With the graduated merger in place between the American Football League and National Football League signed in 1965, the decision on how to divide and align the teams so that key rivalries within the old leagues remained and divisions were created with respect to geography to create regional matchups was left to the then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.

The 1969 NFL roster of 16 teams was divided as follows:

  • Coastal Division
    • Los Angeles Rams
    • Baltimore Colts
    • Atlanta Falcons
    • San Francisco 49ers
  • Capital Division
    • Dallas Cowboys
    • Washington Redskins
    • New Orleans Saints
    • Philadelphia Eagles
  • Century Division
    • Cleveland Browns
    • New York Giants
    • St. Louis Cardinals
    • Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Central Division
    • Minnesota Vikings
    • Detroit Lions
    • Green Bay Packers
    • Chicago Bears

Rozelle saw fit that the two new conferences would have an equal number of teams. Since the NFL currently had 16 teams, and the AFL 10, he moved the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers to the American Football Conference. Also, despite the catchy alliterative value of the divisions within the NFL, Rozelle scrapped the names for the more commonplace West, East, and Central divisions.

The NFC began play in 1970, with the following divisions:

As you can see, there were some interesting problems created by these division: New Orleans was classified in the West Division, while Dallas, which is over 300 miles west of New Orleans, ended up in the East Division. However, this kept the famed Cowboys-Eagles rivalry intact, while the tenderfoot Saints (formed in 1967) were at the league's whims. Also, the Atlanta Falcons mysteriously ended up in the West Division.

In its inaugural season, the Vikings dominated the conference, going 12-2. Amazingly, they were stunned by the 49ers in their playoff opener 17-14. The Cowboys went on to capture the championship, only to lose to their former NFL opponents the Baltimore Colts 16-13 in Super Bowl V.

Evolution

1977 saw the addition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the NFC and, continuing in the tradition of odd regional placement, were added to the Central Division. It took the team only two years to reach the top of the division.

During the 1987 offseason, the Cardinals abandoned St. Louis for the sunny dry heat of Phoenix, Arizona - though they graciously remained in the East Division. The change didn't do them much good; as the Phoenix Cardinals, the team never finished above .500. Before the start of the 1994 season, the team unveiled a minor name change - becoming the Arizona Cardinals - and promptly went 8-8!

Amazingly, during the 1994 offseason, both the AFC Raiders and NFC Rams abandoned the "City of the Angels" for greener pastures - and to make matters more confusing, the Rams relocated to St. Louis, formerly jilted by the Cardinals!

Finally, in 1996 two teams were added to the league, one to a conference, and the Carolina Panthers continued the geographically challenged trend of the NFC by joining the West Division, putting them surprisingly close to their division rivals the Atlanta Falcons.

So, in 1996, the divisions stood as such:

Bold denotes change since 1970.

In 2002, the Commissioner's Office announced that with the addition of the Houston Texans to the NFL (giving the league 32 teams), all of the divisions would be realigned, giving both conferences four four-team subsets, comprising the East, West, North, and South Divisions.

The new alignment of the NFC:

  • East
    • Dallas Cowboys
    • Philadelphia Eagles
    • New York Giants
    • Washington Redskins
  • West
  • North
    • Minnesota Vikings
    • Green Bay Packers
    • Chicago Bears
    • Detroit Lions
  • South
    • Atlanta Falcons
    • Carolina Panthers
    • New Orleans Saints
    • Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The most drastic move was the shift of the Seattle Seahawks from the AFC to the NFC. Otherwise, all of the realignments showed an atypical sense for the atlas - with the exception of the St. Louis Rams (and possibly the Cowboys) every team seemed to be in its correct geographic division. Perhaps more changes will occur in the future, but as it stands, the NFC seems content to exist in this state for years to come.

NFC Championships

YEAR HOME TEAM, VISITING TEAM (winner in bold)

1970: Dallas Cowboys 17, San Francisco 49ers 10
1971: San Fransisco 49ers 3, Dallas Cowboys 14 *
1972: Dallas Cowboys 3, Washington Redskins 26
1973: Minnesota Vikings 27, Dallas Cowboys 10
1974: Los Angeles Rams 10, Minnesota Vikings 14

1975: Dallas Cowboys 37, Los Angeles Rams 7
1976: Los Angeles Rams 13, Minnesota Vikings 24
1977: Minnesota Vikings 6, Dallas Cowboys 23 *
1978: Dallas Cowboys 28, Los Angeles Rams 0
1979: Los Angeles Rams 9, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0

1980: Dallas Cowboys 7, Philadelphia Eagles 20
1981: Dallas Cowboys 27, San Francisco 49ers 28 *
1982: Dallas Cowboys 17, Washington Redskins 31 *
1983: San Francisco 49ers 14, Washington Redskins 21
1984: Chicago Bears 0, San Francisco 49ers 23 *

1985: Los Angeles Rams 0, Chicago Bears 24*
1986: Washington Redskins 0, New York Giants 17 *
1987: Minnesota Vikings 10, Washington Redskins 17 *
1988: San Francisco 49ers 28, Chicago Bears 3 *
1989: Los Angeles Rams 3, San Francisco 49ers 30 *

1990: New York Giants 15, San Francisco 49ers 13 *
1991: Detroit Lions 10, Washington Redskins 41 *
1992: Dallas Cowboys 30, San Francisco 49ers 20 *
1993: San Francisco 49ers 21, Dallas Cowboys 38 *
1994: Dallas Cowboys 28, San Francisco 49ers 38 *

1995: Green Bay Packers 27, Dallas Cowboys 38 *
1996: Carolina Panthers 13, Green Bay Packers 30 *
1997: Green Bay Packers 23, San Francisco 49ers 10
1998: Atlanta Falcons 30, Minnesota Vikings 27
1999: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6, St. Louis Rams 11 *

2000: Minnesota Vikings 0, New York Giants 41
2001: Philadelphia Eagles 24, St. Louis Rams 29
2002: Philadelphia Eagles 10, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27 *
2003: Philadelphia Eagles 3, Carolina Panthers 14

* denotes Super Bowl winner.

The major dynasties that emerged from the NFC's (rather short) history are the 1970s-era Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, the 1980s San Francisco 49ers, and the 1990s Dallas Cowboys. Some teams (Washington Redskins, Los Angeles Rams) showed spurts of dominance, while others (New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals) have never made it to an NFC Championship game.

The NFC continues to bring talented players and teams to the table each year of the NFL. From the earliest days of the National Football League to the current 32-team incarnation, the NFC has shown that, like its AFC counterparts, it comes to play every year with only one thing on its mind: victory.

Sources

  • http://espn.go.com/nfl/playoffs02/s/history
  • http://www.pro-football-reference.com

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