The NFL has never seen a convention like this year’s AFC.
In December, only four teams in the conference lost the record, with 12 teams at .500 or the best for a conference during the 12 weeks since the merger.
There have been three seasons when 11 teams in a conference have not lost the record at this time, the first being the AFC in 2014 and 1980, and the NFC in 2008.
The AFC West leads with all four teams leading Kansas City (7-4) with a game-winning record over a 6-5 team trio in the Chargers, Raiders and Broncos.
It marked the fourth time since the introduction of the current eight-division format in 2002 that all teams in a division had won a record 12 weeks later. This also happened in 2014 AFC North and 2008 AFC East and NFC South.
AFC North also has four teams available at .500 or better.
It’s a different story in NFC, where for the second consecutive season, only six teams are at .500 or better over the course of 12 weeks. The last time a conference was at this point in the season came in 2013 in the AFC.
It’s a jumbled mess between the NFC with four teams – Washington, Minnesota, Atlanta and New Orleans – currently ranked seventh at 5-6, half a game ahead of Philadelphia and Carolina at 5-7.
This leaves the possibility that the team with the losing record could make it to the playoffs for the second year in a row when Washington won the NFC East by 7–9 points last season. Overall, 14 of the 16 NFC teams are within one game of a playoff spot, with only Seattle (3–8) and Detroit (0–10–1) out of contention.
The duel between conferences is less about AFC dominance than it is about the lack of a dominant team in the AFC. While there are three teams with three or fewer losses in the NFC – Arizona, Green Bay and Tampa Bay – only Baltimore can say so in the AFC.
The AFC has a slight edge in interconference play, with a record of 31-27-1.
Deebo Samuel has emerged in his third season as one of the NFL’s top receivers. He has been a very effective runner of late as a unique double threat for the San Francisco 49ers.
Samuel has rushed for 181 yards and has four TDs on 19 running the last three games as backing. Samuel is the first receiver since the merger to run for TD in three straight games in the same season.
His five TD runs are the most for a receiver in a season in the Super Bowl era, surpassing Tavon Austin’s four in 2015.
Samuel also joined Roger Craig (1985) and Marshall Faulk (1999), who scored and received five TD runs and 1,000 yards in one season.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is in the midst of a forgettable streak. Stafford has hit a six in three straight games.
Stafford is the first QB to throw a pick-six in three consecutive games since 2013, when Matt Schaub had a record four-game streak and Blaine Gabert hit three in a row.
The only other players to do so in three straight games since 1991 are Peyton Manning (2001), Ty Detmer (1996) and John Elway (1994).
take it away
New England’s Jesse Jackson is a master at taking the ball away.
Jackson made his seventh interception of the season against Tennessee last week, giving him 24 runs in his career. This is the third place for a player in his first four seasons since the merger with Richard Sherman, one behind Lester Hayes and Everson Walls.
Jackson, who made nine interceptions last season, is the first player since Sherman in 2012-13 to have back-to-back seasons with at least seven interceptions.
With two more interceptions, Jackson would be the second player in the Super Bowl era with at least nine interceptions in consecutive seasons, joining Bill Bradley of the Eagles in 1971–72.
The combination of big-footed kickers and moving the kickoff spot to 35 has severely reduced the influence of kick returners in the NFL.
Which is why it was so amazing last week with Dallas’ Tony Pollard taking two back for touchdowns doing it on Thanksgiving against the Raiders and against Minnesota’s Ken Nwangwu on Sunday against the 49ers.
The last time a two kick return was a week with TD, except for the onside kick, came in Week 7 of 2012 when Devin McCourty and Brad Smith did the same.
Nwangwu already has two players this season, becoming the first player to do so since Kordrell Patterson did so for Minnesota in 2015.
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