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Friday, May 25, 2001
The Depth Chart: Realignment's good and bad

By Merril Hoge and Mike Golic
Special to ESPN.com

Before we move on and look ahead to training camp, let's look back on the biggest move of the offseason – a realignment plan for the 2002 season when the expansion Houston Texans join the league. Here's the breakdown of the plan's good and bad.

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THE GOOD AND BAD OF NFL REALIGNMENT
Hoge on the best things
The best rivalries were preserved. History was well taken care of by retaining the oldest and best rivalries that the NFL has to offer, especially when you look at the NFC East and the re-named NFC North. The AFC also honored the rivalries that started in the AFL.

New natural rivalries will have the opportunity to grow. This is especially true in the South. Tampa Bay never really fit in the old NFC Central with Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota and Green Bay. The Bucs and Falcons are a rivalry that can turn into a border war. The league has set themselves up for potentially exciting new rivalries.

Players get the chance to play different teams. In nine years in the NFL, I never played in New England or Oakland. With only three other teams that you have to play twice each year, it leaves the rest of the schedule open to variety that will be exciting for the players and fans. Players get to play in locales they haven't in the past and fans get to see stars their teams haven't competed against.

More geographic sense. While there are still some head scratchers (Indianapolis in the AFC South), the owners dealt with the worst of the geographic blunders. Arizona moves from the NFC East to the NFC West. Atlanta moves from the NFC West to the NFC East. St. Louis stays in the West, but you can't have topographic perfection and keep all of the good rivalries. Something had to give.

Travel will be eased. Due to the new NFL geography, road trips will be shorter for many teams.

Golic on the worst things
Schedule inflexibility. With 14 out of 16 games preordained by what division you play in (six games against division opponents, four games against another in-conference division and four games against an out-of-conference division), only two "at-large" games exist to make successful teams' schedules harder the next year. Depending on the relative strength or weakness of certain divisions, Super Bowl winners could have a much easier schedule than someone who didn't even make the playoffs.

Geographic inconsistencies remain. Dallas in the NFC East? Miami in the AFC East while Indianapolis is in the South? While the geographical disaster that was the former divisional setup has improved, inconsistencies remain in some instances in the name of rivalries (i.e., television revenue). I would think some of the teams that were evicted might harbor some hard feelings towards those that got special consideration.

No more first-class upgrades for poor media types. With Atlanta out of the NFC West, Tampa Bay avoiding northern climes and Arizona in the West were they belong, the people who cover these teams are going to lose out big time on all those frequent-flyer miles they racked up traveling to the far-flung homes of former divisional foes.