Famer Boots Donnelly. “We are getting calls, ‘Can we get some tickets to watch Tennessee kick your (butt)?’ From people I know. I hear it.”

Marrone and his wife still own a farm in Nashville.

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But most of their family members are Titans fans.

“It gives me an excuse to not have to go to a lot of family functions,” Marrone said. “I am not the best family function guy. I am kind of in the corner. Now it is easy. Now it is like, ‘No, they went to the game and they rooted for the Titans. I am not going to this function.’ There are a couple that are obviously rooting for us, because there are a couple that actually like me.”