Stop the count. The race is over. A decisive victor has emerged.
Yes, it’s inarguable at this point: The AFC is clearly better than the NFC this year. Week 9 proved it.
The AFC went 5-1 over the NFC this weekend, and is now 20-14-1 in interconference matchups this season. Three games featured top contenders from both conferences, and the AFC swept them all: The Bills thumped the Seahawks, the Dolphins took down the Cardinals, and the Titans made short work of the Bears.
With the season half-over, the AFC has the NFL’s only undefeated team (Steelers) and one-loss team (Chiefs). Of course, we won’t mention the Jets or Jaguars.
The top five seeds in the AFC all won over the weekend and are dangerous Super Bowl contenders. Meanwhile, the NFC has a jumbled mess atop the standings, and the NFC East is a joke, with the Eagles leading the division with a 3-4-1 record.
The strength of the AFC is where we start the Week 9 review:
▪ Buffalo’s 44-34 throttling of Seattle was more of a blowout than the score suggests. On a day that the Seahawks announced a contract extension for Pete Carroll, the Bills coached circles around his team, calling 31 passes and only three runs in the first half as they ran up a 24-10 lead.
Carroll was genuinely surprised that the Bills, who are throwing the ball on 60 percent of offensive plays this season, would go pass-happy against the Seahawks' 32nd-ranked pass defense.
“We didn’t think they would totally abandon the running game,” Carroll said. “We had a real nice plan for how they were going to run it. We have to be able to adapt better.”
The Bills improved to 7-2, maintained a two-game lead in the AFC East, and currently hold the No. 3 seed in the conference. They improved to 5-0 when Josh Allen doesn’t throw an interception.
▪ Ignoring the run was a theme in Week 9. The Chiefs called 26 passes and just four runs in the first half of their 33-31 win over the Panthers, and finished with a 46-12 ratio. But with Patrick Mahomes, there’s nothing wrong with passing on every play, and he finished with 372 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions.
The Chiefs improved to 8-1 and remained right on the Steelers' heels for the No. 1 seed, but their defensive performance against the Panthers was disconcerting. They twice held 9-point leads in the fourth quarter before edging the Panthers by 2.
As an aside, the Panthers are officially the Team That Nobody Wants To Play. They may be 3-6, but Matt Rhule’s team is well-coached, and Teddy Bridgewater is one tough, impressive leader.
▪ The Bucs also ignored the run to historical effect in their Sunday night bloodbath against the Saints. They attempted just five rushes, the fewest in a game in NFL history. The previous record of six had occurred three times: by the Vikings in 2018, the Cardinals in 2006, and the Patriots in a 2004 loss to the Steelers that snapped a 21-game winning streak.
▪ The future of the NFL was on display in Arizona, with Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins outdueling Kyler Murray and the Cardinals, 34-31. Following a bit of a disappointing debut last week, Tua had a huge performance against Arizona, leading long drives, avoiding mistakes, making a few incredible throws, and showing great athleticism with 35 rushing yards.
The Dolphins have won four in a row to improve to 5-3, and should keep on rolling with upcoming games against the Chargers, Broncos, Jets, and Bengals. Next week’s matchup between Tua and fellow rookie Justin Herbert should be a lot of fun.
Murray also was electric in defeat, throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns, and rushing for 106 yards and another touchdown for his first career “double-triple.” Murray is the NFL’s smallest quarterback, generously listed at 5 feet 10 inches, but may be its most exciting.
▪ What the heck was that, Pittsburgh? Every team has one or two stinkers per season, and it’s a good sign that the Steelers were still able to squeak out an ugly 24-19 win over a depleted Cowboys team.
But the Steelers — now 8-0 for the first time in franchise history — have been living dangerously in recent weeks and look primed for an upset.
“We can’t keep having this conversation every week, because one of these weeks we’ll be doing it with an L,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
▪ OK, so it wasn’t a 28-3 comeback by any stretch, as the Ravens trailed the Colts just 10-7 at halftime. But the big knock on Lamar Jackson and the Ravens was that they can’t play from behind, so their 24-10 win over the Colts represents a significant milestone.
Jackson had been 0-6 when trailing at halftime, including last year’s disappointing playoff loss to Tennessee. For the Ravens, it ended a 20-game losing streak when trailing at halftime, dating to 2016.
▪ Panthers kicker Joey Slye had enough leg on his 67-yard field goal attempt at the buzzer, but pushed it wide right. Earlier this season, Slye had the accuracy on a 65-yarder, but missed it just short.
▪ Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris is making a case to keep the job. He improved to 3-1 with a 34-27 win over the Broncos, and would be 4-0 if not for a crazy, last-second loss to Detroit.
▪ Blast from the past: Dez Bryant appeared in an NFL game for the first time since Dec. 31, 2017. He played two snaps for the Ravens and had no targets.
▪ The Cowboys welcomed 31,700 fans into AT&T Stadium, the NFL’s largest crowd this year. The Steelers visit Dallas only once every eight years, and Jerry Jones wasn’t going to give up this cash cow quietly.
▪ Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski: Had just one catch for 2 yards, breaking his streak of three straight games with a TD.
▪ Texans WR Brandin Cooks: Caught only three passes on nine targets, but still had 83 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown.
▪ Titans K Stephen Gostkowski: Back on track after a couple of down weeks, hitting a 40-yard field goal and three PATs in the win over the Bears.
▪ Titans P Ryan Allen: An injury replacement, he had eight punts for a 50.5-yard average and a long of 65 in his first game since Super Bowl LIII.
▪ Brian Flores, Miami: Mighty impressive, winning a road game against a solid Cardinals team with a rookie QB making his second start. And the Dolphins had to play without their QB coach, DB coach, OLB coach, DL coach, and a quality-control coach because of COVID-19 quarantining.
▪ Matt Patricia, Detroit: I give Patricia a pass for a blowout loss to the Vikings, as quarterback Matthew Stafford (quarantine) wasn’t able to practice all week, then left the game early with an injury. But I’m not sure Lions ownership is feeling as generous.
▪ Romeo Crennel, Houston: Has a 2-2 record since taking over for Bill O’Brien, with both wins coming over Jacksonville.
▪ Mike Vrabel, Tennessee: Nice win over the Bears to end a two-game losing streak, but they could have closed better, allowing two touchdowns in the final minutes to make the game close.
Stats of the Week
▪ Giants QB Daniel Jones is now 4-0 against Washington and 1-16 against every other team (with 16 straight losses).
▪ Per STATS research, the 169 receiving yards by Patriots WR Jakobi Meyers are the third-most in NFL history by a player on his birthday. The Rams' Tom Fears had 189 in 1950 and the Cowboys' Bob Hayes had 187 in 1970.
▪ Ravens QB Lamar Jackson is 25-5 in the regular season, tying Dan Marino for the best record by a quarterback in his first 30 starts in NFL history.
▪ Vikings RB Dalvin Cook joined Jim Brown and Deuce McAllister as the only players in NFL history with 225 total yards and two touchdowns in consecutive games.
▪ Jaguars rookie QB Jake Luton threw a 73-yard touchdown pass for his first NFL completion. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the fourth-longest TD for a player’s first completion since the 1970 merger.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.