RAVENS pleased with NFL realignment plan

Tuesday, May 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BALTIMORE (AP) _ The Baltimore Ravens are delighted about the NFL realignment plan for 2002, which puts them in a division with three familiar teams that have struggled in recent years.

The plan, approved Tuesday, has the reigning Super Bowl champions in the AFC North with the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers. All four teams currently are part of the AFC Central, along with Jacksonville and Tennessee.

The last time Ravens owner Art Modell faced realignment, in 1970, Modell moved his Cleveland Browns from the NFL to the newly formed AFC, which consisted primarily of teams from the old AFL.

This time, Modell had it easy. In addition to retaining rivalries with Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, the Ravens won't have to compete against Jacksonville, the division champs in 1999, and Tennessee, which won the AFC Central last year.

``This sure was a lot easier than the last time we did this, and certainly less dramatic,'' Modell said from Rosemont, Ill., where owners gathered to hammer out realignment for a 32-league team that will include expansion Houston.

``This is what we wanted for our team and our fans,'' Modell said. ``I think it's the best possible format for Baltimore fans and the NFL.''

There's no telling what will happen before 2002, but at this point the Ravens are grouped with Cleveland, an expansion team that hasn't come close to cracking .500 in two seasons; Cincinnati, which hasn't had a winning season since 1990; and Pittsburgh, which has compiled a 22-26 record over the past three seasons.

``Our fans have enjoyed the rivalries from the AFC Central, especially with Pittsburgh and Cleveland,'' Modell said.

The new scheduling format will include six division games _ home-and-home _ plus games against one division from the AFC and one from the NFC on a rotating basis.

The other two games will be within the conference based on the previous season's standings: one vs. one, two vs. two, etc.