If the NFL map made sense
By Corey Barnes
The map of the United States is full of irregularities. State lines abruptly zig and zag to follow rivers. City and county borders appear jagged or uneven. So too is the NFL landscape full of incongruities. Often times they are testament to times gone by and divisional alignments date back decades. Few people would describe Dallas, Texas as “East Coast” but it’s impossible to imagine the NFC East without it. But what if the NFL’s divisions made sense? Now that St. Louis is returning to California, we have an excuse to pull out the old map and see how we could improve it. What if in 2016 Cartographer Roger Goodell threw out the old maps and re-drew the lines in the sand?
For the purposes of this map I am honoring AFC/NFC affiliations.
NFC North – Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings
The NFL actually did a great job with the NFC North. Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit, and the Twin Cities all consist of similar people with similar weather (cold, snowy, gray) and in many cases similar heartbreak. Minus the 2010 Champion Packers one would need to go back to 1996 for yet another Titletown victory. The Bears have waited over thirty years since their last Super Bowl. The Lions have never even played in The Big One. The Vikings in the playoffs? A sore subject of late. The geography makes sense for four cities who love both football, drinking, and shoveling snow.
NFC East – Carolina Panthers, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington
The Dallas Cowboys are not in the “east” as most people define it. However, the other members of the division all occupy natural rivalries along the Atlantic Corridor – New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. The next logical step is to include another of the original colonies. The Carolina Panthers would inject some strong play into a division that for the past several years has lacked a top dog. Plus Cam Newton (and his various sponsors) can appreciate more publicity in major east coast markets.
NFC South – Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers,
With Carolina pulled East, someone else will need to help round out the NFC South. That team calls Dallas home. The Cowboys join the Saints, Buccanears, and Falcons in the south and give joy to their numerous fans who call SEC Country home. Plus, who doesn’t want to see Matt Ryan and Tony Romo trade interceptions in a late December divisional game?
NFC West – Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks
The biggest winner in the Rams relocation to Los Angeles? Hollywood and millions of Angelenos. The second biggest winner may in fact be Seattle. The Seahawks regularly lead the league in most miles flown during the season. That won’t change unless the earth swallows up Oregon, but moving the Rams to same time zone will save the club a few hours in the air. Plus, the Rams’ return creates a niche market for displaced out of town fans. Can you imagine how badly Steelers Nation will outnumber the Rams fans next time they play?
AFC West – Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers
The AFC West is hardly perfect, but it’s tough to alleviate the wide tracts of land that separate Denver and Kansas City from their Pacific hugging division mates. Plus you don’t want to interrupt such long standing AFL affiliations. I once heard a Bronco fan describe a Raiders fans in the following way, “They’re crazy. They drink their own blood.” You can’t put a price on that sort of animosity.
AFC South – Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans
Miami joining the AFC South just makes sense. The Colts were never truly “southern” and with this switch all four clubs reside below the Mason-Dixie Line. Plus for the first time two Florida teams would occupy the same division. Plus with more games in hot climates there is a better chance that JJ Watt will fully become his spirit animal – Danny Bateman from “The Replacements”
AFC East – Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, New York Jets
Baltimore joining the AFC East creates a nifty parallel with their baseball counterparts. The Orioles, Red Sox, and Yankees have enjoyed some fantastic rivalries in the past century. Tossing the Ravens in alongside the Jets and Patriots could theoretically push the respective fans into instigating a second Civil War. Plus recent Ravens-Pats playoff matchups have been appointment viewing and I would be down to have that show guaranteed twice per year.
AFC North – Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers
While the Ravens inclusion in the AFC North creates a “fun” rivalry with the Browns, Baltimore is not the most logical choice for a Midwest-heavy AFC North. Instead I would support throwing the Indianapolis Colts into the mix. Only 112 miles separate Indianapolis and Cincinnati, and one would cover 317 miles to get from Naptown to Cleveland. The Big Ten parallels are also intriguing for Indiana fans who resent the fact that the Hoosiers have note defeated the Buckeyes in football since 1988. The Colts would represent another tough team with whom the Browns will have to contend, but the geography is indisputable.
The true loser in the above scenario is St. Louis. No city wants to lose their team, and you often feel powerless when it happens. Cleveland knows this better than most. But perhaps the relocation lemons can be the basis for restructuring lemonade. And for the die hards who want to see illogical and curious alignments remember: new divisions means new rivalries.
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