POINT DIFFERENTIALS SHOW SUPER BOWL RACE IS MORE WIDE OPEN
One of the simplest, but most effective stats for evaluating championship contenders is regular season point differential. That's even more true if you adjust for strength of schedule. Champions show their quality immediately in this stat. Pretenders are exposed.
Let's start with the AFC. NFL fans know that the AFC was pretty lousy this season. Any measure you use for evaluating schedule strength is going to show all playoff entries from the AFC as having "average" to "weak" schedules, with the majority at "weak." With that in mind, let's look at the final regular season point differentials for the playoff qualifiers.
AFC POINT DIFFERENTIAL
New England +162
Kansas City +76
New England is at around +10 per game. But, that's not "fantastic" against a soft schedule. Give them a tougher slate, and New England is just a name in the hat rather than the frontrunner. The playoffs will give them a tougher slate! (And they might be the first ever "road team" in a Super Bowl!)
Tennessee and Buffalo have negative scoring differentials in a weak conference. Yes, part of Buffalo's big negative was the Nathan Peterman experiment that blew up against the Chargers. The Bills are still negative if you take that out. Would either the Titans or Bills have won seven games if they had to play in the NFC? Doubtful.
Only four teams with a real shot to win the AFC based on this measure. You're about to see that the AFC doesn't impress when compared to the NFC.
NFC POINT DIFFERENTIAL
LA Rams +149
New Orleans +122
These teams played tougher schedules as a general rule. And, the Saints, Falcons, and Panthers kept running into each other! It could turn out that New Orleans is the most impressive of that lot all things considered. The Eagles certainly wouldn't have been plus 162 with Nick Foles at quarterback all season. They might not even be playoff caliber based on the ugly stats in wins over the NY Giants and Oakland. Minnesota will get home field advantage in its opener, and possibly all the way through the Super Bowl since the big game is in Minneapolis this season.
Frankly, the NFC brackets are loaded. And, if Philadelphia can use the bye week to get its head back on straight, they become even more loaded. This stat is suggesting that the market will be overpricing the AFC winner against the NFC entry come Super Bowl Sunday in February. Leaving out the question marks in Philadelphia for a moment...if you add about 40 points to the NFC teams, and subtract about 40 points from the AFC teams for schedule issues, you'll have a much clearer picture of the postseason.