Posted on: January 18, 2010 3:11 pm
Edited on: January 18, 2010 10:15 pm

NFL Realignment

Before anyone gets bent out of shape, I fully acknowledge this will never happen. The battle between sticking to what makes rich and powerful people more rich and powerful and what makes sense is usually over before it ever begins. However, in my fantasy world, I would like to see the NFL realigned in to divisions that make geographical sense with teams that are in logical proximity to one another.

The biggest hurdles to making this a reality are that some traditional divisional rivalries would be broken up, some teams would switch conferences, and a couple of teams would need to be relocated to new cities. As far as the divisional rivalries are concerned, there are really very few that have nationwide significance and remain strong throughout the test of time. More often, the teams tend to play each other more tightly because of familiarity but national implications between the teams are far more sporadic. On the other hand, passionate rivalries can emerge that exist outside of the division, such as the battle between Indianapolis and New England over the course of the last decade. The fact that this proposal better contains divisions within geographical areas, added to the reality that these teams would begin playing twice a year, are sure to produce new and lasting rivalries.

As far as the relocation of teams is concerned, this is a requirement born out of the continued neglect by the league to cultivate an adequate number of Western-based teams. There are currently a total of 6 NFL teams in the entire Western half of the United States and this needs to be remedied. By relocating two of the newer franchises awarded that have failed to achieve Super Bowl appearances to Western locations, as they should have been located in the first place, balance can be better achieved. The first relocation would be Jacksonville to Los Angeles. This is a move that has already been rumored and debated. Los Angeles is the 2nd largest television market in the nation whereas Florida was already well represented prior to the birth of the Jaguars. Jacksonville failed to prevent television blackouts in the majority of their home games this year. There is a formidable argument to be made for this move.

The second relocation I immediately confess is self-serving to what I would like to see. This would be the relocation of the Buffalo Bills to Portland, Oregon. Although the Bills have achieved 4 Superbowl teams and were one of the more memorable franchises of the late 80's and early 90's, fan support has wavered leading the team to be another frequent source of relocation rumors, including Canada.  Portland is a top-20 television market and would immediately fuel rivalries with both their Northwest neighbor, Seattle, and California teams. Now to the details.

AFC West
Arizona, Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Diego.

AFC North
Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and St. Louis.

AFC South
Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, and Tennessee.

AFC East
Cleveland, New England, New Jersey (Jets), and Pittsburgh.

NFC West
Denver, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle

NFC North
Chicago, Detriot, Green Bay, and Minnesota

NFC South
Atlanta, Carolina, Miami, and Tampa Bay

NFC East
Baltimore, New York (Giants), Philadelphia, and Washington.

As you can see, the only division completely left alone would be the NFC North. The move of Dallas to the AFC would be the most shocking, but they clearly do not belong in an East division in the first place. A couple new divisional rivalries of note would be Pittsburgh and New England as well as Denver and San Francisco. I would be interested to hear if others had thoughts on how we might reshape the league.
Category: NFL
Posted on: January 7, 2010 1:37 am

Wild-Card Preview: Green Bay @ Arizona.

Anyone that believes that they can predict the winner of this Sunday's Green Bay at Arizona wild-card matchup based solely on the outcome of the contest between these same two teams last Sunday is foolish. Anyone that ignores the speed and intensity in which Green Bay assumed control in route to a 33-7 victory is equally foolish.

To correctly predict winners in the pressure cooker that is the NFL playoffs, one must give considerable weight to how any two teams will match up once pitted against one another. There is a real temptation to rely too heavily on regular season contests between the same teams, when available, especially when the contest is as immediate and decisive as it was in this case. Beyone the assertion that Arizona merely had nothing to play for, the problem with that approach is that the post season has the potential to dramatically influence the intensity level, play scripting, play calling, and ultimately the performances that shape the outcome of a contest. And it is reasonable to assume that the losing team in this type of one-sided contest will have much greater to learn from it and carry forward to the next meeting than the team that so clearly dominated.

Some of the match-up deficiencies that Arizona had coming in to last week's contest are not going to be immediately remedied by having their starters play for four quarters. For instance, Green Bay has outscored their opponents by an average of more than 15 points a game over the last half of the season, compared to only an average of two points per game by Arizona during the same time span. Green Bay's defense allows roughly the same combined passing and rushing yards as Green Bay averages merely through the air. Arizona has the 2nd ranked passing offense in the NFL, and a quarterback, Kurt Warner, that continues to be one of of the most overlooked in the game. But will it be enough to overcome the massive disparities in team defense?

Injuries can also have a bearing on a match up, and both teams have concerns in that regard. For Arizona, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie sat out of Wednesday's practice. For Green Bay, many nervous eyes are still watching the every move of stand-out cornerback Charles Woodson and his jammed right shoulder.

Once you have broken down all the rankings and statistics, you must also look at things like motivations and team chemistry. Last week's blow out offered a powerful motivating factor to both of the teams that played. For Green Bay, that motivation is increased confidence. Confidence to win on the road, which they will likely need to do three times to reach the Superbowl, and confidence against the very team they will need to defeat first in order to get there. For Arizona, they recieved an opportunity to do some soul searching and to enter the postseason with a chip on their shoulder of being just as overlooked and doubted as last year, when they found themselves a little more than 2-minutes worth of defense from winning their first Superbowl.

As far as chemistry is concerned, the Packers seem to have found theirs in abundance following the two well-hyped losses against Brett Favre and the Vikings and the subsequent let down against the then-winless Tampa Bay Bucs on the heels of the second loss against the Vikings. Since then, Green Bay has lost only one of eight games, a one-point nailbiter in Pittsburgh that took every ounce of effort and magic for the Steeler to prevail in. Meanwhile, Arizona has seeminly meandered through another season in a somewhat competitively challenged NFC West division. Indeed, many have suggested that Green Bay is this year's Cardinals in asserting that the Packers have been equally overlooked this year. Others, have protested that this year's Cardinals may again be Arizona itself.

Finally, it never hurts to respect the history of the game and give some thought to recent trends. The 4th seed in the NFC playoffs has struggled in the wild-card round since the NFL moved to an 8-division format eight years ago. The 5th seed has defeated the 4th seed in 4 out of 7 contest, has lost in overtime once, and has lost by a single point twice. Last year, Arizona's 30-24 victory in the wild-card game represented the most lopsided victory by a #4 seed that the pairing has produced in 7 contests. I turn to the recent performance of teams that lose the Superbowl during the following year as further evidence. No losing team has returned to the Superbowl since the Buffalo Bills lost four straight, ending in 1993. More recently, teams that fall short in the Superbowl have struggled mightily to even make the post-season the next year, and by that standard, the Cardinals this year are already overachievers.

While I believe that none of these factors are overwhelming in isolation, their combined weight when added together leads me to believe that the Green Bay Packers will again prevail over the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday, but in a much closer contest.
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