NFC looking like the NFL’s weak sister again this season

The way the first two weeks of the football season have gone, you’d think that NFC stands for No Flippin’ Contenders.

The Chicago Bears? That offense is even more putrid than it was last year. The Seattle Seahawks? Sunday’s loss to Arizona didn’t do much for their resume. The Carolina Panthers? Hey, at least the Texans aren’t in their division. And as for the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints, well, they’re just trying to figure out how to win a game.

Just two weeks into the 2007 season the NFL’s two conferences are looking as far apart as Matt Hasselbeck’s hair follicles. The AFC is king … again.

The same conference that has won four consecutive Super Bowls, and six of seven (thank goodness for those juggernaut Tampa Bay Buccaneers), looks ready to do it again. The past three Super Bowl champions — Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and New England — are legitimate contenders to raise another trophy. The Denver Broncos are also off to a 2-0 start and have a coach (Mike Shanahan) who knows what it takes to win the big game.

On the other hand, the NFC teams with the best records are hoping to ride the likes of Wade Phillips, Mike McCarthy and Rod Marinelli to Glendale, Ariz.

On paper, the NFC’s five unbeaten teams are as flawed as the original contenders. Dallas, Washington, San Francisco, Detroit and Green Bay are still undefeated, yet all of them have serious holes.

The Phillips-led Cowboys have the best offense in the conference, but rank 14th out of 16 in defense. Detroit (No. 2 in offense, No. 12 in defense) has a similar problem. Meanwhile, Mike Nolan’s 49ers have the NFC’s worst offense — yes, even behind one-time NFC favorite Chicago — while McCarthy’s Packers rank 13th.

That leaves Washington as the only unbeaten team with any balance. But the Redskins haven’t won a playoff game since 1999 and have already lost two of their best offensive linemen — tackle Jon Jansen and guard Randy Thomas.

Of the unbeaten teams, only Green Bay (Brett Favre) and Detroit (Jon Kitna) have quarterbacks who have started more than one full season. Favre turns 38 next month, and he’s won just two playoff games since the run to Super Bowl XXXII in 1997. Kitna has played in just two postseason games and has yet to taste victory.

So that leads us back to the original contenders. The Seahawks’ Hasselbeck, the Saints’ Drew Brees and the Eagles’ Donovan McNabb are generally considered the most playoff-ready quarterbacks out there, but they’ve all got obstacles in their way. McNabb’s Eagles and Brees’s Saints are trying to come back from 0-2 starts, while Seattle’s defense didn’t exactly look championship-quality in Sunday’s loss to Arizona.

And then, of course, there are the Bears. With that anemic offense and that inconsistent quarterback, Chicago seems to have no chance of going to the Super Bowl. The last time an NFC team made it to the Super Bowl with such putrid QB play was … oh, wait, that would be last year’s Bears. Predictably, they lost to the AFC’s best.

The point is, the NFC is flawed from top to bottom. That’s good news for the Seahawks, whose chances of going to their second Super Bowl in three years aren’t any worse for the Sunday loss to Arizona. The Seahawks are still legitimate contenders to be the NFC’s best.

But are they in the same category as the Colts, Patriots or Broncos?

Fat chance.

Scott Johnson is The Herald’s pro football writer.

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