Have a look at the history of changes in league structure until the 2016 NFL changes were made!
Changes, relocations, new expansion teams are common things associated with the American major leagues. However, the National Football League, the NFL, that became terribly popular in Europe in the last decade, looked like a somewhat steady organization for European fans. Teams were relocated in the NBA and in the NHL recently but that was no news for Europe-based followers of the sports.
However, the new European fanbase experiences the 2016 NFL changes as an interesting novelty. And further changes can come soon, with the future of the Chargers and the Raiders still in the balance. Moreover, the born of a new expansion franchise in London in the next five years is also topic that is often talked about. But before this all could take shape, let’s have a look at how the NFL was formed and how it looked in the last fourteen seasons like, as EU internet betting players have learned it!
The birth of the modern NFL
For the birth of the modern NFL, a major overhaul in professional football was needed. The landscape of pro football looked like this before the 1970 AFL-NFL merger: there were two professional leagues, competing with each other for the best players’ signatures.
From the 1966 season, their winners met in the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The one that is known as the ‘Super Bowl’ for those who bet on sports in the US since the merger.
The younger American Football League and the more traditional National Football League have merged in 1970, 50 years after the NFL was founded. The two leagues have become the ‘conferences’ of the expanded NFL. Since the NFL had six more teams than the AFL, the Baltimore Colts, the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers were transferred to the AFC.
Major relocations before the 2016 NFL changes
This structure was in place for more than 30 years, however, minor changes were made. In 1976 two new expansion teams were added to the league, the Seattle Seahawks and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, raising the number of teams to 28.
In 1982, the first relocation of the modern era happened, when the Raiders moved to Los Angeles from Oakland. It was followed by the Colts leaving Baltimore for Indianapolis in 1984.
Then in 1988, the Cardinals moved to Phoenix from St. Louis. By 1994, they also realized that the Arizona locals would rather support a team called ‘Arizona Cardinals’ instead of the ‘Phoenix Cardinals’, so the team was renamed.
In 1995 the league added two more expansion teams, the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars (30 teams). The Rams left Los Angeles – now we know that not permanently – and moved to St. Louis. The Raiders also have left LA to move back to Oakland.
A year later the Cleveland Browns were relocated to Baltimore and were rebranded as the ‘Ravens’, officially a new franchise. The Cleveland Browns were revived in 1999, taking the number of teams to 31. The Oilers also left Houston in 1997 to move to Memphis, than a year later to Nashville. For the 1999 season the franchise was renamed as the ‘Tennessee Titans’.
All the expansions and relocations created a rather chaotic state with several East Coast teams playing in Western divisions and vice versa. It was time for a major revision of league structure and the addition of a new expansion team made way for a whole new structure.
The biggest changes in the NFL structure
It was planned that a 32nd expansion team will be given to the city of Los Angeles. However, stunning US gambling news, the league was unable to reach a stadium deal with the city and thus the new franchise was created in Houston, Texas and brilliantly named ‘Houston Texans’.
The number of teams increased to 32 meant that there is the possibility to create a more rational and geographically balanced structure. The teams, 16 in each division were divided into four divisions, North, South, East and West respectively, creating the perfect league structure that was easy to learn.
The only twist was leaving the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East instead of referring them to any of the geographically more appropriate NFC West or South divisions. The reason behind this was historical: the Cowboys wanted to continue competing against their long-time rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins, plus the New York Giants.
How the teams did until the 2016 NFL changes?
If we look at Super Bowl titles per divisions and conferences – using the current structure – retrospectively back until 1967, we can see that the picture is quite balanced. The NFC did slightly better and the most successful division is the NFC East, hosting the five-time champions Dallas Cowboys and the four-time winners New York Giants, as well as the three-time champions Washington Redskins.
The Southern divisions have to do better, but apart from them, Super Bowl rings are well-spread over the six remaining divisions.
Will the 2016 NFL changes alter the picture?
Fortunately the 2016 NFL changes, the Rams moving back to Los Angeles and the Chargers possibly following them, won’t cause any geographical problems. All the teams moving or possibly moving can remain their own respective divisions. The Los Angeles Rams move closer to their NFC West rivals. The Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers can continue to play in the AFC West, even if they will relocate to Los Angeles or San Antonio.
A possible future London NFL franchise would cause some problems however. As more and more NFL matches are played in the European city, the league and the teams start to get used to occasional trips over the Atlantic. However, it would be more challenging for a London-based team, whether a new expansion franchise or an existing franchise after relocation, to move back and forth over the Atlantic.
Okay, they could accomplish their 8 away games in two one-month-long tours, but they would inevitably need an HQ in the states too. So, this would be an extra demand towards them. The NFL has a few years left to research if the UK market would worthy enough to exploit through such challenges.