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On This Day: AFC South realignment


The addition of the Houston Texans in 2002 pushed the NFL to 32 teams and made division realignment a certainty. Jacksonville landed in the AFC Central in the inaugural season of 1995 and wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Houston Oilers that first year started rivalries that would grow quickly. Even when Cleveland moved in 1996 to become the Baltimore Ravens and the Oilers moved to Nashville and became the Titans, and when Cleveland returned to the league in 1999 with an expansion team, the AFC Central kept a sense of itself and its personality. Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver didn't want to lose the Steelers, who guaranteed a sellout every time they showed up in north Florida, but to keep the Steelers meant keeping their longtime rival the Browns. No problem, except that the Browns also meant the Bengals because they weren't going to separate the Ohio teams, both started by Paul Brown. The Browns also wanted to keep the Ravens, for obvious reasons.

A look back at fun endings of Jaguars games against AFC South opponents since NFL division realignment.

The problem in this scenario? Divisions were now going to be four teams deep, which meant difficult decisions were going to have to be made. Steelers Owner Dan Rooney liked having a warm weather team in the division because it meant a possible winter road trip every season. Rooney also appreciated the youthful rivals from Jacksonville, and the Weaver family in particular. But he couldn't trade that for Cleveland and that meant Baltimore and Cincinnati were locked into a new foursome which would become the AFC North.

The Jaguars and Titans were essentially left out of a division in which they both wanted to remain. Weaver pushed hard to find a way to get his franchise paired with the Dolphins for a division rivalry that would sell seats in Jacksonville. But the Dolphins weren't going to leave the New York Jets, who weren't going to leave the New England Patriots and well, you know how that story goes.

So Jacksonville and both Houston franchises, the new Texans and the old Oilers, were sent to the AFC South along with the Colts, which meant Peyton Manning. The Colts have dominated the division ever since, winning it nine times. The Titans and Texans have each won the AFC South twice in 13 seasons, which is why there isn't the same sense of rivalry that existed in the AFC Central. When the Jaguars and Titans once again challenge for the division title, I have no doubt that the South will rise to the same level of intense feelings and division rivalries that Jaguars fans once enjoyed.

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