The National Football League contains 32 total teams split into 8 divisions of 4 teams each by conference and region. NFL divisions foster geographic rivalries and fairness through structured rotation of opponents. This in-depth guide will analyze the compositions of each NFL division, key divisional matchups, how teams are assigned, scheduling implications, and how winning divisions impacts playoff qualification. Whether you’re a casual NFL fan or seasoned football expert, understanding divisions offers deeper insight into this complex league.

Overview of NFL Divisions

The NFL consists of 2 conferences each containing 4 divisions:

American Football Conference (AFC)

  • East Division
  • North Division
  • South Division
  • West Division

National Football Conference (NFC)

  • East Division
  • North Division
  • South Division
  • West Division

Divisions group teams geographically to minimize travel for fans and cultivate regional rivalries.

How NFL Divisions Align by City and State

Here is the geographic breakdown of each division:

AFC East – 2 New York teams, New England, Miami

AFC North – Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh

AFC South – Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee

AFC West – Denver, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles

NFC East – 2 New York teams, Philadelphia, Washington D.C.

NFC North – Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota

NFC South – Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay

NFC West – Arizona, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle

Concentrating proximate cities and states together maximizes divisional rivalries and travel practicality.

Key Divisional Rivalry Games

Certain matchups emerge as the most heated annual divisional clashes:

AFC East

New England Patriots vs New York Jets – Historic northeast rivals since 1960 launch of AFL. Division’s marquee matchup.

Miami Dolphins vs Buffalo Bills – Longtime foes who dominated the division across the 1970s-80s.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Baltimore Ravens – Hardest hitting rivalry defined by tough defense and physicality.

Cleveland Browns vs Cincinnati Bengals – Geographically closest pairing dates back to 1970 AFL merger.

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts vs Houston Texans – Youthful rivalry showcasing Texas vs. Indiana pride as NFL’s newest division.

Tennessee Titans vs Jacksonville Jaguars – Emerging showdown between consistent division runner-ups.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs vs Las Vegas Raiders – Classic AFL grudge match renewed in Las Vegas.

Los Angeles Chargers vs Denver Broncos – Longtime clash of AFC contenders.

Annual divisional showdowns offer high-stakes drama and bitter bragging rights.

Benefits of Maintaining Consistent NFL Divisions

Steady divisions over decades promote:

  • Regional fan engagement and community traditions like tailgating
  • Developing generational team familiarity through consistent opponents
  • Reduced travel with most away games within the time zone
  • Building rivalries and high stakes through twice annual division games
  • easier television coverage and scheduling with cluster teams

Divisions build bonds and efficiencies key to league success.

How NFL Schedules are Constructed Using Divisions

NFL divisions shape intricate league scheduling:

  • Each team plays home and away against their 3 division rivals (6 total division games).
  • Teams play the 4 teams from a rotating division in the other conference annually (4 games).
  • Teams play the 4 teams from a rotating division in the same conference annually (4 games).
  • Teams play 2 remaining conference games based on division rank (2 games).

So in total teams play 16 games – 6 division, 4 other conference division, 4 same conference other division, and 2 more same conference.

Winning Your Division in the NFL Playoff Race

Divisions directly impact the playoff race:

  • Eight division winners across the 8 divisions automatically make the playoffs each season.
  • This showcases the huge incentive to win divisions. Even average teams with losing records have made playoffs by winning weak divisions.
  • Three wild card teams per conference also make playoffs based on best records after the division winners.
  • Wild cards can come from any division rather than being guaranteed spots.

Division titles ensure playoff inclusion. This constructs exciting divisional pennant races late each NFL season.

Tiebreakers for Determining Division Winners

If multiple teams tie atop a division, specific tiebreakers determine who wins:

  1. Head-to-Head Record
  2. Conference Record
  3. Common Opponents Record
  4. Strength of Victory
  5. Strength of Schedule
  6. Miscellaneous points rankings

Winning key late division matchups takes on amplified importance under this system.

How Expansion and Realignment Shaped NFL Divisions

As the NFL grew over history, divisions evolved through expansion and realignment:

  • The original NFL leagues like the AFL featured less structured divisions or conferences based on smaller memberships.
  • Official conferences and divisions took shape when the AFL and NFL merged starting in 1970.
  • Since 1970, the league frequently expanded then realigned divisions to group new members regionally.
  • The most recent realignment in 2002 produced the current 8 division league structure during the expansion to 32 teams.

Trial and evolution resulted in the now well-defined and balanced 8 division alignment.

Division Restructuring Proposals

While not currently planned, potential future division shakeup ideas include:

4 Divisions per Conference

  • 8 divisions of 4 is seen by some as excessive. Consolidating into 4 bigger divisions would enable tighter competition.

Divisional Playoff Seeding

  • Reserve playoff spots for the top team in each division regardless of record, with other berths going by record. This would amplify winning divisions.

Geography-Based Realignment

  • Some divisions like the NFC East no longer have perfect regional coherence. Periodic realignment based on geography could occur.

These broader concepts offer food for thought despite little imminent overhaul.

Division Titles as a Measure of Success

Along with championships, division titles represent a key benchmark of NFL success:

  • Winning divisions requires consistency at a high level across a full season.
  • Great teams dominate divisions over long stretches, preventing opponents from claiming titles.
  • Division titles mark the first step toward playoff success.
  • Titles prove teams unquestionably belonged among the league’s elite that season by winning their region.

Sustained divisional dominance demonstrates elite pedigree year after year in the NFL.


NFL divisions constitute foundational structures fostering regional bonds, strategic scheduling, and playoff drama through title races. While the exact alignment evolved over decades of growth, the divisional format built and reinforced key rivalries that fuel passion. Winning divisions rewards consistent quality with guaranteed playoff inclusion. With bragging rights, hostilities, and playoff hopes intertwined, divisional games gain added weight for teams and fanbases. This system has helped the NFL smartly expand its nationwide footprint through creating communities united by shared divisional membership and competitive objectives. Thanks to divisions, pro football enjoys geographic familiarity and fever-pitch clashes tailor made to ignite local passions.

Here are some additional frequently asked questions about NFL divisions:

What are the oldest divisions in the NFL?

The oldest division by formation date is the NFC East, which began in 1967 as the NFL Eastern Conference. The AFC North and West were also originating AFL divisions that same year before the 1970 merger.

Which division has the most Super Bowl wins?

The division with the most Super Bowl champions is the NFC East with 13 total across all member teams. The Cowboys, Giants, and Washington have all contributed multiple Lombardi trophies during the NFC East’s history.

How often do division opponents play?

Division opponents meet twice per regular season annually as part of the structured NFL scheduling formula. Teams face each of their three division foes at home and on the road each year without exception.

Has any NFL team ever had a perfect division record?

Yes, the 2007 New England Patriots and 1972 Miami Dolphins both posted undefeated 6-0 division records along with their perfect regular season records. Several other teams went 6-0 but lost Super Bowls.

Which divisions have the best historical rivalries?

The NFC East, AFC North, and AFC West are renowned for their heated longstanding rivalries. Foes like Steelers-Ravens, Raiders-Chiefs, and Cowboys-Giants carry bad blood for decades as division linchpins.


Categories: Football


  • Tom Eddy

    Tom Eddy is the founder and CEO of Poll Position, a leading sports news and opinion website. Eddy founded Poll Position driven by a vision of creating an innovative digital media brand focused exclusively on sports journalism. Under Eddy's leadership, Poll Position has grown from a solo blog into one of the most visited online destinations for sports coverage. Eddy Tom


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