Entering the 2013 NFL season, the NFC was expected to be the stronger of the two conferences. Through three first three weeks, however, the AFC has proven to be the home of the best teams in football.
In fourteen games, the AFC has dominated head-to-head competition, going 11-3. All of the 2012 playoff teams from the conference have continued to play well, with all of them winning at least two their first three games. Several other clubs, though, are making the case to be contenders in 2013.
The Miami Dolphins had one of the most impressive victories in Week Three. They defeated the Atlanta Falcons, who are one of the favorites in the NFC. In their first home game of the year, Miami came back from a 10-point deficit in the second half, scoring the game-winning touchdown with 38 seconds left.
At 3-0, the Dolphins look like legitimate contenders. Other than their win against the Falcons, the Dolphins beat the Colts on the road, a victory that looks much more impressive after Indianapolis’s dismantling of San Francisco.
In 2012, the Dolphins were within three wins of a postseason berth, finishing with a 7-9 record. Now, they have a quarterback who’s playing well enough to lead them to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Ryan Tannehill is playing much better than he did in his rookie season when he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. His 94.3 passer rating is good enough for ninth in the NFL, giving Miami a more than serviceable offense to go along with a top 10 defense.
The Kansas City Chiefs will probably have the biggest turnaround of 2013. They were tied for the worst record in the league in a 2012 that sparked major offseason changes. Now, they’re one of six teams without a loss.
Kansas City’s defense is good enough to keep them in almost every game. They didn’t allow the Jacksonville Jaguars offense to score in Week One and held the Philadelphia Eagles, who had previously scored 63 points in their first two games, to just 16 points in Week Three. Third-year linebacker Justin Houston has made the biggest impact, leading the league with 7.5 sacks.
The biggest difference with the Chiefs, though, has been Alex Smith. In 2012, Kansas City had the worst combination of quarterbacks in the NFL. Smith hasn’t made many big plays, but new head coach Andy Reid has utilized the 29-year-old's strengths and put him in a position to lead a much improved offense. The Denver Broncos are still considered the class of the AFC West, but Kansas City won’t be an easy matchup for Peyton Manning.
The Dolphins and Chiefs were expected to be improved from a year ago, but the most surprising team that's above .500 may be the Tennessee Titans. After going 6-10 in 2012, they didn’t make any big splashes in the offseason. Nevertheless, they’re an overtime loss to the Houston Texans away from being undefeated.
The Titans are off to a strong start, but more evidence is needed to prove that they’ll be able to contend in the AFC for the entire season. Jake Locker is in his third season as a pro, but has yet to show that he can perform at a consistently high level. In the Titans’ win against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, he threw for over 150 yards for the first time this season. It came against a team with the worst pass defense in the NFL.
If the Titans can make the playoffs, it would be one of the biggest longshots in recent years. Before the season began, only the Jaguars and Raiders had worse odds to win the 2014 Super Bowl.