It seems like ages ago, but remember when Atlanta wasn’t in the NFC South? It was only 2001 when St.Louis, San Francisco, Atlanta, New Orleans and Carolina were the “West” of the NFC. What I remember from those days were, with a few exceptions, the 49ers being a powerhouse and smothering the Falcons twice a year. Steve Young teams expecially would get up by 3-4 touchdowns by halftime and coasting to a comfortable victory. I was living in California for those years, so the San Francisco/Atlanta games were the only TV broadcasts of the Falcons during the season. My Dad was a 49er fan to top it all off.
I still don’t understand how the alignment fully fixed the geographical problems. Yes, Atlanta and Carolina should not be in a division with San Francisco – that’s really silly. I know rivalries are a part of football for continuity and the like. But some of the divisions really were mixed up in 2002. Seattle was uprooted as well as Arizona in their divisional alignment. At the time, and still do, think that geography should have been the main tool for realignment – AND… keeping some foundation teams in their respective conferences. Here’s my divisions based on that line of thinking…..
AFC East – Tennessee, Cinncinati, Cleveland, Indianapolis
AFC South – Houston, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City
AFC North – New England, Buffalo, New York Giants, New York Jets
AFC West – San Diego, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle
NFC East – Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Pittsburgh
NFC North – Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, Green Bay – They got one right!!
NFC South – Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Miami, Atlanta
NFC West – Arizona, Denver, Kansas City, St.Louis
With divisions like this – yes, some are dramatically different from now, but over time the geographically rivalries would catch on and be stronger than the ones today. Think about Philadelphia/Pittsburgh, Giants/Jets or Tampa Bay/Jacksonville twice a year?
Obviously, fans of some teams will complain about unbalanced divisions like “oh, the AFC West is too easy or the NFC East is too hard” but you can say that about a few divisions at any given time. I remember when the NFC South was thought of as “easy” and now it’s been one of the best for a number of years. The NFL is constantly ebbing and flowing with the good teams, so this year’s “good” division could be a weaker one in a few years.
In addition to creating new rivals, the NFL would save a bunch of money on travel because six of your games would be closer than right now. Interest and rivalries would be higher in my opinion because areas like New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and others would actually play the team down the road. That would be far more exciting.