For the first time in a generation, the AFC is not just the better conference but clearly the dominant one. In each of four consecutive seasons, from 1977 through '80, the AFC enjoyed at least a 10-win advantage over the NFC in head-to-head meetings. In no year since has the NFC taken such a pounding—until this fall. The AFC enjoys a 19-9 lead in interconference play and should maintain that advantage the rest of the way as it shoots for a second consecutive Super Bowl win. Here's our projected playoff lineup, in order of playoff seedings, with final records.
1. Broncos (14-2) Even without cornerstone tackle Gary Zimmerman (retired) and with suspect backup Bubby Brister getting significant time at quarterback, Denver has played better than it did during last year's title run.
2. Jaguars (11-5) There's a brutal schedule left—two games against the Steelers, a road game against the Vikings and a home date with the Bucs—and, even worse, a huge mental block: The road to the Super Bowl goes through Denver.
3. Jets (10-6) With the best division and conference record of the four teams that sit atop the AFC East, New York is in the best shape heading into the second half.
4. Patriots (10-6) The only AFC team with a diverse-enough offense and a potentially stifling defense to have a prayer of winning at Mile High.
5. Dolphins (10-6) For Miami to have any success in January, rookie running back John Avery has to bust loose a few times and show he can carry the team to victory.
6. Raiders (10-6) Oakland beats the Steelers in a tiebreaker for the last AFC wild-card spot, setting up a Heidi Bowl rematch with the Jets at the windswept Meadowlands.
1. Vikings (13-3) Two-headed quarterback Randall Cunningham- Brad Johnson makes Minnesota slump-proof.