May 23, 2001
2001 will be the last season the Giants face the Arizona Cardinals as an NFC East opponent. There will be some changes made for the 2002 season, as the NFL owners yesterday approved a realignment of the expanded 32-team league into eight four-team divisions.
Houston joins the NFL as its 32nd team, and each team will face its division rivals twice a season. Other matchups will be determined on a rotating basis, with every team playing every other team at least once every four years. The league says 12 teams will qualify for the playoffs - the eight division winners plus two wild-card teams from each conference.
This new alignment
replaces the six division format that was in place since 1970, when the league merged with the American Football League and three teams; the Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers, became part of the newly formed AFC.
The Seattle Seahawks, the only team to switch conferences, will move to the NFC West from the AFC West, to join the Arizona Cardinals, relocating from the NFC East.
The Houston Texans, will join the AFC South division along with Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Tennessee. That unfortunately puts Houston, the expansion team, with some of the toughest teams in the AFC. It also makes for a nice rivalry, since Tennessee left the city of
Houston after the 1996 regular season.
Super Bowl champion Baltimore looks like it could clean up playing its division rivals, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, but you have to remember that the division games make up only 6 games of the schedule under this new plan.
The new scheduling format provides that:
- There will be an increased common-opponent emphasis with every team in a division playing against 14 common opponents.
- All teams will play each other on a regular basis, home and away, for a more consistent presentation of attractive games, eliminating the many schedule aberrations of the past.
- Teams are guaranteed to play all nondivision opponents in their conference at least once every three years, and at home at least once every six years.
- Every AFC team will play every NFC team once every four years, and at home once every eight years.
- A team’s record from the previous year will have less of a bearing on its schedule, with only two (rather than four) opponents being based on the previous year’s standing. Thus, the so-called “easy” fifth-place schedules are eliminated.
- The division in which a team resides will be less of a factor in a team’s won-loss record with 10 of 16 games each year being against non-division teams.
Every team within a division will play 16 games as follows:
- Home and away against its three division opponents (6 games).
- The four teams from another division within its conference on a rotating three-year cycle (4 games).
- The four teams from a division in the other conference on a rotating four-year cycle (4 games).
- Two intraconference games based on the prior year’s standings (2 games). These games will match a first-place team against the first-place teams in the two same-conference divisions the team is not scheduled to play that season. The second-place, third-place, and fourth-place teams in a conference will be matched in the same way each year.