Thursday, December 5, 2002 Updated: December 9, 1:42 PM ET
Tune in your pigskin
By Jason Whitlock Page 2 columnist
Take your eyes off Michael Vick for a minute. Ignore those power rankings stacked with NFC powers at the top. You're missing all the real action.
It's over here in the Pete Rozelle parity-dise known as the American Football Conference.
It's almost like Michael Vick has forgotten how to lose.
It's somewhat fashionable to trash the AFC right now. It seems that every team except Cincinnati's Ben Gals are flirting with .500. You can't pick out a dominant team or a Super Bowl favorite. Thirteen of the AFC's 16 teams have a 6-6 record or better. No one, it seems -- not even the salary-cap-ravaged, Ray Lewis-less Baltimore Ravens -- is out of the AFC playoff hunt.
This lack of dominance has caused some alleged experts to conclude that the football in the AFC is a mediocre byproduct of the salary cap and Rozelle's twisted desire to create league-wide parity.
Surely something is wrong when 32-year-old Ben Gal castoff Jeff Blake is quarterbacking a team with December playoff hopes.
But I say there's not a damn thing wrong with the AFC. On the contrary, I contend that the AFC is the strength of one of the most thrilling NFL seasons we've had the pleasure of devouring in our lifetime. Parity never tasted so good.
Clearly Michael Vick is the most compelling story in football and perhaps the biggest story in sports. The Michael Jordan of Football is the NFL's sweetest sensation since Deion Sanders helicoptered to games after batting in the World Series. The only difference is that The Michael Jordan of Football touches the ball on every offensive snap. He's Gale Sayers playing quarterback.
Beyond fl-Air Vick, however, the NFL's best storylines pretty much all transpire in the AFC, the conference that will eventually produce the Super Bowl champion. To prove my point, I compiled a list detailing the 10 best reasons to watch the NFL this season. The AFC dominates these power rankings.
1. Atlanta's Michael Vick: I'm calling him fl-Air Vick, because he plays with the flair of Jordan but doesn't leave the ground.
Opposing defenses have yet to find an answer for Priest Holmes.
2. Kansas City's Priest Holmes: Old Dirty Priest is on pace to set a new standard for touchdowns in a season and combined yards for rushing and receiving. Marshall Faulk holds the records (26 TDs and 2,429 yards). ODP is on pace for 29 TDs and 2,600 yards. He is simply putting together the finest season for a running back in the history of the league. If you haven't seen him play, he's a faster, smaller, more elusive version of Emmitt Smith.
3. Oakland's Rich Gannon: Fine Wine (Gannon gets better with age) is the new millennium's Fran Tarkenton. Tark carried the Vikings to a couple of Super Bowls. Fine Wine might get there this year. FW has a shot at joining Dan Marino as the NFL's only QBs to pass for more than 5,000 yards in a season. George Foreman is the only other top-flight athlete I can remember who was better late in his career than he was in his prime.
4. Buffalo's Drew Bledsoe: We think modern-day athletes rarely exemplify class, grace and fire. How 'bout the way Bledsoe handled his demotion in New England? And, more important, how 'bout the way he's gone up to Buffalo and made a handful of teams look silly for shying away from his big contract?
5. San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson: The Chargers would be getting killed for trading away fl-Air Vick's rights if L.T. wasn't balling out of control. He looked like Bo Jackson rumbling down the sideline against Denver on Sunday.
6. Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp: What do they really want from a defensive tackle? Do I have a bias when it comes to Sapp? Is Sapp my favorite mother& playa? Hell, yes! I played on the offensive line. I know what an offensive lineman's worst nightmare looks like. He's big, black and ugly, wears No. 99 and will knock you into the middle of next week if you sleep on him. Sapp is Dick Butkus in a three-point stance.
Ricky is the leading rusher among backs who have worn a wedding dress.
7. Miami's Ricky Williams: This cat's weird. He lost me when he put on the wedding dress. And I definitely wouldn't advise going joyriding with Ricky through the streets of Miami in one of his unregistered cars. But he sho can run that thang. He's a baby Earl Campbell.
8. Pittsburgh's Tommy Maddox and Kordell Stewart: What a saga. There's no better story in football than a quarterback controversy. Trash vs. Slash could develop into an all-time great QB controversy. Maddox has gone from XFL garbage to Steeler savior to walking wounded in three short months. Stewart looked pretty good filling in for Maddox. Coach Bill Cowher's decision to return Maddox to the starting lineup isn't controversial yet. But it may be if Maddox struggles or gets re-injured.
9. Indianapolis' Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison: At the beginning of the season we heard about Minnesota's Randy Ratio. No one mentioned Harrison's Haul. More than one-third of Manning's completions have been secured by Marvin. He's on pace to catch an NFL record 145 passes. He already has 109 receptions.
10. Detroit's Marty Morninwheg: The deer-in-headlights look is one of a kind. Looks like Gomer Pyle's little brother. Definitely in need of a Sgt. Carter.
Jason Whitlock is a regular columnist for the Kansas City Star (kcstar.com), the host of a morning-drive talk show, "Jason Whitlock's Neighborhood" on Sports Radio 810 WHB (810whb.com) and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of The Sports Reporters. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.