Mediocrity rules in the AFC, the Average Football Conference, with good teams losing to bad teams and bad teams losing to even worse teams.
The weirdness is beginning to hurt the once mighty AFC's public image. Consider the talented Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills: They are both 8-1 but players and coaches from both teams still field questions about their teams' abilities.
"Isn't that something?" said Miami linebacker John Offerdahl. "We're 8-1 and people are still asking if we're for real." It's the curse of the AFC. Recently it seems any team in the conference that is winning will eventually go on a long losing streak, and if not, they will lose in the Super Bowl.
"There are some good teams in the AFC," said New York Jets vice president and general manager Dick Steinberg, "and there are some really terrible ones."
It's the "terrible ones" that are sullying the AFC's reputation. And two of them are in the AFC East. The 1-8 New England Patriots may be the worst team in football. The 3-6 Indianapolis Colts are a close second. Just more than 28,000 people who had nothing better to do Sunday watched the Patriots lose to the Colts, 13-10. New England quarterback Marc Wilson completed only eight passes for 87 yards.
"We just keep screwing up, some way, somehow," said Patriots receiver Irving Fryar. "We keep digging holes, sticking our heads in them and choking ourselves."
The Los Angeles Raiders lost for the second straight week -- their first loss at home under Coach Art Shell in 10 games -- this time to the 4-5 Green Bay Packers. Two weeks ago the silver and black were considered one of the best teams in the AFC, now they're 6-3 and struggling. "It was our worst game of the year," said Shell.
The Kansas City Chiefs are looking for victories in all the wrong places. Losers of three road games, they lost at home Sunday to the lowly Seattle Seahawks. Not to be outdone were the Denver Broncos, who lost to San Diego, 19-7. The Super Bowl losers have fallen to 3-6, their worst record since the strike year of 1982, when they finished 2-7.
Sunday's loss left Denver Coach Dan Reeves asking a simple question: What's wrong?
"I don't have any answers," he said. "I wish I had a magical answer to tell you exactly what we're going to do. I just know we've got to work regardless of where we are right now."
As bad as some of the teams are in the AFC, they do have several statistical advantages over their NFC counterparts. For instance six AFC teams are over .500; only five are in the NFC. But overall the NFC has a 65-63 record and the AFC 63-65. The NFC has scored 147 more points, 25 more touchdowns, and defensively the NFC has returned 15 interceptions for touchdowns, more than twice the number for the AFC.
"I think the AFC is definitely the weaker conference," said Patriots General Manager Patrick Sullivan. "But remember these things are cyclical."
The dominance of the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants, both 9-0, gives the NFC a larger-than-life look. They are the best teams in football and playing at a level no AFC team can currently match. "Right now no one can touch them," Miami Coach Don Shula said.
The Dolphins tried, only to have their fins burned. It was a commanding victory for the Giants on Sept. 23, 20-3, and there is still a bitter feeling among some Dolphins players.
Despite the loss, Miami is one of the best teams in the NFL, behind the Giants and 49ers. Besides quarterback Dan Marino, the Dolphins have two additional ways to attack: a new defense and an improved running game.
The Dolphins are averaging 118.6 yards rushing a game -- compared with 83.1 last year -- and their 10 rushing touchdowns already equal their total last season.
The Miami Pound Machine is the nickname of their defense, and as cornerback Tim McKyer said, "the rhythm is going to get you." If it doesn't, defensive end Jeff Cross might. He is among the league leaders in sacks with 10. The Dolphins have not allowed a touchdown in 12 quarters.
But they are members of the AFC East, so is their record a product of a weak division?
Possibly. Four of the Dolphins' victories came against the Patriots and Jets. "People can think what they want," Shula said. "The only thing that's important to me and to this team is how we do each week. There are a lot of happy fans down here. I know that."