Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Bengals' new division looks like old one

Ravens, Browns, Steelers join AFC North in 2002

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Mike Brown got the two teams he wanted most as division rivals in the new AFC North — Cleveland and Pittsburgh — when the NFL voted Tuesday on its realignment plan for 2002. And, as rock singer Meat Loaf once crooned, two out of three ain't bad.

  AFC North:
  New England
  NY Jets
  Kansas City
  San Diego
  NFC North:
  Green Bay
  New Orleans
  Tampa Bay
  NY Giants
  St. Louis
  San Francisco
        “We said all along that the important thing for our franchise was to stay with Cleveland and Pittsburgh, so our key desire was met,” Bengals president Brown said Tuesday from suburban Chicago.

        The Bengals had wanted Indianapolis, only 90 miles away, as the last team in the AFC North but got defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore.

        “Indianapolis obviously would have been a good fit for us as the fourth team, but realignment would never happen if every team demanded its exact favorite plan,” Brown said.

        “I'm happy to have Baltimore. They won it all last year. It's a good challenge for us. And the overall plan had strong backing. There wasn't a significant push for anything else.”

        Owners voted for the plan on the first day of the three-day spring meeting in Rosemont, Ill.

        Management of the Colts, who moved from Baltimore in 1984, had said privately the team would go anywhere, as long as it wasn't in the same division as the Baltimore Ravens. The Colts didn't want to have to play in Baltimore every year and face the hard feelings toward the franchise for relocating.

        The Colts move from the AFC East to the AFC South, where they will join Jacksonville, Tennessee and the expansion Houston Texans, who will begin play in 2002 as the NFL's 32nd team. The Jaguars and Titans currently share the AFC Central with the Bengals, Browns, Steelers and Ravens.

        The Texans' creation necessitated realignment.

        “This is a new regime,” Colts president Bill Polian said. “We've turned a new page. ... You could argue (the AFC South) is every bit as strong or stronger than the division we were in. But it will be fun. That's what competition is all about.”

        The other four members of the AFC East — Buffalo, the New York Jets, New England and Miami — will remain in that division without Indianapolis.

        The Ravens, who defeated the Bengals twice last season en route to the Super Bowl title, are happy to stay in their old division.

        “This is what we anticipated,” Ravens owner Art Modell said. “This is the best possible scenario for us and the NFL. Our fans already enjoy the rivalries with teams in the AFC North, especially with Pittsburgh and Cleveland.”

        Steelers president Dan Rooney wanted Baltimore to remain in the AFC North.

        Modell moved the old Browns from Cleveland after the 1995 season. The expansion Browns started play in 1999.

        The AFC West will return to its lineup before the 1977 expansion: Denver, Kansas City, San Diego and Oakland. Former fifth member Seattle moves to the NFC West to join San Francisco, St. Louis and Arizona. The Cardinals, who moved from St. Louis in 1988, move from the NFC East to the West.

        The NFC East will contain four original members: Washington, Dallas, Philadelphia and the Giants. And the NFC North will reform as the old NFC Central “Black-and-Blue Division,” with Chicago, Minnesota, Green Bay and Detroit.

        Tampa Bay, which entered the league with Seattle in 1977, moves from the NFC Central to the new NFC South with former NFC West members Carolina, New Orleans and Atlanta.

        Division rivals will continue to play home-and-away series each year.

        The 2001 season will be the last in which the Bengals play 10 division games — two each against the Steelers, Browns, Ravens, Jaguars and Titans.


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