How I Would Re-Align the NFL

In NFL, Realignment on November 19, 2013 at 8:11 PM

As most of you know, I usually talk about college football, so if that’s what you’re here for, feel free to check out the LSU/Texas A&M Rivalry blog.

I know most people don’t talk about NFL Realignment since the teams haven’t changed in a while, but I just think it would make sense. I think there are a lot of fans who end up watching weird games because many of the divisions don’t fit well on the map. I don’t think anyone will listen to me, but I thought it was nice to think about. Let me just start out with a map of how I think it should look, and I’ll have some discussion below.

Each division has its own color, except both of the East divisions are included in the (darker) blue area.

Each division has its own color, except both of the East divisions are included in the (darker) blue area.

Edit: I made a picture of the current divisions to show how silly it is by contrast:

NFC South
New Orleans
Tampa Bay

The Saints and Falcons, rivals since the Saints’ first season in 1967 (which was the Falcons’ second season), stay together. It makes a lot of sense to break up the current AFC South. A division stretching from Jacksonville to Houston to Indianapolis for the sake of keeping everyone in the same conference was silly. If it’s not immediately obvious, I’ll explain why the Dolphins were left out below, but I thought at least two of the Florida teams should stay together. Tampa Bay has already been playing in the same division with Atlanta and New Orleans.

NFC East
New York

I know the first three teams are used to playing the Cowboys, but I think they’ll get over it. It just makes too much sense in my opinion to have Baltimore playing Washington and Philadelphia in particular.

I can only really talk about my own experiences as a Saints fan in how I look at such changes. I did have a bit of nostalgia for the regular 49ers games over the weekend, but it just didn’t have much to it beyond football. Atlanta, on the other hand, goes a lot deeper. If you’re in New Orleans, you probably know people in Atlanta or from Atlanta. There is a lot of overlap of the two fan bases, not only in moving from one city to the other but also in places like Alabama. When the Rams moved to St. Louis, that instantly added a lot of fuel to the rivalry because even though it’s not as close as East Coast cities, St. Louis is still considered a nearby big city and there was a lot of interplay between Rams fans and Saints fans.

Anyway, you get over playing an opponent just because you’re used to it. I think with the logical passions that would develop in the actual geographic area, the Cowboys would be forgotten fairly easily.

As for the Ravens, I think the fact that Cleveland and Cincinnati were not natural rivals added to the intensity of the rivalry with the Steelers. But if you remember, that developed fairly quickly. It hasn’t even been 20 years since football returned to Baltimore.

The NFC North (Minnesota, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit) should remain the same.

NFC West

A lot of people in Texas don’t seem to have noticed they have another team yet. Maybe by having the Texans play the Cowboys, people will realize this. I thought it was a really good fit to combine the two Texas teams with the two Mountain time zone teams. The Cardinals are technically in the Mountain time zone all year, but I do realize they’re two hours off for the first couple of months of the season since most of Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time. Other than habit, I don’t see how it makes sense to have two teams in Texas and insist they play in two different conferences and also to have two teams in Missouri and insist they play in two different conferences. Since Texas makes a lot more sense with Arizona, I decided to put that pair in this division.

AFC North

Basically, you have the two Ohio teams, and then you add a team from either side of the state. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Cincinnati have been playing one another as long as I remember. I clearly remember the Houston Oilers being in that division. Other than trying to break up the AFC East or NFC North, there is no other place that makes sense for the Colts.

AFC Central
St. Louis
Kansas City

I just mentioned the old AFC Central (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Houston), but I couldn’t think of a better name for this one. St. Louis and Kansas City are naturals, and Tennessee and Carolina are more leftovers, but that could be a good rivalry too. Tennessee does border North Carolina. I also toyed with trying to put everyone but Kansas City in some kind of Southern division, but ultimately either the AFC North or one of the Eastern divisions was going to need a Southeastern team, so I went with the Dolphins since they’re already in the AFC East. They’re all in the in-between zone between the North/Midwest and the Deep South.

AFC East
New England
New York

Like the NFC North, this one remains the same. I already explained why I decided to leave Miami here. It’s the only spot on the map that doesn’t make any sense, but I couldn’t see any logical way to change this.

AFC Pacific
San Francisco
San Diego

The 49ers preceded the AFL by only about 10 years, and the rest were all AFL teams. I know the 49ers have been in the NFC the whole time, but Seattle would be back where they belong, in my opinion. The 49ers and Seahawks are already familiar with each other from recent years, and I think it would be fun seeing the rivalry between the Seahawks and Raiders renewed. Chargers/Seahawks won’t get anyone excited, but San Diego will still be playing Oakland, and San Francisco would be an added bonus. I think that would make up for the loss of Denver (a good ways away from San Diego anyway), and Kansas City was never the best fit with the West Coast teams.

Based on the discussion in the comments, I have a compromise map. I don’t think it works as well, but I would also favor it over the current divisional alignment.


  1. […] week and I monitor results, but that’s mostly it. This is my only other NFL Blog this year: “How I Would Re-Align the NFL”. I just don’t get into it enough to blog about it generally. However, I had some trouble […]

  2. […] this week) and I monitor results, but that’s mostly it. This is my only other NFL Blog this year: “How I Would Re-Align the NFL”. I just don’t get into it enough to blog about it […]

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  4. […] I discussed realignment possibilities for the NFL, a lot of people didn’t like the idea of the Dallas Cowboys being anywhere but the NFC East, even […]

  5. I don’t like this realignment. Speaking as someone from Dallas (now living in Pittsburgh), I would rather have Dallas stay in the NFC East, not just because of the rivalries but because it just makes sense. Geographically, Dallas is in the eastern half of the country and in the Central time zone, so the ‘East’ moniker fits, contrary to most people’s perception.

    I’m honestly surprised someone from Louisiana would think Texas has more of a geographical or cultural alignment with a place like Arizona, which might as well be Kazakhstan to us. We are much closer to you guys in New Orleans culturally and geographically than we are to Arizona, which is a lot more geographically and culturally aligned with California and the west coast. Even New Mexico is more culturally aligned with California than it is with the state just to the east of it. Your comment about St. Louis is also a head-scratcher, as New Orleans is significantly closer geographically to Houston and Dallas than it is to St. Louis. Culturally, New Orleans has also been diverging from St. Louis for many years, as St. Louis has decidedly become more oriented toward the Great Lakes states.

    I do like that you managed to get Indianapolis out of the AFC “South,” where it doesn’t really belong, but I think the NFC South ought to be dismantled, just like the Southeast Division of the NHL was. All of those teams minus Atlanta are small markets, and all four of them have limited popularity, especially Jacksonville and Tampa Bay. The Deep South, including Atlanta (which is probably the worst pro sports city in the country) is just not a great environment for professional sport, as most people there gravitate toward college teams. Thus, I think putting all of those NFC South teams in other divisions with more popular teams will help boost their following.

    • I have to admit, I honestly wondered if you were serious at first. I’ll split up my reply info a few sections.

      How do you imagine Dallas to be so closely aligned with Washington, DC, New York, and Philadelphia? I don’t see how Texas is similar in any way to any of those places, and I’ve been to all those cities.

      There is one team in Seattle, and there are three teams in Califoria. That forms one natural division, and it’s also three rivalries that are already intense (Seattle-san francisco, Oakland-san Diego, and Oakland-san francisco [even though they don’t play much]). The Cowboys are among the most Western teams remaining.

      That’s why the NFC East contained the Cardinals for a long time. They were in the general vicinity, relatively speaking, assuming the Cardinals weren’t added to a division with West coast teams, and I’ve just explained why I wouldn’t do that. Arizona is only one time zone away, just like the other members of the Cowboys’ current division.

    • You say St. Louis is aligned with the Great Lakes. I don’t know where you get that from, but right now they play with Arizona (as much like Kazakhstan you might say it is, it’s even moreso to residents of Missouri) and two West Coast teams. How does that make sense for them?

      That’s the only sensical geographic alternative to Dallas playing Arizona, Denver, and Kansas City. I don’t think Rams fans care one iota about the Cardinals even though they’re in the same division at the moment, but as I said, that was a good rivalry with the saints not too long ago. It was even a decent rivalry when the Rams were in Anaheim. Of course the state of Missouri would like two Rams-Chiefs games a year, but they would have no tie at all with the Broncos.

    • So if we leave the Rams in the mountain/southwest division, whatever you want to call it, I’ll grant that New Orleans, Houston, Dallas, makes sense, but then the southeastern area makes less sense.

      So I guess the Falcons round out that division (putting the Cowboys with no team they’ve been in a division with since 1970), but the remaining southern teams wouldn’t have ANY rivalries with one another. The Bucs and Jags would make sense geographically, but they have hardly ever played each other. Same thing with the Panthers and Titans. There is some history between the Bucs and Panthers, but I’m sure Tampa Bay is the team panthers fans care least about in the current NFC south.

      But as much as I don’t prefer your suggestion, I would still favor it over what exists now. I added a small map at the bottom that I think covers what you’re suggesting.

  6. Whoops, I meant to say “Carolina and Tampa Bay” as members of the NFC South, not “Jacksonville and Tampa Bay.”

    I think that your revised map is an improvement, though I would consider putting Carolina in the AFC East instead of Miami. Put Miami in with the rest of the AFC South (green), while adding in Atlanta. Then switch Tennessee to the NFC South (yellow). Having Miami be the “flagship” franchise of the AFC South would help bolster that division’s popularity, even though I’m still a little wary of intrastate Florida rivalries, just because sports teams don’t really work well in Florida.

    I think having at least one “flagship” franchise is good for each division. I define a “flagship” franchise as a team that has national and international popularity, such as the 49ers, Cowboys, Packers, Giants, Patriots, Broncos, Dolphins, and Steelers.

  7. By the way, I don’t think Arizona is as much of a “Kazakhstan” to people from Midwestern cities like St. Louis as it is to people from Dallas and Houston. A lot of people in cold-weather states spend half the year in Arizona, whereas there’s a lot less cross-travel and cross-cultural interchange between Texas and Arizona, which are both warm-weather states. Arizona is basically Florida for Midwesterners. Florida is more popular with retirees on the East Coast.

    Also, St. Louis does have a decidedly Great Lakes tilt. Just listen to their accents and eat their food. I lived there for four years, and it was way more different from Dallas (where I grew up) than I was expecting. Kansas City is a very different city than St. Louis but is in the same state, so the football rivalry would work well there. Also, Denver is only one state away (especially considering KC is right on the border with Kansas), so it would make sense to keep the Broncos in the same division with the Chiefs.

  8. […] my posts are about college football, I’ve also written previously about conference and divisional realignment in the […]

  9. […] my posts are about college football, I’ve also written previously about conference and divisional realignment in the […]

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