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Just look at the draft

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Nick from Toronto, Ontario:
Out of the top nine receivers in the NFL this year, six are from the NFC and only three are from the AFC. Out of the top nine rushers in the NFL this year, six are from the AFC and only three are from the NFC. The NFC is a wide receiver conference, while the AFC is a running back conference. The fact that the AFC seems to embody all the qualities of smash-mouth football, with the run-the-ball/stop-the-run mentality present in many teams, most notably Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, I was just wondering if you think this helps explain the AFC's superiority this season?

Vic: The AFC's superiority this season goes much deeper than the top nine receivers and running backs. The bottom line is that the best players in the game are, for the most part, in the AFC, and that goes right to the draft. That's where the AFC has built its edge over the NFC. The AFC has out-drafted the NFC. That has been especially true at quarterback, which is the position that defines success. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, David Carr, Carson Palmer, Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich were all drafted by the teams they quarterback. In the NFC, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Daunte Culpepper are the examples of drafted quarterbacks who've established themselves as stars. Much of the rest of the conference is a collection of re-treads or quarterbacks who were drafted by someone else and were acquired in a trade; quarterbacks such as Brian Griese, Marc Bulger, Kurt Warner, Jake Delhomme, Matt Hasselbeck, Aaron Brooks and Vinny Testaverde. Yes, the AFC is a more physical conference. Of the top 10 defenses in the league, seven are AFC teams. Of the top 10 rushing offenses in the league, seven are AFC teams. Of the top 10 defenses against the run, eight are AFC teams. That's how you measure physical superiority – overall defense, rush-offense, rush-defense – and the AFC is dominant in those three categories. Early in the season I wasn't buying into the AFC's head-to-head lead over the NFC as an indicator that the AFC was dominant, but there's no denying it now. The bottom line is that the AFC title game may turn out to be the "Super Bowl."

Brian from Jacksonville:
If a team wants to place the "franchise" tag on a player, does the player have a choice or can they say no? I hear Edgerrin James is getting the tag. Can he say no and look elsewhere?

Vic: A player cannot forbid his team to designate him a "franchise player," but he can refuse to sign the tender that accompanies it. He can't play, however, until he signs the tender, and the team can't trade him until he signs the tender. Whether he signs the tender or not, he may continue to shop his talents around the league during the free-agent signing period. A "franchise player" is a free agent but the designation would require any team signing him to compensate the original team with two first-round draft picks. Blocking a team from using the "franchise" tag isn't as important as it is to understand why that tag is being used and being able to effectively deal with it. There are two reasons teams use the franchise tag: retain rights to a player for the purpose of trading him, or buy more time to negotiate a new contract with him. Either way, it can work for the player, provided he hasn't inflated his value beyond what is realistic. The Colts could put the "franchise" tag on James and that would allow them more time to negotiate a new contract. If James signed the tender – which would make the money guaranteed – and played the season with the tag on him, it would mean the Colts would have to take the full hit of his salary on their 2005 salary cap. It would appear they have cleared room for that to happen. "Franchise" players are paid at the average of the top five salaries at their position in the league.

Eric from Jacksonville:
If we are in a tie with Baltimore, who wins the tie-breaker?

Vic: The Jaguars' fate would seem to rest in the hands of the Steelers. If the Steelers don't beat the Ravens this Sunday, it's unlikely the Jaguars will make the playoffs.

Richard from Woonsocket, RI:
I was extremely impressed with the performance of Rashean Mathis against the Packers. I think he has the potential to be a lights-out corner. Your thoughts?

Vic: The way pass-defense rules are being enforced these days, I don't know if there can be such a thing as a "lights-out corner." I do agree with you, though, that Rashean Mathis is on his way to becoming a very good player. Yeah, Javon Walker caught 11 passes on Sunday night, but Mathis made two interceptions and I thought he represented himself well against a Packers gameplan that seemed focused on attacking him. That's what surprised me more than anything else in the game? Why were the Packers so determined to go after Mathis? Dewayne Washington has been the usual target. Didn't the Packers see the Steelers game tape? A lot of things about what the Packers did left me as cold as the temperature. Why did they quit on the run? In my opinion, Jack Del Rio and his staff scored a major coaching victory in Sunday night's game.

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