NFL'S brave new league

August 27, 2002 4:33 AM
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Are you ready for some football? Most of Las Vegas has been waiting for six months for the start of the football season. The preseason is practically completed and teams are ready to kick starting Sept. 3.

There have been several significant changes on the NFL landscape that will impact what your favorite team might accomplish this season. One significant addition has been the reintroduction of Houston into the NFL.

The Houston Texans become the NFL’s 32nd franchise, which spawned the most significant structural change in the NFL in decades ”” realignment.

The NFL now has eight rather than six divisions with each having exactly four teams. The Playoff formula will have all eight division champions making the postseason along with two Wild Cards from each conference, leaving intact a twelve team Playoff field.

Much to the NFL’s credit the realigned divisions make geographic sense for the most part although some long time rivalry considerations have kept Dallas aligned with Philadelphia, Washington and the New York Giants.

Seattle has been shifted from the AFC to the NFC so that each conference has 16 teams. As a result of realignment each team’s schedule takes on a new shape. Rather than having eight games against divisional foes (10 in the case of teams in the former AFC Central) each team now plays only six divisional games and 10 games outside of its division.

Thus, whereas in the past a team’s divisional play greatly affected its chances to win its division and make the playoffs, such is no longer the case. Teams no longer play at least half of their schedule against division rivals. So it will be easier for teams to win division titles by playing well outside of their divisions.

Here’s a look at how the new divisions are aligned.

The AFC East remains virtually intact with Buffalo, Miami, New England and the New York Jets remaining and Indianapolis departing.

The AFC North is essentially the former AFC Central with four of the six teams remaining. Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh form this newly named Division while Jacksonville and Tennessee are aligned elsewhere.

The AFC South is a new division that includes both Jacksonville and Tennessee from the old AFC Central, Indianapolis from the old AFC East and the league’s newest team, Houston.

The AFC West remains essentially the same with long time rivalries dating back to the old AFL intact. Denver, Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego, while Seattle is gone.

The NFC East retains four of its five members with Dallas, the New York Giants, Philadelphia and Washington filling out the division. Arizona departs.

The NFC North retains four of the five members of the former NFC Central which maintains long standing rivalries among Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota. Tampa Bay no longer has to deal with multiple cold weather games.

The newly formed NFC South makes much more geographical sense than the former NFC West did with three of its five former members forming the heart of this new division. Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans leave the NFC West and join with Tampa Bay.

The NFC West retains two old members, St. Louis and San Francisco, while adding Arizona and Seattle, which flies over from the AFC West.

It will take some time getting used to the new alignments and understanding which rivalries remain and which new ones shall be forged. Keep reading GamingToday for the latest news, trends and analysis of the NFL as we get ready to begin an exciting season.