by Evan Stremke
Published Sep 18, 2022 (Updated Jul 13, 2023)
Overview of reformatted conferences, divisions, and newly instituted rivalries. View entire Miro board.
The way most sports leagues in the United States divide up their teams into conferences and divisions has always struck me as a little odd (prior to 2013, Major League Baseball's AL West had four teams, the NL Central had six, and the other four divisions had five each).
The NFL, however, makes me scratch my head more than most. I can swallow the Miami Dolphins being in the AFC East because they're on the Atlantic coast, but I'll never understand how the Indianapolis (39.7684° N) Colts are in the AFC South while the Cincinnati (39.1031° N) Bengals are in the AFC North, or how the Dallas Cowboys are in the NFC East, yet the Carolina Panthers (Charlotte, NC) are in the NFC South.
Following the lead of the NBA, I thought it might make more sense to approach the NFL's conferences and divisions from an East vs. West perspective, but not in those exact terms. Instead, I've opted to name the "East" the Pioneer Conference and the "West" the Frontier Conference.
Concept logos for the Pioneer and Frontier Conferences. “Pioneer” for the East Coast teams where settlers first arrived; “Frontier” for the Midwest and Western teams in what was once the American Frontier. They’re also a nod to my time spent at the University of Minnesota.
NFL Conference & Division Restructuring
Each conference is separated into two divisions based on each team's hometown location, resulting in four divisions: Northeast; Southeast; West; Midwest. These divisions are "separated" further into two competing “sides” as a result of new rivalry matches.
While these "sides" aren't formally identified by name, they serve as an important factor in scheduling the following year's regular season and are determined using the results of each previous year's rivalry games. Since they're prone to shuffling and reordering from year to year, it didn't make a ton of sense to name them unless the names were generic like Alpha and Bravo.
The distribution of teams within their new divisions (Northeast, Southeast, West, and Midwest), identified by color. The Houston Texans are in the Southeast Division (purple).