As it currently stands, the NFL’s divisions are a result of the AFL – NFL merger that eventually turned into what we know as today’s NFL. Because the divisions were based on two leagues merging, basic logic and geography were not taken into account. The most obvious problem: Dallas being in the same division as Philly, Washington, and New York.
Now that the NFL is by far the most profitable professional sports league, they should make some changes that would create fun rivalries, as well as reduce the overall travel of each NFL team (except Seattle, they’re out of luck no matter who is in their division). A more regional group of divisions would increase the fan experience, resulting in a positive outcome for the teams and the league.
In my proposed plan there are no conferences, only eight separate divisions.
Here’s a map that I so artistically drew up of my proposed divisions, and I’ll go into more detail below:
NOTE**: The four dots that are not circled are the Northeast division (circling them made it too messy)
- Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders
- San Francisco 49ers
- Los Angeles Rams
- Los Angeles Chargers
As it is now, this division would be a fun “Battle for California”. When the Raiders move to Vegas, it will actually make the travel easier for every team in the division except the 49ers, as Vegas is essentially East Los Angeles, a quick 40 minute flight. This is a fun, young division.
BIG SKY DIVISION
- Seattle Seahawks
- Arizona Cardinals
- Denver Broncos
- Kansas City Chiefs
I had to steal a clever name from the Big Sky Conference of college football for this one. From the rainforest of Washington to the high desert of Arizona, and the Rocky Mountains around Denver, the Big Sky Division made sense (Kansas City has sky too, I guess). This is the only division that I came up with that does not help every team geographically, for more convenient travel for every team. There is no scenario where Seattle travels as little as other teams. The travel situation improves for Kansas City and Denver in this division, and remains the same for Arizona.
GULF COAST DIVISION
- Dallas Cowboys
- Houston Texans
- New Orleans Saints
- Atlanta Falcons
This division fixes my biggest problem with the current NFL divisions, the Dallas Cowboys being in the NFC East. I don’t care about historical rivalries. With media the way it is today, those rivalries and traditions will be fine (and addressed at the end of this blog). This new division includes the “Texas Showdown” and current rivals Atlanta, and New Orleans. The travel would be easier on every team in this division, with Atlanta’s travel remaining similar.
- Miami Dolphins
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- Carolina Panthers
Roster spots on these teams will be highly sought after, as they will only leave the state of Florida a few times per year. Players will love this because of the obvious, weather, and the not-so-obvious, taxes. No state income tax in The Sunshine State. Players have to pay taxes in every state that they play in, so when you barely leave a state that has no taxes, you can save a lot of money. Also, the travel issue improves for every team, especially Jacksonville.
RUST BELT DIVISION
- Cleveland Browns
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Indianapolis Colts
- Tennessee Titans
This is by far the least sexy division (it actually makes me sick to my stomach thinking about it), but it needs to happen in the name of common sense. Travel vastly improves for Tennessee and Indy. Indy currently being in the AFC South is also geographically confusing, so this fixes it.
GREAT LAKES DIVISION
- Minnesota Vikings
- Green Bay Packers
- Detroit Lions
- Chicago Bears
Yes, this is the current NFC North. The geography actually made sense on this one.
- Buffalo Bills
- Pittsburgh Steelers
- Baltimore Ravens
- Washington R-Words (Shoutout PFT Commenter)
This is the group of four teams that are not circled on the map that I made above. Baltimore and D.C. are a lot closer to Pittsburgh than the zoomed in portion of the map suggests (This explanation is for you west coast folks). This seems to be the most random group of teams that I put into a division, but there is a chance for a lot of fun. Also, like every division, the travel situation improves for every team.
- New England Patriots
- New York Jets
- New York Giants
- Philadelphia Eagles
This division may be one of the most exciting because of the Boston, New York, and Philly fans. You guys are insane. It also keeps two pairs of traditional rivals together in the Patriots/Jets, and Eagles/Giants. These teams might benefit the most from the improved travel, but they will be burdened the most by the winter with no December divisional games in the south.
Proposed Playoff Format:
Instead of the current format where six teams from each conference get in, I would suggest that the top 14 teams makes the playoffs, with the top two teams overall getting a first-round bye. Every division champion would get a playoff spot regardless of record, and the remaining teams would be the best remaining teams by records (using the current NFL tie-breaking formula if needed). The first round of the playoffs would look like this (numbers are overall NFL seed, and all division champs get home playoff games):
- Division Champ (BYE)
- Division Champ (BYE)
- Division Champ vs. 14. Wild Card
- Division Champ vs. 13. Wild Card
- Division Champ vs. 12. Wild Card
- Division Champ vs. 11. Wild Card
- Division Champ vs. 10. Wild Card
- Division Champ vs. 9. Wild Card
Each team would have a home and road game against all teams in your division (6 games total), and eight games against two other divisions that rotate each season. Final two games are either historical rivalries that are not fulfilled by the rotating schedule, or big games that viewers want to see, decided by a scheduling committee (Super Bowl rematch, QB’s former team, etc.).
Someone tweet this at Roger Goodell.