Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

27 Oct 2010

Scramble for the Ball: Disparity

by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz

Who's Afraid of the NFC?

Tom: I don't know if you noticed this, but we're approaching Week 8. By this point, we've seen 29 of the 64 interconference games, and the AFC is 17-12.

Mike: This is nothing new, really.

Tom: Oh, absolutely not.

Mike: We have long known that the AFC was the superior conference.

Tom: If this holds up, it will be 15 seasons since the NFC had a winning record in inter-conference play. Which leads us to the basic question: Why does the NFC suck so much?

Mike: I really don't even have a theory.

Tom: I actually have two hypotheses about this, neither of which I'm the least bit confident in. First, it's really the incredible and sustained awfulness of the NFC West. If we just disaggregated the NFC West's interconference record, the NFC might have actually won a season. For more on that awfulness, see yesterday's DVOA Ratings commentary by Aaron.

Mike: "Won a season" is a really low bar, though.

Tom: Well, sure, but the NFC can't even clear that bar. The second hypothesis is a little odder. But if you look at the members of the AFC and the NFC, they still have their roots in the AFL and NFL, respectively. The NFL was the older league, so it effectively got the first pick of cities. The AFL put franchises in some of the same metropolitan areas (New York, Los Angeles, the Bay Area), but other than that, they had to deal with smaller markets. Given the enormous popularity of football, it makes some sense that older teams in larger markets can rely on that history and larger fan bases to be financially successful. Take, for instance, the Bears. One of the big unobserved things about the NFL as a business operation is the Bears should be vastly more commercially successful than they are. They have a huge market to themselves and should be the league's most valuable team. Instead, they're run by a bunch of cheapskates and are much closer to middle of the pack in terms of their estimated value.

Mike: Well, the problem is that Chicago is a baseball town.

Tom: No way. That's only because of the Bears' ineptitude. The Bears could do a much better job of marketing themselves and extracting dollars from fans. But they're making a decent amount of money as it is. Continuing with my hypothesis I'm not sure I believe, AFC teams tend to be in smaller markets and need to work harder to have financial success. So, what we're seeing is AFC teams need to win to achieve financial parity.

Mike: I don't see anything deficient with the Bears' marketing. They have billboards and signs everywhere, and they charge usual rates for things at Soldier Field.

Tom: Ah, that's where the trap is: they're not visibly terrible as a business. They're just not actually good. I mean, look at the Forbes rankings -- they're behind the Baltimore Ravens. Chicago is much larger than Baltimore, and the Ravens date back to all of 1996. The difference is, the Ravens are superbly well-managed in terms of their football operations. They have to be.

Mike: Except Baltimore had football well before the Ravens. I think you're making some massive assumptions coming to these conclusions.

Tom: I'm not saying I totally believe this hypothesis, but I'm not totally sure it's insane. AFC superiority has just been the norm since 1972 (with the exception of 1989-95) that I want to look for reasons beyond it's a simple fluke or coincidence. The NFL's establishment and occupancy of the largest markets is the most obvious of those explanations that I can't easily dismiss out of hand.

Mike: It may be important, sure, but there's no real quantifiable evidence that has any effect on the teams themselves. Especially since, unlike MLB, the NFL has a hard salary cap. Like I said, I don't have any theories at all, but I don't think either of those make sense. What do you, the viewers at home, think?

Fantasy Football Update

Tom: I got the interesting dilemma of facing the offensive star of my team's game in fantasy this week. Kenny Britt put up 40 points for my opponent.

Mike: Wait, your opponent started Kenny Britt?

Tom: He did. Fortunately for me, Britt almost put up half his team's total this week. He actually had a strong second scorer in Matt Ryan and his 23 points, but his third leading scorers only put up five points each. Meanwhile, I got 23 from Adrian Peterson, 17 from a Sunday morning pickup of Chiefs DST, 16 each from Ben Roethlisberger and The New York Football Steve Smith, and had three more guys put up double-digit scores.

Mike: Did you win?

Tom: I did. With all my good performances, I put up 112, the second-best score in the league, and won by 27.

Mike: Cool. So, "game-time decision" is now a four-letter word around my household. I chickened out on Darren McFadden because I was afraid of taking the zero, though I would be relatively safe because I was playing the worst team in the league.

Tom: Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Mike: McFadden put up 45 points.

Tom: Ha!

Mike: Now I have another quarterback controversy, after Kyle Orton put in a decent game, but Ryan blew the doors down. Either McFadden or Ryan would have handed me a victory.

Tom: My fantasy opponent actually went ahead and started Ryan over Orton this week.

Mike: The best part? I still had the fourth-best total in the league. My opponent, the worst team in the league, had the second-highest. So this week was a complete disaster.

Tom: So you were like this week's Saints, losing to the Browns.

Mike: Pretty much. And thanks to Baltimore, my defense is about as good!

Tom: Look at the bright side. At least you didn't give up a 67-yard run to a punter.

Mike: That's really all I have to say. I just can't believe I lost this week.

Tom: I don't really have much to say either. After this week's strong performance, I'm atop the league at 5-2, and 50 points ahead of the other 5-2 team. If I can navigate the bye week gauntlet successfully, I'm feeling well-positioned for another championship run.

Mike: If I can start the right people, I'll be in a good position going into the playoffs. That's a big if, apparently.

Tom: Well, at least you didn't have Tony Romo as your quarterback.

FO Staff Fantasy League Update

Consensus Picks (Elias, 5-2) 100 def. Team CBORG (ZOG, 2-5) 65

And once again, all is right with the world. Despite a goose egg from Eddie Royal, Elias coasted to victory on the shoulders of Matt Ryan's unsurprising 21 points, and Knowshon Moreno's extremely surprising 20 points. Two scores by the Bears DST chipped in an extra 20 points. Although we are all fallible (just see the fantasy update for evidence of that), it should be noted that the ESPN projection system gave the edge to Steve Smith, Esq. (1 point) over Percy Harvin (16).

Scramble Forever (Ian & Al, 4-3) 93 def. Phanatic CodeBreakers (Tanier, 1-6) 79

Nothing better to get a team off the shneid than playing the CodeBreakers. Ian and Al join the trio (quartet, I guess?) of past and present FO fantasy football writers who sat McFadden in one of the biggest performances of the season. This error cost Scramble Forever 43 points, and made the game much, much closer. In the end, it was the Bengals' pathetic defensive performance against Atlanta that put the game out of reach for Tanier. Zero points from your defense in a game you lose by 14 is a bitter pill to take.

That's Great Hustle! (Sean, 5-2) 65 def. Team Verhei (Vince, 4-3) 35

Probably the worst game of the week. Sean failed to capture the Dwayne Bowe renaissance we are in the midst of, losing out on 20 points. On the other hand, he at least had three slots with more than 10 points, while Vince only had two: Philip Rivers (11) and Rob Bironas (13). A zero from DeSean Jackson and somewhat predictably awful games from Rashard Mendenhall (3) and Ricky Williams (4) made Team Verhei a non-starter this week.

Equipo del Jefe (Aaron, 4-3) 120 def. Wagstaff's Ringers (Tom, 1-6) 79

This was actually a pretty good performance for Tom's team -- only three other teams had higher totals this week. Unfortunately for the Ringers, one of those three was his opponent. Fully one-third of Aaron's 120 points came from Kenny Britt (40). While it worked out very well for Britt owners this week, your Scramble writer finds this Britt-starting trend to be most disturbing. Lee Evans racked up 28 points on Aaron's bench, but I don't think we'll see him starting any time soon. As far as Tom goes, it was another bland and uninspiring performance. A couple slots in the low teens, a few hovering around three, but nothing impressive.

Triple Asian Flu (Doug, 5-2) 71 def. Malice Aforethought (Will, 2-5) 63)

Doug's team seems to have bi-polar disorder. Every week he receives extremely inconsistent numbers from his players, usually some kind of breakdown between his good wide receivers and his extremely mediocre running backs (Ray Rice, Jason Snelling, C.J. Spiller, and Pierre Thomas). Will continues to run with Adrian Peterson, a hope and a prayer. It almost worked this week, when Anquan Boldin chimed in with 15 points, and Will could have actually won the game had he started Thomas Jones (18 points) instead of Michael Crabtree (3), but who is really going to start Thomas Jones?

Remain in Matt Light (Barnwell, 5-2) 136 def. Better Call Saul (Rob, 4-3) 44

I'm going to call this the Curse of CBORG. Only Vince managed a lower point total this week, and Rob left a boatload more points on the bench, between Michael Bush (12), Dez Bryant (23) and Carson Palmer (28). Not that it matters, because Barnwell absolutely crushed him with big games out of players compelled to perform by the eerie glare of their terrible overseer. Eli Manning gave 20 points in a shoot-out, but the big winner for Barnwell was Atlanta, to the tune of 58 combined points from Michael Turner and Roddy White. To add insult to injury, Barnwell even left 10 points on the bench by sitting Jason Witten in favor of Aaron Hernandez.

A Terrible Human Being is Responsible for the Content of this Advertisement


Mike: How much longer must we put up with these stupid babies? At least the cavemen died after a few years, and they were at least amusing for a time, instead of just creepy and aggravating.

Tom: Remember when we discussed last year's E*Trade commercial, though? We suggested the next logical step in the marketing campaign was to add a dog to the mix. Now, they've done just that.

Mike: I think you suggested that while I was busy smashing my head against the desk.

Tom: Why, yes, I was the one who suggested that, how kind of you to remember. Did your family ever have a dog when you were the same age as the E*Trade baby?

Mike: Yes.

Tom: A real-sized dog, not a little toy thing?

Mike: To the best of my knowledge, a collie/golden retriever mutt.

Tom: Are you trying to tell me you never tried to ride the dog like a small horse?

Mike: Not to my knowledge.

Tom: We didn't have a dog until I was older. But I knew people who had dogs. And if their dog was reasonable sized, and the kid was small, riding the dog like a small horse was expected stupid kid behavior. The key was that the kid be large enough they could put themselves in a position where they wouldn't fall off and break their neck, but, of course, not so large that they burdened the dog.

Mike: This kid is way too small for that.

Tom: Well, maybe. But the kid was energetic and able enough to put himself in that position in the first place, so I'd be willing to reward that kind of ingenuity.

Mike: Perhaps if the kid actually did, or this were actually about the kid. This is a commercial about trading stocks, and based on the premise that we should be sitting with our iPads in the odd chance that someone notices we're a junkie and takes away our PC just so that we are never, ever not trading stocks.

Tom: See, it's not, not really. We've reached the meta stage. This is a commercial about the spokeskid.

Mike: Not really, because I'm pretty sure most people hate the spokeskid.

Tom: It's like the Geico commercials. The spokesthing (caveman, gecko) takes on a life of its own, and it's about enhancing brand awareness. I admit it, the kid has grown on me.

Mike: That is the most depressing thing we've run in this column.

Tom: You know what else can grow on you? A cyst! Ha, I kill me!

Mike: I'm not sure that the "what else" is warranted. I consider the two to be too similar.

Tom: A cyst can probably be medically removed. You, meanwhile, are stuck with a co-writer who has a distressingly high level of affection for The E*Trade Kid.

Tom is left in abeyance as Mike hurriedly goes off to e-mail Aaron and Bill to see if they can break up the Scramble duo.

Mike: I'm going to go back to my headdesking. Anyway, that is the message of this commercial: You should be on E*Trade all the time, forever.

Tom: Oh, how much of my credibility does it ruin that I didn't recognize what that device was until I saw the Apple trademark?

Mike: Not much, but it is pretty strange.

Tom: Actually, by pausing the commercial on the trademark notice, I see yet another horrible example of something on TV that is not like the real world would be. We see the shelf in the background, with books and blocks. If they're in California, those blocks and books could kill baby in the event of an earthquake. Even if they're not in California, baby could pull shelf objects down on himself. Or hurt himself climbing up onto the shelf.

Mike: You mean E*Trade didn't do the research for its insidious awful baby commercials? LE SHOCQUE.

Tom: No, it's just my broader complaint. (And I'm still not clicking on that link.)

Mike: Gotta keep the combo going.

Tom: When I watch anything on TV, I can accept your basic deviations from reality. Talking bears, talking babies, I can handle that. A toilet in the main room, I don't ever see that. All these neurotic parents, like the ones who have a problem with their kid riding the dog like a small horse, would never have anything like that shelf. I subjected you to some of my ranting about "The Event," and how it doesn't conform to reality. I expect my TV to make reasonably well thought out, rational changes, and otherwise to be normal. It's why I have such a problem watching sitcoms. People on sitcoms tend to act like sitcom characters, not actual people.

Mike: Whoa, whoa. Not putting bookshelves near a crib isn't neurotic. It's, well, basic not-child endangerment.

Tom: Exactly! Somebody neurotic like mom obviously does protects her kid well, well beyond the basic "avoid child endangerment." Yet, in this case, she actually didn't.

Mike: Anyway, I have nothing else to say about that awful commercial.

Tom: Fine, I will just remind our readers that they should not leave within baby's reach objects that baby could pull down onto themselves. And for more helpful tips, they should consult this book.

Loser League Update

Kicker: Robbie Gould is actually a pretty good play in regular fantasy. Your Scramble writer is certain that he was drafted in your league, unless your league is strangely small. Matt Prater is less high-profile, but considering the way Denver's offense has been operating in garbage time, it's a good bet someone was starting him. Both kickers garnered 2 points this week. Adding insult to injury, both of them came by those points honestly. Neither missed a field goal or an extra point, but their teams only managed two touchdowns and no field goals even attempted.

Wide Receiver: The Rams' close loss to Tampa was largely the Steven Jackson show, although Sam Bradford managed 126 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately for Laurent Robinson, those targets went to Danny Amendola and Michael Hoomanawanui. And yes, your Scramble writer mentions them solely for the opportunity to write out "Hoomanawanui." Like his compatriot Chansi Stuckey, Robinson managed a meager 1 point this week.

Running Back: While Ryan Mathews certainly did not have a great week, at least he didn't do anything incredibly stupid (unlike his compatriots below) en route to a respectably loserish 1 point.

Quarterback: We at Football Outsiders are still wondering how Arizona is winning games. It is completely baffling, to be honest. Technically, Drew Carey Show castoff Derek Anderson is the loseringest loser this week with 4 points, but special mention must be given to Arizona's other quarterback, Max Hall, who only managed 36 yards on 16 throws, with an interception and a fumble thrown into the mix. In the end, that leaves Hall with -3 points, and Ken Whisenhunt wishing he could do the Time Warp.

Awards!

KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: Somebody should alert Richard Goodman and Jacob Hester of the San Diego Chargers that, if they have the ball, or have a shot to get the ball, they should keep it and keep after it until they're really, really, really sure the play is over and not, say, give the other team a free possession.

MIKE MARTZ AWARD: On the Bears' opening possession of the second half, Jay Cutler hit Earl Bennett for what was ruled to be a 48-yard pass out of bounds at the 1-yard line. Mindful of the Bears' struggles in and-goal situations, Lovie Smith elected to challenge despite the relatively low upside of winning a challenge. The Bears lost that challenge. The next play, Jay Cutler tried to sneak the ball into the end zone. He lost the ball after getting hit, and the Redskins recovered. Even though Cutler quite possibly was across the line, and despite having time to view replays after the change of possession and the (very likely) benefit of replays on the big screen from the hometown crew, Lovie Smith elected not to challenge despite the very large upside of winning a challenge.

COLBERT AWARD: Halfway through the second quarter of a tied game on Sunday night, the Green Bay Packers faced a decision in one of those intermediate zones; fourth-and-7 at the Vikings 37. Mike McCarthy sent out the team in field goal formation, then surprisingly shifted the team out of field goal formation into an offensive set and had holder and backup quarterback Matt Flynn throw a pass. The Vikings were discombobulated by the shift, and Flynn found an open tight end Andrew Quarless for a big goal. Or, at least, what would have been a big gain if only Quarless had not fallen down and failed to catch the ball. Ah, well. It's the thought that counts.

Scramble Mailbag

MikeJ: Tony Romo was my starting quarterback. Am I completely screwed? Should I keep him, since I'm stuck picking the waiver wire?

Mike: Considering how marginal he was before the injury, there's not much point in keeping Romo around.

Tom: Yeah, I think I agree with you there.

Mike: Even if he does come back with an optimistic time table, that's still four or six weeks away, at which point the Cowboys season will pretty much be over. And he won't be putting up great numbers anyway, because the team will be more concerned with his health than with winning.

Tom: The other issue is, we're still going through bye weeks. Depending on how many extra roster spots you have, it's unlikely somebody else will pick him up and stash him.

Mike: Yeah.

B0B: With Dallas Clark going on IR, is Jacob Tamme worth picking up? Which Colts should I try to pick up or buy low on?

Mike: The Colts just have so many options.

Tom: I'm actually more interested in their dilemma in real football terms than in fantasy terms. Clark was a big key to their offensive flexibility, in that they could credibly go Ace with two tight ends and have Clark as a decent blocker and serious pass catching threat. They could also flex him out wide, and teams could stay in base or go nickel and risk their run defense. I'm not sure if they play more three-wideouts, or if they throw Tamme and Eldridge out there and try to stick with what they've been doing. My best guess is they'll play more three-wide with Anthony Gonzalez coming back and playing the slot role and running the same kind of routes Clark did. I'd guess he'll be the big beneficiary, and Addai actually might be the guy whose production will be hurt the most.

Mike: I'm not sure it will change that much, honestly. Even with Clark, the Colts have awful pass protection.

Tom: But, Mike, how can you say that? The Colts rank first in the league at avoiding sacks!

Mike: Largely because Peyton Manning is the anti-Roethlisberger.

Tom: Yes, well, there is that. Anyway, I think you're overrating the importance of the awful pass protection, and Clark's effect on it. Robo-QB will be as fine as he's been this year, and Gonzo will be the guy to watch because of it.

Mike: Agreed.

The questions, send them to us! Scramble-at-footballoutsiders.com!

Posted by: Mike Kurtz and Tom Gower on 27 Oct 2010

76 comments, Last at 29 Dec 2010, 5:23am by jinhui

Comments

1
by Independent George :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 6:32pm

Ok, I'm going to have to pipe up here, as you've unknowingly stumbled into my other area of obsession: dogs.

While it might be normal for a kid to try and ride his doggie, it's not ok for a parent to let it happen or encourage it. Dogs tend to interpret anything climbing over their spine as an assertion of status, and many dogs don't take that very well. It's the same reason you teach your kids to pet a strange dog by going beneath a dog's chin instead of petting them over the head; the latter will often result in a bleeding kid and a dead dog.

Obviously, dogs are individuals, and there are some breeds (Pit Bulls, Newfoundlands, Bernese Mountain Dogs) that tend to be more tolerant of that sort of contact. But as a general rule, it's:

1. Don't initiate contact to begin with; instead, let the dog come to you
2. If you do initiate contact, at least start from the back and work your way to the front.
3. If you do start from the front, at least start from the bottom and work your way up.
4. If you do start from the top, at least avoid staring the dog right in the eyes.
5. Crap. Sorry my dog bit you in the face; please don't make me put him down for your stupidity.

29
by roguerouge :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 8:14am

Important safety tips. I never knew dogs were so complicated!

39
by Rich in Atlanta (not verified) :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 10:36am

Those are great rules. Having had dogs, cats and babies around the house at the same time, I have long noted that both dogs and cats are, for the most part, more tolerant of intrusive behavior from babies than they would be from adults. I've seen a normally feisty cat let a baby grab his tail and ears and do nothing more than attempt to move away, and I've seen similar tolerance from dogs. That can extend to dogs with kittens and cats with puppies as well.

Recently I saw a show on Animal Planet (? I think) that suggests that there is some biological basis for that - that baby mammals give off a pheromone that is detected by all other mammals.

The problem, of course, is that there are exceptions in the animal world, and since you never know what dog may be the exception, it's still best to follow the rules you give.

2
by Snack Flag (not verified) :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 8:16pm

I've always likened the AFC/NFC debate to the AL East/AL Central situation in baseball:
The AFC, for an extended period of time, has had some marquee organizations that other teams need to compete with on every level - the Colts, the Steelers, the Patriots, and you could probably throw the Ravens in there as well. Think of them as the Yankees and Red Sox. Acknowledging that they have down years occasionally, they're pretty much shoe-ins for the playoffs every year this past decade. So the other teams in the conference need to be well-organized, scout better, manage the game better, be more detail-oriented, invest more in the product - pretty much emulate what makes those marquee teams good. So teams like the Chargers, the Titans, recently the Jets and Dolphins, make large organizational changes to challenge those marquee teams AND fight for those last 3 playoff spots. Those top franchises drive competition throughout the rest of the conference, like the Yanks and Sox drove the Rays to become a more efficient franchise and the Blue Jays to be a good team as well (even though they fall short of the three, they'd be a top team in almost any other division).
The NFC, however, has not had that sort of sustained dominance at the top of the conference (besides maybe the Eagles), and teams don't have to work as hard to get to the playoffs. That's not to say there aren't good teams in the NFC, there just isn't the same stability in the conference. Instead, you'll see something similar to the AL Central where you just need to be more adequate than the field to make the playoffs. The bar is lower, so level of competition is lower.

4
by Kal :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 8:28pm

I'd agree that it comes down to owners and marquee teams. Ownership of teams has largely been a longterm affair with a few exceptions (the GB example). Arizona has been badly owned and managed for decades. Chicago has dealt with the same kidn of issues for a long time. Most teams have a certain kind of feel to them such that if they do find success, it's often a matter of luck and is not sustainable.

Whereas other teams have owners that for better or worse have a sustained interest in the team and continue to make it work.

In the NFC, I'd say that the Cowboys, Green Bay, possibly Minnesota are the only three teams with this kind of ownership. After that, you have the Detroits (horrible owners with bad decision making), the Chicagos (bad decision making but some decent owners), the Seattles (don't run it like a football organization), etc.

Whereas in the AFC, you have Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, New England, Baltimore, San Diego, and (at least a while ago) Buffalo. These teams remained strong for a long time.

I also think that for whatever reason there was a lot more coaching turnover in the NFC than the AFC, and that resulted in more flaws.

6
by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 8:35pm

I think in the NFL is truly cyclical. There was a long period of NFC dominance back in the mid-late 80's/early 90's, and now it is the AFC's turn. However, if you go back to last year, you could have made the case that the NFC was the better conference, with teams 2 & 4-7 in DVOA, plus five teams with a record of 11-5 or better (while the AFC had just two teams), and the eventual Super Bowl Champion.

3
by bingo762 :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 8:24pm

What really irks me about this particular commercial is that the premise of the ads is the baby is speaking to you through a webcam. Notice the weird jump cut editing. So the baby is speaking into a webcam and then his mom comes in and takes away a computer. And he talks shit to the dog. But the entire fucking time he's talking at a computer so who cares that his mom took away his other one?!? And in an extended version, he pulls out an iphone or something like problem solved. Asshole, there was never any problem. YOU'RE STARING INTO A COMPUTER ALREADY.

12
by sswoods (not verified) :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 10:35pm

That's far funnier than any e-trade commercial I've ever seen, bingo.

I did think the Super Bowl milk-oholic one was a little funny.

19
by zlionsfan :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 1:32am

agreed. In fact, I like this idea better than my blow-it-all-up idea.

MST 3K, but with bad commercials instead of bad movies.

44
by bingo762 :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 11:49am

This one's even creepier
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EZgZBn0Eyis

So the punchline is they are watching animal porn

5
by JA3 (not verified) :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 8:32pm

The Bears don't own Soldier Field, do they? How much of their value as a franchise versus other clubs that own major real estate can be explained by that alone?

11
by Tom Gower :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 10:29pm

Forbes does break out the stadium on the individual team pages, and gives the Bears $132 million in value for Soldier Field. The Ravens, estimated by Forbes to be worth $6 million more, have a stadium-related valuation of $154 million. The Giants, estimated by Forbes to be worth $115 million more, have a stadium-related valuation of $116 million. The stadium situation does explain why the Bears (and other teams) are well behind the Cowboys, Redskins, and Patriots at the top of the list, though of course then you get into the tricky area of why the Bears' stadium situation is what it is in the first place.

7
by Rich in Atlanta (not verified) :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 9:40pm

I don't think the theory about NFL/AFL origins holds up under scrutiny. Pittsburgh was an NFL team prior to the merger and Baltimore was an NFL town, and those are two of the more successful franchises in the AFC. Of course there's also Cleveland, which was also an NFL town and is not contributing much to the AFC's relative success.

Going back to the NFC, all the North and East teams are original NFL franchises and all still in their original cities. Overall, those tend to be among the most succesful teams in the NFC. Outside of those two divisions, only San Francisco and Atlanta were original NFL teams; Atlanta was a late addition (during the AFL era) and San Francisco has been one of the more successful franchises (though not lately).

There are other original NFL franchises still in existence in the NFC, but none of them are still in their original cities. Overall, I think teams from original NFL cities are more than holding their own against the competition.

9
by Independent George :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 10:21pm

Isn't the obvious answer the comparative quality of the starting QBs?

On the AFC, Brady & Manning 1 have been at the top for pretty much the last decade, along with Brees/Rivers, Roethlisberger, even-year Chad Pennington, Carson Palmer, Trent Green. In the NFC, you had Kurt Warner at the start and end of the decade, the jeans model, a few years of Drew Brees, McNabb, Vick, Romo, and Manning 2.

28
by Rocco :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 8:11am

That's not convoluted enough to possibly explain things. You need to make that theory about 5,000 words longer before it would be accepted here.

32
by Snack Flag (not verified) :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 9:31am

I don't think so. The Pats won 10 games with Matt Cassell at the helm. Pittsburgh's season didn't fall apart while Roethlisberger was out. I think Bill Polian is such an excellent evaluator of talent that the Colts would be a good team regardless of Manning (a much different team and maybe not as successful, but in the playoff mix each year nonetheless). The Ravens haven't had a top qb at all during the last decade (I don't think Flacco's there yet). Thats not to say that the qbs don't have an integral role in the teams success, but I think the AFC is more dominant because the great franchises find ways to surround these talented qbs with the right players.
Additionally, the marquee franchises in the AFC actually find and develop those qbs. They didn't just happen to get HOF quarterbacks by accident. 9 teams could have had Roethlisberger. Brady would probably be Todd Collins right now if he was drafted by the Lions in the 5th round. A lot of teams don't even know what to do with qb talent when they get it.

35
by Independent George :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 9:49am

Good points, but I would make the counter-argument that having a good QB to start with makes building the rest of the team a lot easier, as you're no longer constantly spending high-round picks searching for a QB (which is largely random). Cassell went 11-5 partly because he was developed in a good system (which he'd seen for many years), but also partly because he had a pretty good collection of talent around him on offense.

We could argue chicken and egg all day, teams that are good over a long period of time have consistent good play from their QBs. That is, having a good starting QB under center is not a sufficient condition for sustained success, but it is a necessary one.

38
by Snack Flag (not verified) :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 10:32am

I guess I don't think it's really a chicken or the egg argument. I think having a talented qb makes it much easier to consistently win, and it's obviously a vital part of the team. However, to me, stability and talent at the top rungs of the organization is a much greater indicator of success. If the Colts have Jim Mora Jr. at coach when Manning comes into the league, we'd probably talk about what a waste of talent Manning is because Mora's trying to shoehorn him into Greg Knapp's WCO. If the Steelers tried to implement some new system every 4 years due to a carousel of mediocre coaches, we'd probably never hear of James Harrison.
Obviously, this is all speculation on my part.

10
by Pat Swinnegan :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 10:24pm

Hmm... I originally bought into Tom's theory, but this is a very good analysis.

22
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 5:10am

Ok ... but what about a combination of those two theories ...

The NFC got the choice of all the big cities which also happen to be coldweather cities. Then the AFC came along and took the warm(er) weather ones which led to them being passer-friendly and having better QBs. Once a franchise has established its identity it's difficult to change (e.g. Raiders vertical offense, Bears (tough defense, good running, crap QBs; Pittsburgh - tough defense, great running, decent QBing).

33
by Independent George :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 9:42am

The problem with the 'original sin' theories is that it's cyclical. The AFC dominated the 70s (though Pittsburgh had to move from the NFL, and Miami hired its coach from Baltimore), the NFC the 80s & 90s, then the AFC again in the '00s.

46
by Andrew Potter :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 12:04pm

Not that I agree or disagree with the theory (I don't know much about it, and the concept of media markets is fairly alien to me), but if most of the bigger markets are NFC (Dallas, New York, Washington?, San Francisco?) wouldn't an uncapped situation mean those franchises could effectively "buy" success in the 80s and 90s? With the advent of the cap, their modus operandi was shattered and many haven't made the transition (see: Washington Redskins), whereas poorer franchises (relatively speaking) would have always been forced to rely on the draft and team building so were in a better situation already to adjust to the new conditions?

So you get a pattern of:
- Innovative AFL vs. still-adjusting NFL (70s)
- Massive NFC franchises vs. smaller, less rich AFC (80s-90s)
- Salary cap means "size" not so important, AFC in better starting position while NFC struggles to adjust (00s)

56
by Jerry :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 6:58pm

I don't remember dates (and don't feel like looking them up), but free agency wasn't much of a factor before the '90s. Also, the evenly divided TV contract meant that there was much less revenue disparity than the difference in market sizes might suggest. As stadium design has embraced revenue generation, and particularly revenues that aren't shared, revenue disparity has become an issue.

40
by Semigruntled Eagles fan (not verified) :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 11:16am

While I suppose it's acceptable to label Cleveland and San Francisco as "original NFL" teams for the purpose of separating NFL vs AFL teams, both teams began in the rival AAFC (All-American Football Conference), which competed with the NFL in the late 40's.

Also, at least part of the recent struggles of the Browns can be explained by their period of non-existence (their past struggles, of course, can be blamed on Earnest Byner and Belichick). Otherwise, I agree with your points.

8
by Jeff Fogle :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 10:18pm

"If we just disaggregated the NFC West's interconference record, the NFC might have actually won a season."

Why don't you do that and see what the evidence shows? What's the point of theorizing, or asking our opinions, if you're not presenting evidence. What are the records by division? Do the success of Indy and New England weigh disproportionately or not?

13
by Tom Gower :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 10:43pm

Because I was looking for explanations that hit as much of 1972-2009 as possible.

Removing the NFC West did change the results in two seasons. The conferences actually tied in 2007 and the NFC West went 6-10, so the Rest of NFC had a winning record in interconference play. That year, the NFC West played the AFC North. Rest of NFC also had a winning record in interconference play in 2008; NFC went 29-34-1 and NFC West went 5-11, so 24-23-1.

I'm sure the AFC would fare better if we threw out a quarter of their worst data points too-in 2004, Cleveland, Houston, Kansas City, and Miami went a combined 5-11 against the NFC, while Rest of AFC went 39-9.

42
by Jeff Fogle :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 11:18am

You presented two theories. The first was:

"First, it's really the incredible and sustained awfulness of the NFC West. If we just disaggregated the NFC West's interconference record, the NFC might have actually won a season."

I asked why you didn't disaggregate during the period of sustained awfulness and present the evidence (which can't go back too far given the Rams nice run under Martz, and the 49ers obviously had some success before that). And you said,

"Because I was looking for explanations that hit as much of 1972-2009 as possible."

The incredible and sustained awfulness of the NFC West doesn't go back 38 years, so how could that be the answer to the question? I asked about the first theory and your answer is about the second theory.

Looks like you did the work after my question. Thanks. Would seem to suggest that the "incredible and sustained awfulness" isn't as big an influence as one might expect...so it never had to be mentioned in the first place. You could have just talked about your main theory as the theme of the week. Even with an aside saying "some might think it's the horrible play of the NFC West, but if you take out their recent interconference performance it doesn't change much...and the NFC West hasn't been horrible since 1972 anyway" or something. Trim the fat off the steak before you serve it.

14
by Tom Gower :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 10:46pm

Oh, and just for the record:
1. My boss (day job edition) asked that I note the Detroit Lions were terrible, and really shouldn't be counted against the greatness of the NFC.
2. I do not actually the riding of a dog as though it were a small horse, and would not let my hypothetical children ride my hypothetical dog.

15
by >implying implications (not verified) :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 11:26pm

I accidentally the riding of a dog. Is that bad?

17
by jebmak :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 1:21am

It's kind of like when you have a can of pop and you just accidentally the whole thing!

20
by zlionsfan :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 1:44am

terrible in 2001-2009, yes. Terrible in 1991-2000, no. Owned by stunningly incompetent management the entire time, yes.

Also, to add to my spamming of this thread, the NFC hasn't had a winning record in a while, but they split in 2007, 2001, and 2000. Look at it this way:

2009: -10
2008: -5
2007: 0
2006: -16
2005: -4
2004: -24
2003: -4
2002: -5
2001: 0
2000: 0
1999: -16
1998: -2
1997: -3
1996: -4

This is hardly "oh noes NFC sux0r". Yes yes, 14 years ... and 10 of those 14 years, flipping 3 results would give the NFC the win. So 4 times, the NFC wasn't that close. How is that evidence of a problem?

16
by PTORaven :: Wed, 10/27/2010 - 11:40pm

Is it just me or does it seem like certain AFC/small market teams rely more heavily on the draft, and more NFC/big market teams rely on big trades? I just compared baltimore to washington using Average Value over at the Pro Football Reference website (sorry FO, i'd look this up here using DVOA but I don't know how).

Baltimore drafted nine of its top ten players in terms of total AV for '96-'10. The tenth was Kelly Gregg, and it looks like he never took the field until he was a Raven, which is kind of like being drafted by the Ravens. Washington drafted six of its top ten over that period and traded for four. This is obviously not enough to prove or disprove anything, but it just seems like there are a number of AFC/small market teams that consistently draft well, develop their players, and remain strong and consistent, while a number of NFC/big market teams try to trade for talented players, and end up giving up more draft picks (and talent, like Champ Bailey). What the test doesn't even include is the number of disappointments you get with trading. Baltimore doesn't seem like the kind of team that would ever spend $100 million on Haynesworth, and so they're not often in a position of waiting for an underperformer's gigantic contract to run out. It just seems to me like teams that rely more on the draft have fared better over at least the last few years.

48
by DeltaWhiskey :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 12:45pm

PFR okay PFF not okay.

18
by zlionsfan :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 1:29am

What I want to see is that baby take the iPad, smash it over the GEICO caveman's head (contrary to Scramble writer's beliefs, that particular "icon" is not dead yet - anyone have ninepence?), say "F this s", and walk off, never to be seen again. Three with one blow.

Well, OK, to be honest, if I'm making a pile of commercials I never want to see ever again, it would have a lot more than three things in it, but it would sure be fun to blow up.

21
by Johnny Ugly (not verified) :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 2:41am

It's hard for me to take Tom seriously when he asserts that Chicago is a baseball town only because the Bears are supposedly run ineptly.

Believe it or not, Tom, not every major-league American city is a football town.

Chicago = baseball
Boston = baseball (then basketball ... football is maybe ahead of hockey)
Detroit = hockey
LA = basketball (they obvioualy don't even want an NFL team)
St. Louis = baseball
Etc.

My own Seattle used to be a football town but is now a soccer town. Or is that just because the Seahawks are run ineptly? Oh, wait. They're urn by the same people who run the Sounders.

Why are so many football fans so defensive, feeling like they have to run down other people's sports? Is it because you suspect your sport is actually boring beneath the violence?

Let's see ... in an NFL game you sit around for 3 hours for 18-22 minutes of actual action. To get 20 minutes of action in soccer you have to wait a whole ... 20 minutes.

Chicago's not a baseball town. Grow up, man up and admit that there are sports besides football that Americans love.

24
by Athelas :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 6:43am

Nope.

Boston is now Red Sox just a tiny bit ahead of the Patriots , with the Celtics back quite a bit in 2nd place and with the Bruins definitely 4th, but with a fiercely loyal following.

45
by Mr Derp (not verified) :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 11:59am

As a lifelong New Englander and current resident of the city of Natick, I'm going to challenge this. The red sox are 1st and will always be by far, and then distant no 2 is whomever won a title most recently. Did you not see the Celtics fans that came out of the woodwork 3 years ago and now act like they have always been there, just rewind that to 2002-2005 and you have what happened with the Pats.

72
by frievalt :: Sun, 10/31/2010 - 5:26am

"As a life lawng New Englahndah ..."

25
by Homer (not verified) :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 7:25am

It's quite a stretch to call anything that happens in a soccer game "action."

31
by Chris UK :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 8:41am

Zing!

27
by displaced_saints_fan :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 7:43am

I enjoy watching soccer too, but this might not be the best place to try soccer advocacy.

36
by RichC (not verified) :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 9:53am

Basketball ahead of football in Boston? Are you high?

I'd argue Boston, since 2001, has been as much of a football town as a baseball town.

And I just spent 2 years living in Chicago, yeah, its a baseball town, but pretty much everyone is a Bears fan. Its just a poorly run team.

57
by Dave :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 8:21pm

Chicago sports fans kind of suck on the whole, but the Bears get to draw from Sox fans and Cubs fans. There are many, many more fans of the Bears than either baseball team. And in my experience, they're far more serious than the Cubs.

The Sox don't ever draw very well, largely due to being in the ghetto and also having stupid management (though at least they make better decisions in general with what they have than the Cubs), but I think both they and the Cubs get a bit of a weather/good time advantage. Sure there's a draw to tailgating at an NFL game, but Soldier Field is right on the lake, kind of a pain in the ass to get to, and their home games are probably 3/4 freezing cold. The baseball teams get the advantage of being an easy last minute decision to go out and get drunk in the sun, while the Bears don't.

Of course, the Bears sell out anyway, so it's not like that advantage really means anything... so yeah. I really have no idea. I know they sell out, I know more Bears fans in this block than I ever met Raiders and 49ers fans combined when I lived in the bay area for two years... I can't offer anything even remotely resembling a sound theory about why the Bears aren't worth more.

(So hey... You're welcome.)

62
by Eddo :: Fri, 10/29/2010 - 11:03am

The Sox' attendance is fine, overall; it just looks low compared to the Cubs. And that has less to do with U.S. Cellular "being in the ghetto"(*) and more to do with Wrigley being right in the middle of a huge bar scene.

I'm also not sure your points about drawing walkup fans is any truer in Chicago than any other city. Do any NFL teams get a lot of spur-of-the-moment fans? Since games are weekly, you kind of have to plan to go.

(*) And it's not really in the ghetto any more, though the perception is there.

37
by Eddo :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 9:58am

First, you seem to contradict yourself heavily, first saying "Chicago = baseball", then saying "Chicago's not a baseball town". For the record, I really feel Chicago is a football town(*); the Bears dominate the late summer/early fall media coverage for a reason, even if the Cubs or Sox are in a playoff race (if they actually make the playoffs, it's a bit different).

Second, "Why are so many football fans so defensive, feeling like they have to run down other people's sports?" can be applied to any sport. The baseball site I frequent has posters that deride football, basketball, hockey, soccer, any time they come up. Ditto for other sports. In fact, you even did it in your post! Pot, meet kettle.

(*) EDIT: On further reflection, Chicago *might* be considered a baseball town. It's so big that it really has good support for all sports, particularly if the teams involved are winning. It's a baseball town in that everyone here supports one of the two teams, but it's also a football town in that everyone, even very casual fans, watch the Bears on Sunday, even if they stink. With the Cubs and Sox, if they're bad, casual fans lose interest very quickly, and they become public afterthoughts.

23
by Danish Denver-Fan :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 5:58am

I think the last theory makes sense. At least on paper:

From the owners' point of view it may look like the management is performing on par with the rest om the league, but since their market is much bigger than that of the rest of the league so should their profit.

If a management underperforms in a small market, they are thrown out on their ass because then the team is losing money. A good way to raise profit is winning more games. So if the management want's to make money in a small market they need to win games. If they don't they are replaced. The underperforming big-market managements might be able to hold on to their jobs a lot longer, because the ownership doesn't realize that they should be making more money.

Somewhat related: I can't figure out if Jacksonville is a small market or not. Everybody says it is, but when I wiki Jacksonville it says that Jacksonville is 13th in the US. What gives?

26
by Rich in Atlanta (not verified) :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 7:43am

Wiki says that Jacksonville has the 13th largest population in the 'city proper' in the United States. 'City proper' is the key - Jacksonville is huge geographically, which means that almost all it's population is within the city limits.

According to Wikipedia, it's the 40th largest metropolitan area when you toss in the suburbs.

53
by justanothersteve :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 5:19pm

It's more complicated than that. TV markets often include more than one metropolitan area. E.g., LA is the second largest metro area. Riverside/San Bernadino is #14. Yet they are considered one TV market. It's also true of Boston MA, Providence RI, and Manchester NH, and even on a smaller scale with Green Bay and Appleton WI.

30
by Rocco :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 8:36am

The AFC is up 5 so far, and a lot of their top teams still have a lot of games left against the NFC. NE and Baltimore have yet to play the NFC. Pittsburgh, KC and Jets have 3 games left against the NFC. Meanwhile in the NFC, Atlanta has played 3 AFC games, the Giants, Seahawks, Eagles, and Redskins 2. Their best teams have already played their interconference games.

Translation- the gap is likely going to get worse.

34
by ClarkB (not verified) :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 9:47am

I think the disparity is due to the slow decline of the "West Coast" offense. Over half of the NFC still runs some variation. Are the any in the AFC? Anecdotally, when the Steelers face any "West Coast Guru" in his late 50s, I chalk it up as a win.

That's my theory anyway. But I'm not sure it beats the "all-the-good-quarterbacks-are-in-the-AFC" hypothesis. That one's pretty strong.

Clark

41
by DGL :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 11:17am

Who to start Q for the Scramblistas: Pick two for a RB/WR Flex and a WR slot: Bowe vs BUF, Colston vs PIT, Jennings vs NYJ, RBrown vs CIN. I'm leaning Bowe and Jennings.

70
by Tom Gower :: Sat, 10/30/2010 - 2:26pm

Not Colston. Brown actually has a pretty good matchup this week, as the Bengals have a below average rush D in both DVOA and conventional statistics. Yes, he'll split carries, but he'll still get carries. Bowe has a good matchup, but Buffalo's also lousy on run defense. Jennings-better player, less favorable matchup. I'd start Brown and lean Bowe over Jennings.

43
by Joseph :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 11:33am

To continue the analogy in comment #2, I think it is the case of "the rich get richer, the poor get poorer." Teams that are good develop talent through the draft, are generally managed well, and don't need to take chances through draft-choice-losing trades/FA big money deals that can tie up cap space. (Since they don't have a cap in baseball, the Yanks/Sox/Phils etc. just spend more money on good players--the majority of the players they sign are good talents.) Rarely does a team spend $ in FA/trades, get better, and THEN STAY BETTER. They have a couple of good years--but because they are mismanaged, their draft choices don't replace those aging stars, and then they are back in loserville.
In fact, the only team in recent history that I can think of breaking this cycle (at least so far) are the Drew Brees/Sean Payton Saints. Not only did they hit a grand slam on Brees in FA, a lot of bottom-of-the-roster guys they brought in the year after the hurricane produced really well. However, that same year they drafted Reggie Bush, SS Roman Harper, G Jahri Evans, WR Colston, & T Zach Strief. The next year they drafted WR Meachem, T Bushrod, LB Mitchell, and picked up Lance Moore and Pierre Thomas as UDFA's. In '08 they drafted DT Ellis, CB Porter, G Nicks, then picked up K Hartley & LB Dunbar as UDFA's. This does not count the trades for Shockey, Vilma, & TE David Thomas, nor the picking up of "unwanted" FA's like Sharper & other backups.
My point is that to get out of mismanagement problems, some FA's/trades will help the talent base. But to KEEP OUT, you have to begin to draft well. IMO, DET seems to be following this formula right now, although it is too early to judge the results.
My other point is that if you can get 4 or 5 contributors out of the draft every year (even if they only contribute through the end of their rookie contract), you will probably field a quality team year in and year out.

47
by LyleNM (not verified) :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 12:42pm

2010: NFC West 3, San Diego Chargers 0

If the NFC loses to the AFC this year, it's probably not going to be because the NFC West loses tons of games to the AFC West.

49
by Independent George :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 1:29pm

No, it'll be because Tennessee seems to have magic powers against the NFC East.

50
by 0tarin :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 1:41pm

Just wanted to point out that I'm fairly certain Arizona is winning games for the same reason that San Diego is losing them: sorcery. Mr. Whizard has evidently found a way to steal wins from better teams; imagine the discrepancy between the AFC and NFC if this weren't the case!

51
by Jonadan :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 2:03pm

Win Difference since '70. + favors the AFC, - the NFC.

70: -17
71: -6
72: 3
73: -1
74: 5
75: 6
76: 7
77: 10
78: 11
79: 20
80: 15
81: -5
82: 1
83: 1
84: 1
85: 2
86: 2
87: 1
88: 7
89: -5
90: 0
91: -14
92: -8
93: 2
94: -2
95: -6
96: 4
97: 4
98: 2
99: 24
00: 8
01: 8
02: 5
03: 4
04: 24
05: 4
06: 16
07: 0
08: 5
09: 10

Nifty Graph
I can't get the numbers to display properly, but a couple signposts:
- The first entry (NFC favored, purple) is 1970.
- The last (red) bar of the first dominant AFC run is 1980.
- The "0" in the middle is 1990.
- The tallest light blue bar is 1999.

Whatever the Super Bowl results, the NFC has never had a really dominant run, while the AFC has had two (we're in the second one). My theory about this latest run? Management. The worst AFC team? Oakland, which hasn't had a winning season since 2002. Meanwhile, Detroit's gone since 2000 without a winning season, San Francisco hasn't had one since 2002.

Next worst after Oakland in the AFC? Buffalo, which hasn't won since 2004. Meanwhile, the third worst NFC team (St Louis) hasn't won since 2003.

Four worst teams in each conference, by last winning season:
AFC: Oakland (2002), Buffalo (2004), Denver & Kansas City (2006)
NFC: Detroit (2000), San Francisco (2002), St Louis (2003), Washington Redskins (2007)

That's right. In the AFC, Denver and Kansas City are bad teams.

Other theories: the AFC has had more expansion teams. Every team in the NFC, except Carolina, has been in the league since 1977. Carolina and Jacksonville joined in 1995. Since then, the AFC has had two new teams (Houston and Cleveland redux). Of course, neither one has been very good (until Houston recently), but I can't help theorizing the pressure of new competition (as opposed to "known" competition) has to add a little extra to the AFC context.

52
by Jeff Fogle :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 3:11pm

Thanks Jonadan. Very helpful to see the actual numbers. Easier to have a discussion/debate if the facts are out there instead of people just kind of talking off the top of their heads.

The problem with an all-encompassing theme over 40 years regarding AFC dominance is that it pretty much laid dormant from 1981 to 1998....when the NFC compiled a +13 mark over those years (not dominance for the NFC, because it's less than a game a year...but clearly NOT an edge for the AFC). So, if there's a theory about market size, or business acumen, or whatever...it would have to explain why none of that mattered much for a very long stretch from 1981 to 1998...but then HIT WITH AN UNSTOPPABLE WRATH from 1999 to the present.

Makes more sense I think to map out what transitions started in 1999. Given that each team only plays four games per year out of the conference, it's probably a culmination of many influences.

Agree with those who have pointed out the Darwinian stuff that's been discussed for many years in baseball circles (what it takes to win the AL East is different than what it takes to win the AL Central for example). Arms race factors are probably in the mix too.

59
by ammek :: Fri, 10/29/2010 - 6:14am

The exception is not, as you claim, 1981-88 (when the AFC had a small advantage) but 1989-95 — as Tom points out in the article. Those were the years in which the AFC absolutely lacked elite teams. The NFC wasn't, as a whole, much better; this was an era of significant parity (and mediocrity), and if you dropped the 49ers and Cowboys to .500, the conferences would basically mirror each other.

They were strange years in the NFL, marked by declining and increasingly conservative offense; by regular off-field distractions (lawsuits, teams threatening to move, ownership succession crises); and by persistently bad quarterback play. The AFC suffered most from all this: it had four franchises move between 1984 and 1995; and it drafted more Klinglers, Georges, Mirers and Marinovichs than the NFC took Shulers and Wares.

If there's a deeper structural reason for the AFC's continued superiority, I think it can be affirmed in spite of one block of data that represents less than 20% of the total period under examination. (Personally, I'm not so sure there is — but the trend is strong enough that I feel it does have to be explained somehow.)

64
by Jeff Fogle :: Fri, 10/29/2010 - 11:58am

Next time, just cut and paste what I said...so NINETY EIGHT doesn't get changed to eighty eight because you skimmed over it too quickly or something (which would happen to me 100% of the time if I tried to post early in the morning, lol).

You said:
"The exception is not, as you claim, 1981-88 (when the AFC had a small advantage) but 1989-95"

I said:
"it pretty much laid dormant from 1981 to 1998....when the NFC compiled a +13 mark over those years (not dominance for the NFC, because it's less than a game a year...but clearly NOT an edge for the AFC)."

That's not a 20% hunk, that's a 45% hunk. And, I wasn't saying the NFC was "much better". I specifically said they weren't. Things were roughly even. The AFC had a streak of 1-1-1-2-2-1 which wouldn't strike anyone as "dominance" because it was a very close record every year...and it came with a 7 between two -5 bookends (followed soon by a -22 over three years). Over the course of the 18 years in composite, the NFC was +13 games. It was a period of dormancy for the AFC in terms of the perceived dominance that was being suggested in the article. They obviously WEREN'T dominating during that long period of time.

Let's take +5 in a year as superiority for an easy cut-off. It's easy to argue for other numbers. But, that's quick and dirty and makes the point.

From the AFC's perspective, +5:
70-73: didn't happen
74-80: happened every year for a clearly inarguable stretch of dominance...+74 over seven years
81-98: happened ONE time
99-present: has happened eight times and in position to make it nine this year.

If you're trying to come up with a theory about interconference play...an all-encompassing theory from 70-present would have to explain why a supposed inherent AFC superiority laid dormant for 45% of the sample. It would seem to make more sense to look at why they were superior from 74-80...and then again from 99-present...two very intense hunks of extreme superiority.

And, this work should have been done by the authors before the article was written in my view. Thanks to the readers who have added so much to the conversation with the actual data.

63
by DeltaWhiskey :: Fri, 10/29/2010 - 11:41am

Painful systematic look at this. I hope I'm reading the data right, but I'm assuming that based on 64 interconference games/yr, we should expect that the average record should be 32-32 and the mean difference 0, so that when in 05 the difference was 4 the record was 34 and 30. If my understanding is wrong, then stop reading now, b/c the rest is faulty.

With expectation that the mean difference should be zero or a 32-32 record any average that is not zero may be evidence that the AFC is better than the NFC (awkward wording, no offense to NFC intended). The mean differences is +4 (+3.7) games with a SD of 9 (8.6), therefore the AVG AFC record is 34-30. Interesting, but not terribly impressive as on average, the AFC wins 2 more games/yr than would be expected if parity between conferences existed - so you decide, is this meaningful, I don't know. Next, the SD of 9 suggests that andy differences between -5 (29.5-34.5) and +13 (38.5-25.5) are within the average range (i.e. nothing out of the norm really happening here - so while the '78 season may look special for the AFC, it's not).

Seasons between +/- 1SD (+13/-5) and +/- 2 (+22/-14) SD could be categorized as evidence of moderate dominance by the AFC in the case of +13 to +22 or effective compensation and dominance by the NFC in the case of -5 to -14.

So, years that something interesting might be occurring:
AFC: 79, 80, 06
NFC: 71, 81, 89, 91, 92, 95,

Finally, those that occur beyond the +/- 2SD region are truly special years. +23 for the AFC, -15 for the NFC.

AFC: 99, 04
NFC: 70

I would suggest that b/c the mean is greater than zero the AFC teams may be doing something to generate a slight advantage. This could be something along the lines of what others have proposed, that the AFC has a greater number of "super teams" (i.e. NE, IND, PIT, etc) in a given year than the NFC or a group of consistently well managed teams. My Homer theory: It could be something as simple as the presence of the Steelers in the AFC (i.e. a team owned by the same family over these 40 years, operating under the same philosophy, for the most part conistently putting out an above average product - coincidence that the last year of NFC super dominance is 1970, the same year the Steelers begin to break through, I think not).

What this analysis suggests to me is that in general the AFC has had a slight dominance (on average 2 more wins per/year than the NFC). There have been twelve seasons where something "different" occurred (i.e. something that can look more like dominance) and of those 12, only three were clear-cut spectacular changes. The value of this sort of breakout is that first, we are able to show evidence of a mild amount of AFC superiority, and if we assume that it is some sort of systematic effect, then when looking at the NFC, we are able to note years where this was compensated for, that is, while '91 jumps out, '81 and '89 were also pretty good years for the NFC.

So now, a quick look at DVOA in the break out years:

AFC:

99 = 5/10 top teams in DVOA were AFC
04 = 9/10 top teams in DVOA were AFC (PHI was NFC rep)
06 = 6/10 top teams in DVOA were AFC (PHI, CHI, NYG, DAL were NFC reps)

99 = 7/10 bottom teams in DVOA were NFC
04 = 7/10 bottom teams in DVOA were NFC
06 = 7/10 bottom teams in DVOA were NFC

NFC:
95 = 7/10 top teams in DVOA were in the NFC (KC, PIT, DEN were AFC reps)
95 = 6/10 bottom teams in DVOA werer in the AFC

This suggests little to nothing, but I looked it up, typed it, so here it is. My tenative small (extremely small) sample size based hypothesis suggests that dominance may have to do more with the depth of suckitude in a conference than quality.

Admitedly these are very crude analyses, but I think they provide a framework to arrange and look at the data. I think there is evidence to suggest that the AFC has been slightly better than the NFC over the last 40 years, but not terribly so )+2 games/yr). There have been three years of pure beatdown dominance and an additional 9 of smack around dominance.

I think the guys at FO could look into this if they give a damn, and I'd suggest they could start by calculating a conference DVOA for each year and then look for a relationship between DVOA and interconference wins.

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by Jeff Fogle :: Fri, 10/29/2010 - 12:23pm

DW...why wouldn't +11 for the AFC in '78 be "special" just in terms of who's the more dominant conference? Wouldn't we use standard deviations off equality to determine dominance? I can see going off the 34-30 for what's "normal" or "abnormal." Looks like you termed it something like "effective" dominance.

But for just plain old regular "dominance," shouldn't we be comparing to equality as opposed to 34-30?

Plus, if you clustered short term records (over 3-5-7 year hunks or whatever)rather than just isolating "interesting" individual years, might it isolate interesting "periods" that might better explain how the AFC earned it's "slightly better over 40 years" margin? Two relative explosions rather than sustained minor edges? Tough to make the Pittsburgh case I think when it appears to the naked eye that we're talking about two explosions rather than a sustained consistent dominance if that makes sense.

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by DeltaWhiskey :: Fri, 10/29/2010 - 12:49pm

But for just plain old regular "dominance," shouldn't we be comparing to equality as opposed to 34-30?

I think we could, but I'm assuming that (and it's a broad assumption that might not going to stand up to rigorous analysis) that the +4 average advantage reflects, if you will, the true baseline...that is, the AFC is just a wee bit better for some reason than the NFC and so to identify those points where something really different happened, adjustments have to be made accordingly.

"Plus, if you clustered short term records (over 3-5-7 year hunks or whatever)rather than just isolating "interesting" individual years, might it isolate interesting "periods" that might better explain how the AFC earned it's "slightly better over 40 years" margin?"

Sure, I went on my own tangent a bit with this and pointed out the outliers. I think to be rigorous, we need to be convinced that the average +4 margin is significant, because after I eyeball the graph again, I'm struck by how rarely the NFC gets into the plus column (9 times) and I can't help but wonder if the +4 margin is a little low in reality. The graph suggests to me, sustained dominance with bursts of ass whooping, with NFC recovery sprinkled in. In short, I think the NFC has been much worse against the AFC that I thought.

RE: The PIT case, that was just RJesque homerism...I've been giddy since the 3-1 start.

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by Jeff Fogle :: Fri, 10/29/2010 - 1:49pm

Interesting how the same chart inspires different reactions. For me, I think it's tough to make the case for sustained dominance when you have something like:

74-80: AFC by 74 games
81-98: NFC by 13 games (or NFC by 21 if you cut off in '95)
99-09: AFC by 108 games (with more being added this year)

The longest stretch is dormancy from the AFC perspective (slight negative actually). But there are two separate "bursts of ass whooping" as you called it.

Would set up in my view:

*Why was the AFC so good from '74-80?
*Why weren't they any better than the NFC from '81-98?
*Why are they so good over the last decade?

in a way that means we're looking at explanations for three separate periods, rather an an all-encompassing "being in lesser markets has created a sustained motivational edge that always favors the AFC" line of thought. My son had a growth spurt back in high school. He wasn't always tall. The AFC wasn't always dominant. They had two spurts of dominance that have given them a cumulative advantage over the sample. We should be careful I think giving them retro-active credit for inches they hadn't grown yet. The 34-30 we see now would have been more like 32.5-31.5 with a 1995 stopping point. That's an edge, but not dominance. What we've seen lately is so dominant that it's pushed the margin up to 34-30 using your approach. To me...studying what's happened in that more recent dominant strain is more relevant than trying to find a 40 year explanation that has to explain 18 years of relative dormancy (or the years where my son was of normal height).

Always fun talking things through with you DW...

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by DeltaWhiskey :: Fri, 10/29/2010 - 2:34pm

74-80: AFC by an average of 9 games/ yr
81-98: period of parity from 81 to 89, followed by NFC dominance of NFC by 33 games 89 to 95 (average of about 6 games/yr), 96-98 parity
99-09: AFC by 108 games (with more being added this year)

I have no problem looking at these as distinct periods, regardless of how we look at the data, I think average being greater than 4 suggests there is something in the AFC water that gives them a slight (2-game/yr) advantage. If we normalize the data by subracting 4 we get the following:

1970 -17 -21
1971 -6 -10
1972 3 -1
1973 -1 -5
1974 5 1
1975 6 2
1976 7 3
1977 10 6
1978 11 7
1979 20 16
1980 15 11
1981 -5 -9
1982 1 -3
1983 1 -3
1984 1 -3
1985 2 -2
1986 2 -2
1987 1 -3
1988 7 3
1989 -5 -9
1990 0 -4
1991 -14 -18
1992 -8 -12
1993 2 -2
1994 -2 -6
1995 -6 -10
1996 4 0
1997 4 0
1998 2 -2
1999 24 20
2000 8 4
2001 8 4
2002 5 1
2003 4 0
2004 24 20
2005 4 0
2006 16 12
2007 0 -4
2008 5 1
2009 10 6

This makes it a little easire to look at various periods. Maybe break it out like this:

NFC dominance to descent:
1970 -17 -21
1971 -6 -10
1972 3 -1
1973 -1 -5

Parity (AFC in ascendance?)
1974 5 1
1975 6 2

AFC Dominance1
1976 7 3
1977 10 6
1978 11 7
1979 20 16
1980 15 11

Remarkable reversal of fortune (would love to know what happened here)

NFC Dominance2
1981 -5 -9
1982 1 -3
1983 1 -3
1984 1 -3

Parity (NFC down a bit)
1985 2 -2
1986 2 -2

NFC Dominance3 (resurgence)
1987 1 -3
1988 7 3 (blip year)
1989 -5 -9
1990 0 -4
1991 -14 -18
1992 -8 -12
1993 2 -2
1994 -2 -6
1995 -6 -10

Parity
1996 4 0
1997 4 0
1998 2 -2

AFC Dominance2
1999 24 20
2000 8 4
2001 8 4

Parity
2002 5 1
2003 4 0

AFC Dominance3
2004 24 20
2005 4 0 (blip)
2006 16 12
2007 0 -4 (WTF?)
2008 5 1 (blip)
2009 10 6
2010 ? ?

Just another 2-cents. This is ending up being more interesting than I initially thought. While I've lived through this entire period and been a fan of the game for all but 5 of those years, I don't have the memory or recall to hypothesize about what's been going on.

69
by Jonadan :: Fri, 10/29/2010 - 6:29pm

I also want to mention that I found a potential mistake in my numbers, because initially I just pulled wins-per-year for every team & added them. This works fine, except I had forgotten that tie games are possible. If a non-conference game is tied, it doesn't affect the W-L difference, but if one conference had more tied conference games than the other, then the conference with the extra ties has fewer wins overall. I.e. if it's 128 games, and the AFC goes 128-128, and the NFC goes 127-127-2, then NFC shows up with a "-1" even though they didn't lose overall to the AFC. I doubt this changes any number by more than |2|, so it shouldn't affect the overall picture, but I thought I should mention it. I'll get the numbers fixed ASAP.

(Not sure why I didn't just look at non-conference games to begin with, but hey, we all make mistakes.)

54
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 5:55pm

My guess is that we're misrepresenting a few dominant franchises as representing a dominant conference.

If for example, you assumed that the Pats/Colts won all their games (4-0); while the bottom teams (Raiders/Bills) say split them 2-2. That would give you a 12-4 advantage to the AFC. But actually perhaps you've just got two teams that are way better than everybody else while the rest of the teams are about equal.

Reminds me of the days when the NFC dominated the Super Bowl with blowout victories ... it wasn't necesarily that the NFC was a stronger conference ... it was that the winning team was a dominant team ... they also shutout or blewout their opponents in the NFC Championship game ... '84 49ers 23-0 Bears; '85 Bears 24-0 Rams; '86 Giants 17-0 Redskins; '88 49ers 28-3 Bears; '89 49ers 30-3 Rams; '91 Redskins 41-10 Lions

Perhaps the acid test would be to look at individual teams and see what the distribution of winning/losing records in interconference play was.

55
by Jeff Fogle :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 6:27pm

Hard to get to +24 in 1999 and 2004 with "just two teams that are way better than everybody else."

Look up the records BBS and let us know what you find...

61
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Fri, 10/29/2010 - 9:05am

I started to and gave up because my theory was probably hogwash ... here's the stats I did compile ...

AFC teams with a winning record, teams with a losing record, teams with an even record. E.g in 1990 5 AFC teams had winning records in interconference play, 5 had losing records, 4 were even.

1990 - 5-5-4
1991 - 3-7-4
1992 - 4-6-4
....
1999 - 8-3-5
....
2002 - 5-2-9
2003 - 6-4-6
2004 - 10-3-3
2005 - 6-5-5
....
2006 - 10-4-2
2007 - 8-7-1
2008 - 6-5-5
2009 - 7-4-5

So all in all, I don't know what that tells us.

I particularly compiled the stats from 2002 onwards because that is when the Texans joined the league and the current scheduling format came into being. So far we've had two rotations of that. I wondered if there might be a pattern but I can't spot it ...

I could probably break it down further to 4-0, 3-1, 2-2, 1-3, 0-4 teams ... oh how my winter nights will fly ...

58
by the K :: Thu, 10/28/2010 - 8:41pm

I still want to write in Geoff Hangartner for KCW. When you're winless, and in OT against one of the best teams in the league, committing a completely stupid penalty that puts them in FG range is about as boneheaded as it gets.

60
by Robeh (not verified) :: Fri, 10/29/2010 - 8:47am

The Toronto Maple Leafs are the Chicago Bears of the NHL. Huge market, dismal management. They make loads of money due to corporately purchased club seats, so they never feel like they're pressured to field a championship calibre team. If it wasn't for scalpers, no reasonable fans would attend games, due to the ridiculous price of face value tickets for a consistently mediocre-to-garbage team.

71
by Jonadan :: Sat, 10/30/2010 - 5:47pm

I don't know if anybody still cares, but here we go:

Win Difference 1970-2009

1970: -15
1971: -8
1972: 1
1973: 0
1974: 6
1975: 6
1976: 4
1977: 10
1978: 10
1979: 20
1980: 14
1981: -4
1982: 1
1983: 0
1984: 0
1985: 2
1986: 0
1987: 1
1988: 8
1989: -4
1990: 0
1991: -14
1992: -8
1993: 2
1994: -2
1995: -6
1996: 4
1997: 3
1998: 2
1999: 16
2000: 0
2001: 0
2002: 5
2003: 4
2004: 24
2005: 4
2006: 16
2007: 0
2008: 5
2009: 10

You'll notice this graph is kind of way different. There was this funky thing I had completely overlooked where the NFC had fewer teams for a while, so their non-conference games were a bigger part of the schedule, thus adding to the total win difference in the AFC's favor.

Also, I took note of how many games were played each year. It's changed several times:

1970-75: 40
1976-77: 28
1978-81. 1983-94: 52
1982: 30
1995-2001: 60
2002-2009: 64

As a result, I also ran all the figures as win percentages (for the AFC, then subtracting 0.500 to give deviation from an "average" 0.500 record).

Win Percentages 1970-2009

Rather than going through all the detailed numbers - in this case the graph really is easiest to read - I'll note a couple things and finish with at thought-check. There appear to be areas of dominance: in the '70s for the AFC, briefly from '89-'95 for the NFC, and - maybe now for the AFC. However, they're less pronounced than they originally appeared to be, and the NFC really does seem to have had its day to a certain extent.

---

Thought Experiment: If the "average" NFL team should finish 8-8 (0.500), to be "decent" a team finishes at 7-9 (0.438) to 9-7 (0.563). 6-10 (0.375) is poor (or bad but lucky); 10-6 (0.625) is pretty good. So let's say the boundaries of normal/average/expected are 0.400 to 0.600, or on my scale +/- 0.100. The following seasons are off beyond that, grouped if 2 out of 3 years or closer together went to one conference:

1970: -15/-0.188 (NFC)

1977: +10/+0.179 (AFC)
1979: +20/+0.192 (AFC)
1980: +14/+0.135 (AFC)

1991: -14/-0.135 (NFC)

1999: +16/+0.133 (AFC)

2004: +24/+0.188 (AFC)
2006: +16/+0.125 (AFC)

Looking just at these "outliers", not only does the "AFC-NFC-AFC" pattern seem to have asserted itself, the possible "NFC" period looks less likely (if we assume a dominant period will produce multiple outliers).

The question isn't so much, "Why is the AFC dominant?" (though that's worth answering), but - to get at the question more easily - "Why did the NFC equalize in the '80s and '90s?"

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