Borden: Anyone afraid of the AFC?

If you're old enough to remember Archie Manning play quarterback in the NFL, then you remember the first time that the AFC was the dominant conference. Back then, the elite teams were the Steelers, Raiders and Dolphins. Their dominance stretched across the 1970s, and each team has multiple representatives in Canton, Ohio.

The 1980s and early 90s saw the NFC seize control. The Bill Walsh (and later George Seifert) 49ers, the Joe Gibbs Redskins, the Bill Parcells Giants and Jimmy Johnson Cowboys took turns beating up their AFC opponents every January.

The AFC enjoyed a resurgence from 1997 until 2006, winning eight of the 10 Super Bowls during that span. The Broncos and Patriots accounted for five of those wins.

Well don't look now, but things could be swinging the NFC's way again. If New England quarterback Tom Brady were healthy, we might not be having this discussion, but with his season-ending knee injury, along with the Panthers and Bears upsets of the Chargers and Colts in their stadiums in Week One, suddenly the balance seems to be shifting once more. Granted, one week does not a transfer of power make, but when one considers the Giant Super Bowl upset of a year ago (the first NFC Super Bowl victory in five years), the AFC is definitely vulnerable.

The Cowboys, Giants and Packers were expected to fight for a February finish, but the Panthers were one of a handful of NFC teams who also made statements in Week One.

Ask yourself this question, Panthers fans...is there anyone in the AFC you would be afraid to play this week? When was the last time you could say that? The Patriots and Colts have been bullies for so long you probably can't remember.

Of course, there's a flip side to this. An improved NFC means the Panthers will have a tougher fight for a playoff berth, but if they take care of business in their own division, things should take care of themselves. And under John Fox, Carolina has the best NFC South record of the four teams since 2003.

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