Written by Steven Vitte
The 2015 NFL regular season has gotten under way and 32 teams are currently battling it out to determine who will win their divisions and advance to the playoffs. Since 2002 the NFL has upheld its current division and conference alignment where there are 8 divisions of 4 teams each.
This is an easy to understand concept, to be sure. We currently have 4 division winners and 2 wild cards from each conference qualifying for postseason play, and this system has worked for the most part.
However, since we are 13 years into this current alignment, should the NFL start considering a more dramatic realignment of divisions? Taking a look at the current NFL map, it would appear that certain divisions aren’t exactly geographically correct, but rather cater to long-standing rivalries between certain teams. If we consider that traveling could be an issue for these teams, then why wouldn’t we consider a simplified geographic landscape for the NFL so that teams will be able to focus more on who to challenge in their divisions?
One critical question has popped into my head in recent times concerning the current alignment of the NFL, and that question would be this:
Do the separate conferences matter to football fans anymore?
Is there really anything to gain from calling your favorite team the best team in the American or National Football Conference? Does that still matter in this day and age? The AFL-NFL merger came and went back in 1970, and while it remained a novelty of having 2 separate conferences well into the 1980s, the allure of 2 conferences existing appears to have worn off. If anything, no one necessarily remembers the Buffalo Bills of the 1980s and 1990s being the AFC Champions for 4 straight years, but the Bills are instead remembered for losing 4 straight Super Bowls. I don’t think this fact would have lost significance had the Bills played in the NFC instead of the AFC.
Ultimately, and this is my opinion, I feel that the NFL should seriously consider getting rid of 2 separate conferences altogether. One reason for this would be that the NFL doesn’t carry the same kinds of traditions as Major League Baseball, where baseball fans prefer to not have interleague play between the American and National Leagues, though today MLB has to have interleague play because of there being 15 teams in each league.
I believe the NFL has to restore some geographical sense in the way that fans follow their teams, and below you will see my dramatic realignment plan where I propose to have 4 divisions of 8 teams each, with no conferences attached. You will notice a few changes I have made to cater to “geographical common sense”, such as moving the Indianapolis Colts to the north, the Baltimore Ravens to the east, and the Miami Dolphins to the south. The change I didn’t make would be the Dallas Cowboys, who I feel would make a legitimate case for staying in the same division as the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins. Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones probably wouldn’t allow his team to break away from these rivalries anyway.
NFL East: New England Patriots, New York Jets, New York Giants, Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys
NFL North: Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts
NFL South: Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans
NFL West: San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Rams
As far as which teams would be able to qualify for postseason play under this new alignment, I would propose to have the 4 division winners to automatically qualify for the playoffs while the 8 next best records, regardless of which divisions those teams come from, would also qualify. The 4 division winners would be ranked 1-4 and would each get a 1st Round bye. The #5 ranked team would face the #12 ranked team in the playoffs, followed by the #6 ranked team facing the #11 ranked team, #7 versus #10 and #8 versus #9. The lowest ranked winner in the 1st Round would face the #1 seed in the 2nd Round, and other match ups would follow suit. Instead of Conference Championship Games, they would just be called the Super Bowl Semifinal Games, and the Super Bowl itself would remain unchanged.
I believe a radical realignment such as this one would change how teams prepare for opponents during the regular season, knowing that they would be competing against 7 other teams for a division championship instead of just 3. Division rivals in this new format would play each other once while they would schedule their other 9 games against teams from the other 3 divisions, 3 games from each division preferably. In summary, while the American and National Football Conferences served their purposes back in the day, I believe football fans today are willing to make a change in order to have more structure in scheduling, traveling and divisional competitiveness.
By Steven Vitte