Periodically, colleges and universities in the United States change what sports leagues – colloquially known as “conferences” they are aligned with under the NCAA umbrella. In contrast, in the NFL these changes are usually driven by teams having been added to the league. In addition, for several years, NFL wonks have been considering, to various degrees of formality, adding a 17th game to the regular season schedule.
I’m all in favor, actually, because it would be really easy to do by realigning the NFL’s eight current absurdly small four-team divisions into four eight-team ones. The requisite two games against each division opponent, plus my favorite quirk of the NFL’s competitive balance scheme, scheduling games against teams with equivalent finishes the previous year in other divisions, yields a neat 17 games.
The NFL playoffs have a near-perfect balance of just deserts and drama at 12 teams, so I’d keep that: the four division winners, plus eight wild cards based on record, though I’d be inclined to do overall seeding by record, 1 to 12. If the NFL would prefer to keep up the polite fiction of separate conferences, the divisions could be aligned two and two and each seeded 1-6, it doesn’t really matter.
There’s no convenient way to carry out the new alignment, though – or is there? As long as one doesn’t scuffle too much over the NFL’s history, there are actually some lovely logical arrangements just waiting to be made, based on the names – though not the actual geographical footprints – of some of college’s classic conferences. With that as a reference, here is my proposed NFL realignment:
- Big East: Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, New York Giants, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins
- Mid-American: Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings
- Mountain West: Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Oakland (Las Vegas) Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks
- Southeastern: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans