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NFL Realignment: A rebuttal, and changes which include Conference changes

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A different proposal of realigning divisions both within and across the current AFC and NFC.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Washington Redskins Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

After reading the article earlier this week on BTSC, I informed Jeff Hartman I had hypothesized a divisional realignment back in 2016. It might have been boring because it didn’t switch each division, but it was an alignment which made sense. After looking over my old alignment, I decided to take it to the next level and also do an additional realignment across the conferences.

2019 will be the 18th season of the current division format that started in 2002 when the Houston Texans joined the NFL. At the time, the goal was to align teams geographically while still keeping some classic rivalries. But with team travel being a constant issue, how would the divisions look if they were lined up purely by location?

The process used was to start with extreme geographical cities (Seattle, New England, Miami, etc.) and start grouping the closest teams. The most sensible arrangement keeping teams in conference appears to be as follows:

AFC East:

New England

NY Jets

Buffalo

Baltimore

AFC North:

Pittsburgh

Cleveland

Cincinnati

Indianapolis

AFC South:

Tennessee

Houston

Jacksonville

Miami

AFC West:

Kansas City

Denver

Oakland (Las Vegas)

LA Chargers

NFC East:

NY Giants

Philadelphia

Washington

Carolina

NFC North:

Minnesota

Green Bay

Chicago

Detroit

NFC South:

Atlanta

Dallas

New Orleans

Tampa Bay

NFC West:

Arizona

Seattle

San Fransisco

LA Rams

The changes are subtle. In the AFC, Baltimore goes to the East, Miami moves to the South, and Indy replaces the Ravens in the AFC North. As for the NFC, it’s only a swap of Dallas and Carolina while leaving the North and West alone.

The biggest issue with this alignment is keeping Kansas City in the West. There are only seven teams west of the central time zone, so someone has to bite the bullet. Kansas City and Houston are the next farthest teams west in the AFC. If conferences were ignored, Dallas could go into the West because it is slightly west of the AFC teams. But Kansas City isn’t really close to any other market (Minneapolis is the closest over 400 miles away), so it makes sense to keep them in the West in this alignment.


If conferences are ignored for realignment, things suddenly become very interesting. I still labeled conferences as AFC and NFC, but really they could be switched in each geographic direction or completely reassigned altogether. Once again, I started with extreme cities in making my groupings. The only rule I stuck to was Los Angeles and New York had to have a team in each conference rather than be in the same division. Here is how it turned out:

AFC East (Northeast):

New England

NY Jets

Philadelphia

Buffalo

NFC East (Mideast):

NY Giants

Washington

Baltimore

Pittsburgh

AFC North (Mid-central):

Detroit

Cleveland

Cincinnati

Indianapolis

NFC North (North-central):

Minnesota

Green Bay

Chicago

Kansas City

AFC South (Gulf Coast):

Houston

Tampa Bay

New Orleans

Miami

NFC South (Mid-South):

Atlanta

Carolina

Tennessee

Jacksonville

AFC West (Midwest):

LA Chargers

Denver

Arizona

Dallas

NFC West (West Coast):

Seattle

San Fransisco

LA Rams

Oakland (Las Vegas)

I gave additional nicknames to each division to help explain why they were split this particular way. I realize the names are not perfect, but they are mildly close. Yes, Miami is on the Atlantic, but it is in reasonable proximity to the Gulf.

With the exception of New York and Los Angeles, the goal was for any team traveling to another city in their division to not pass by another team’s city in a different division. In the current NFL alignment, the Patriots roughly pass six non-AFC East teams (Philly, Baltimore, Washington, Carolina, Jacksonville, and Tampa) on their way to Miami. Ignoring the LA/NY problem, the new divisions can take a US map and connect the dots of the four teams in each division and the areas covered by these lines would not overlap.

In this configuration, Pittsburgh is in a very interesting situation. Yes, the Steelers are geographically closest to Cleveland, but Pittsburgh is farther east than anyone in the Mid-central and the East needed one more team. Any other team would cause areas to overlap.

If ignoring the restrictions of the multi-team cities, Philadelphia and the New York Giants would swap, while the LA Chargers and the Las Vegas Raiders switch divisions. If the Raiders are moving to Las Vegas in 2020, their new city should determine their placement.

So if realignment were to occur, what would be the most interesting for the Steelers? Would it be to stick with Cleveland, Cincinnati, and gain Indianapolis, or the conference change yielding Baltimore, Washington, and the NY Giants or Philadelphia? Or is it best to just leave everything alone? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.