NEW ORLEANS -- Welcome to the AFC's last stand.
The Baltimore Ravens are a four-point underdog in today's Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers -- only the second time in the last 11 years the NFC champion has been favored over the AFC champ.
And it could be quite some time before an AFC team finds itself a favourite again. Failure by the Ravens here may open the door to a conference dynasty the likes of which we haven't seen since the turn of the 1990 decade when the NFC claimed 13 consecutive Lombardi trophies.
There are 10 very good reasons for that: Sam Bradford, Josh Freeman, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Christian Ponder, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and Russell Wilson.
The NFL has always tilted its playing field to favour the quarterbacks, and the future at that position belongs to the NFC. A victory by Kaepernick today would give the NFC the present as well.
Kaepernick will be making only his 10th career start for the 49ers. His youth and the youth across the board at the position in the NFC are the trump cards moving forward for the conference.
Kaepernick turns 26 next season, as does Bradford. Freeman, Stafford, Ponder and Wilson will all be 25 and Newton 24. Ryan will be 28, and Rodgers turns 30 in December.
Rodgers already has a Super Bowl ring, two NFL passing crowns and both league and Super Bowl MVP hardware. Griffin, Newton, Rodgers, Ryan and Wilson have all been to the Pro Bowl. Stafford has had a 5,000-yard passing season, and Freeman, Newton, Rodgers and Ryan have all had 4,000-yard seasons.
The throne room belonged to the AFC in the 2000 decade, thanks to its quarterbacking. The AFC won eight consecutive Super Bowls and nine in 10 years. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger took their teams to nine of those Super Bowls. The AFC had an edge in quarterbacking, and it showed on the final day of each season.
But Manning with his Super Bowl ring is now 36, Brady with his three rings is 35, and Roethlisberger with his two rings is 30.
The quarterbacking pendulum started swinging back in 2011 when the NFC won the interconference series with the AFC, 33-31 -- the first time the NFC had come out on top since 1995. Then the New York Giants upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
With all of its young quarterbacks this season -- Griffin and Wilson both started as rookies -- the NFC crushed the AFC in interconference play, 39-25. The NFC then flexed its muscles with a 62-35 clubbing of the AFC in the Pro Bowl. Now the 49ers are Super Bowl favorites.
How important is the quarterback position? There are 30 of them in the Hall of Fame. Thirty-one of the 54 NFL most valuable player awards have been handed to quarterbacks. Twenty-six of the 46 Super Bowl MVP trophies have been handed to quarterbacks, including the last three in a row.
A change in quarterbacks by San Francisco in November changed the dynamic of the 49ers. There was a ceiling on this offense when Alex Smith was the quarterback. He was a caretaker. But Kaepernick is a multidimensional playmaker.
Kaepernick threw four touchdown passes in an upset of the Patriots at New England and rushed for an NFL-record 181 yards by a quarterback in the playoffs against Green Bay. Clearly, he knows how to function in big games. Kaepernick has thrown 13 TD passes and rushed for five more scores in his nine career starts while throwing just four interceptions.
If you have a quarterback in the NFL, you have a chance. The better the quarterback, the better your chances.
Bradford, Newton and Stafford were the first overall selections of drafts, Griffin the second overall choice and Ryan the third. Ponder, Freeman and Rodgers were also first-round picks, Kaepernick a second-rounder and Wilson a third.
If you want them, you have to go high for them -- and the NFC has done that. Now it's time to reap the rewards.
-- Dallas Morning News