This post comes totally from out in left field, as the NFL's current divisional structure seems to work fine, but with heated talks of realignment in both the MLB and NHL, it is an idea that keeps popping into my head.
Travel is much less of an issue in the NFL than in the NHL or MLB. NFL teams are traveling to one destination a week 8 times. That is a total of 16 flights over the course of a regular season. My best guess with no research at all is that baseball players probably take around 60 and hockey players 35 or so (those might not even be close). A west coast trip for a baseball team or a western swing through Canada for a hockey franchise might be as travel intense as an entire NFL season is.
So, keep in mind while reading this that realignment is not an important issue in the NFL landscape. These are just the kinds of posts that get written during prolonged lockouts.
I immediately abolished the current conferences and divisions and focused on two main things during my realignment: travel and rivalries. While I wrote above that travel doesn't mean much in the current NFL, it would unfair for the Jaguars to be in a division with Seattle, San Francisco and Oakland, for example. I also tried to keep some of the best rivalries together in the same division.
There are no conferences.
The 8 division winners make the playoffs plus the next 2 teams with the best record, regardless of division. Tiebreaker will be head to head, then divisional record.
Without further ado, here are the new divisions...
Two natural, big time rivalries in Pittsburgh/Baltimore and Baltimore/Washington are the highlights of this division. Pittsburgh/Buffalo has the potential to be a great rivalry and all four teams play blue collar football in cold weather. I'd be excited about this division as a Steeler fan, though not having Cleveland is an issue.
New England Patriots
New York Jets
New York Giants
This is the glamour division out of the bunch and chances are one of these teams will be featured on Sunday Night Football every single week. ESPN would kill to have all these huge media markets in one division. Rivalries abound in almost every matchup. The Jets/Giants games twice a year would be epic.
The Battle of Ohio needs to be kept alive and Detroit and Indianapolis don't have any current divisional foes that need to be on their schedule twice a year. As it stands now, the Colts are looking at an awfully easy schedule but that wouldn't be a long term issue.
Green Bay Packers
St. Louis Rams
Lots of history in this group, which is mostly comprised of the current NFC North. Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota have all built up a healthy hatred for each other and St. Louis seems to be a natural rival that would fit in nicely. St. Louis and Chicago already have a big rivalry in hockey and baseball. I think the Rams would be a great addition to the other three NFC North teams.
San Francisco 49ers
San Diego Chargers
With no teams close to Seattle, my hand was pretty much forced in this group. I wanted to keep Oakland and San Francisco together and really wanted Dallas to end up in the same division as the 49ers but it was too tough. Three California teams in one division isn't a bad thing though.
Kansas City Chiefs
New Orleans Saints
Kansas City and Denver have one of the better rivalries in the NFL and should play each other twice per season. Arizona isn't quite far enough west to be grouped with the California teams and was one of the harder franchises to find a home for. New Orleans could fit into a few different divisions, but this seemed to work out best..
This is probably my favorite division of all. Dallas and Houston are instantly one of the best matchups in the league and Tennesee and Atlanta offer talented, respected franchises to go along with the two Texas teams. Every divisional game would be a must watch and the ratings in the south would be unbelievable.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The last division is based mostly off of geography. All of the Florida teams should be together and Carolina is new enough that the Panthers don't have any longstanding rivalries that need to be respected.
Put Dallas in the Walsh Division, Seattle in the Stram division and New Orleans in the Landry division (might need to change the name) and you get your Dallas/San Fran rivalry, and the Seahawks get their old AFC West rivalries with Denver and KC, along with their NFC West rival Arizona. In a dream world, I would swap out KC for the Raiders too.