When the NFL added two divisions -- and weakened the AFC West
Thirteen years ago Thursday, NFL owners unanimously approved multiple changes to the league’s divisional structure, a move made logical with the addition of a 32nd team — the Houston Texans — on tap for 2002.
Among other changes, a South division was added to each conference, and teams were shuffled about to make eight four-team divisions. The Central divisions were rebranded as North divisions, with the southernmost members of the Central (Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Tennessee) all moving to the South pods.
Yes, there was a time when it was just, well, accepted that Tampa Bay played in a division with Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota and Green Bay. That was the deal. The Buccaneers wore orange, the Lions wore Honolulu blue, and the green carpet-like substance was AstroTurf. If the game you were watching stunk, you couldn’t tweet about it, for there was no Twitter, though you could fire off a humorous fax if you were so inclined.
Anyways, in all of the divisional realignment to begin this century, only one team — Seattle — changed conferences, moving from the AFC West to the NFC West.
To this point, the Seahawks’ move has strengthened the NFC West and weakened the AFC West. Since 2002, the Seahawks have made the postseason eight times, winning nine playoff games. In that same span, the AFC West’s members (Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego) have combined to win 10 postseason games. Moreover, the AFC West is the only division not to produce a Super Bowl winner since the 2002 realignment.
For those nostalgic about the NFL’s six-division days of yore, below is a listing of the divisions in 2001 — and the subsequent moves made to realign them.
Eastern: New England, Miami, N.Y. Jets, Indianapolis, Buffalo.
Central: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Cincinnati.
Western: Oakland, Seattle, Denver, Kansas City, San Diego.
Indianapolis shifted from the AFC East to the AFC South.
Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh became members of the AFC North.
Houston, upon beginning play in 2002, became a member of the AFC South.
Jacksonville shifted from the AFC Central to the AFC South.
Tennessee shifted from the AFC Central to the AFC South.
Seattle moved from the AFC West to the NFC West.
Eastern: Philadelphia, Washington, N.Y. Giants, Arizona, Dallas.
Central: Chicago, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Detroit.
Western: St. Louis, San Francisco, New Orleans, Atlanta, Carolina.
Arizona moved from the NFC East to the NFC West.
Tampa Bay moved from the NFC Central to the NFC South.
Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota formed the NFC North.
New Orleans, Carolina and Atlanta moved from the NFC West to the NFC South.