|Duration||September 5 – December 30, 2002|
|Start date||January 4, 2003|
|AFC Champions||Oakland Raiders|
|NFC Champions||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Super Bowl XXXVII|
|Date||January 26, 2003|
|Site||Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California|
|Champions||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Date||February 2, 2003|
The league went back to an even number of teams, expanding to 32 teams with the addition of the Houston Texans; the league has remained static with 32 teams since. The clubs were then realigned into eight divisions, four teams in each. Also, the Chicago Bears played their home games in 2002 in Champaign, Illinois at Memorial Stadium because of the reconstruction of Soldier Field.
Expansion and realignment
With the Houston Texans joining the NFL, the league's teams were realigned into eight divisions: four teams in each division and four divisions in each conference. In creating the new divisions, the league tried to maintain the historical rivalries from the old alignment, while at the same time attempting to organize the teams geographically. Legally, three teams from the AFC Central (Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh) were required to be in the same division as part of any realignment proposals; this was part of the NFL's settlement with the city of Cleveland in the wake of the 1995 Cleveland Browns relocation controversy.
- The Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, and expansion Houston Texans were placed into the newly formed AFC South.
- The Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were placed into the newly formed NFC South.
- The teams in the AFC Central and NFC Central were placed in the new AFC North and NFC North respectively, apart from the Titans, Jaguars and Buccaneers.
- The Seattle Seahawks became the only team to switch conferences, moving from the AFC West to the NFC West.
- The Arizona Cardinals moved from the NFC East to the NFC West. They had originally played in Chicago and then St. Louis before moving to Tempe, Arizona in 1988.
Additionally, the arrival of the Texans meant that the league could return to its pre-1999 scheduling format in which no team received a bye during the first three weeks or last seven weeks of the season. From 1999 to 2001, at least one team sat out each week (including the preseason) because of an odd number of teams in the league (this also happened in 1960, 1966, and other years wherein the league had an odd number of teams). It nearly became problematic during the previous season due to the September 11 attacks, since the San Diego Chargers had their bye week during that week and the league nearly outright canceled that week's slate of games.
The league also introduced a new eight-year scheduling rotation designed so that all teams will play each other at least twice during those eight years, and play in every other team's stadium at least once. Under scheduling formulas in use from 1978 to 2001, two teams in different divisions have gone over 15 seasons without playing each other.[note 1] Under the new scheduling formula, only two of a team's games each season are based on the previous season's record, down from four under the previous system. All teams play four interconference games. An analysis of win percentages in 2008 showed a statistical trend upwards for top teams since this change; the top team each year then averaged 14.2 wins, versus 13.4 previously.
The playoff format was also modified: four division winners and two wild cards from each conference now advance to the playoffs, instead of three division winners and three wild cards. In each conference, the division winners are now seeded 1 through 4, and the wild cards are seeded 5 and 6. In the current system, the only way a wild card team can host a playoff game is if both teams in the conference's championship game are wild cards. However, the number of playoff teams still remained at 12, where it was from 1990 to 2019. Since 2020, the number of wild card teams went back to three.
The 2002 NFL Draft was held from April 20 to 21, 2002 at New York City's Theater at Madison Square Garden. With the first pick, the Houston Texans selected quarterback David Carr from Fresno State University.
Major rule changes
- A player who touches a pylon remains in-bounds until any part of his body touches the ground out-of-bounds.
- Continuing-action fouls now become dead-ball fouls and will result in the loss of down and distance.
- Any dead-ball penalties by the offense after they have made the line to gain will result in a loss of 15 yards and a new first down. Previously, the 15 yard penalty was enforced but the down was replayed.
- The act of batting and stripping the ball from a player is officially legal.
- Chop-blocks are illegal on kicking plays.
- Hitting a quarterback helmet-to-helmet anytime after a change of possession is illegal.
- After a kickoff, the game clock will start when the ball is touched legally in the field of play. Previously, the clock started immediately when the ball was kicked.
- Inside the final two minutes of a half/overtime, the game clock will not stop when the player who originally takes the snap is tackled behind the line of scrimmage (i.e. sacked).
- The home team must determine whether their retractable roof is to be opened or closed 90 minutes before kickoff (regular season only; in the playoffs, the NFL determines whether the roof is open or closed).
- If it is closed at kickoff, it cannot be reopened during the game.
- If it is open at kickoff, it cannot be closed during the game unless the weather conditions become severe.
- Johnny Unitas who died on September 11, 2002 from a heart attack. On Week 2 of the season each early game played held a pre-game tribute to Unitas.
- Dick "Night Train" Lane
- Mike Webster
Final regular season standings
- N.Y. Jets finished ahead of New England in the AFC East based on better record in common games (8–4 to 7–5) and Miami based on better division record (4–2 to 2–4).
- New England finished ahead of Miami in the AFC East based on better division record (4–2 to 2–4).
- Cleveland clinched the AFC 6 seed instead of Denver or New England based on better conference record (7–5 to Denver's 5–7 and New England's 6–6).
- Oakland clinched the AFC 1 seed instead of Tennessee based on a head-to-head victory.
- San Diego finished ahead of Kansas City in the AFC West based on better division record (3–3 to 2–4).
- Philadelphia clinched the NFC 1 seed instead of Green Bay or Tampa Bay based on better conference record (11–1 to Green Bay's 9–3 and Tampa Bay's 9–3).
- Tampa Bay clinched the NFC 2 seed instead of Green Bay on a head-to-head victory.
- St. Louis finished ahead of Seattle in the NFC West based on better division record (4–2 to 2–4).
Within each conference, the four division winners and the two wild card teams (the top two non-division winners with the best overall regular season records) qualified for the playoffs. The four division winners are seeded 1 through 4 based on their overall won-lost-tied record, and the wild card teams are seeded 5 and 6. The NFL does not use a fixed bracket playoff system, and there are no restrictions regarding teams from the same division matching up in any round. In the first round, dubbed the wild-card playoffs or wild-card weekend, the third-seeded division winner hosts the sixth seed wild card, and the fourth seed hosts the fifth. The 1 and 2 seeds from each conference then receive a bye in the first round. In the second round, the divisional playoffs, the number 1 seed hosts the worst surviving seed from the first round (seed 4, 5, or 6), while the number 2 seed will play the other team (seed 3, 4, or 5). The two surviving teams from each conference's divisional playoff games then meet in the respective AFC and NFC Conference Championship games, hosted by the higher seed. Although the Super Bowl, the fourth and final round of the playoffs, is played at a neutral site, the designated home team is based on an annual rotation by conference.
|1||Oakland Raiders (West winner)||Philadelphia Eagles (East winner)|
|2||Tennessee Titans (South winner)||Tampa Bay Buccaneers (South winner)|
|3||Pittsburgh Steelers (North winner)||Green Bay Packers (North winner)|
|4||New York Jets (East winner)||San Francisco 49ers (West winner)|
|5||Indianapolis Colts (wild card)||New York Giants (wild card)|
|6||Cleveland Browns (wild card)||Atlanta Falcons (wild card)|
|Jan. 5 – Heinz Field||Jan. 11 – The Coliseum|
|3||Pittsburgh||36||Jan. 19 – Network Associates Coliseum|
|Jan. 4 – Giants Stadium||2||Tennessee||24|
|Jan. 12 – Network Associates Coliseum|
|4||NY Jets||41||Jan. 26 – Qualcomm Stadium|
|Wild Card playoffs|
|Jan. 5 – Candlestick Park||A1||Oakland||21|
|Jan. 12 – Raymond James Stadium|
|5||NY Giants||38||Super Bowl XXXVII|
|4||San Francisco||39||Jan. 19 – Veterans Stadium|
|Jan. 4 – Lambeau Field||2||Tampa Bay||27|
|Jan. 11 – Veterans Stadium|
- * Indicates overtime victory
The following teams and players set all-time NFL records during the season:
|Record||Player/Team||Date/Opponent||Previous Record Holder|
|Most Pass Receptions, Season||Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis (143)||December 29, vs. Jacksonville||Herman Moore, Detroit, 1995 (123)|
|Longest Return of a Missed Field Goal||Chris McAlister, Baltimore (107 yards)||September 30, vs. Denver||Aaron Glenn, N.Y. Jets vs. Indianapolis, November 15, 1998 (104)|
|Yards From Scrimmage, Career||Jerry Rice, Oakland (21,284)||September 29, vs. Tennessee||Walter Payton, 1975–1987 (21,264)|
|Most Rushing Yards Gained, Career||Emmitt Smith, Dallas||October 27, vs. Seattle||Walter Payton, 1975–1987 (16,726)|
|Most Rushing Yards by a Quarterback, Game||Michael Vick, Atlanta (173)||December 1 vs. Minnesota||Tobin Rote, Green Bay vs. Chicago, November 18, 1951 (150)|
|Most First Downs by Both Teams, Game||Seattle (32) vs. Kansas City (32) [64 total]||November 24||Tied by 2 games (62 total)|
|Fewest Fumbles by a Team, Season||Kansas City (7)||N/A||Cleveland, 1959 (8)|
|Fewest Fumbles Lost by a Team, Season||Kansas City (2)||N/A||Tied by 2 teams (3)|
|Most Punts by a Team, Season||Houston (116)||N/A||Chicago, 1981 (114)|
|Points scored||Kansas City Chiefs (467)|
|Total yards gained||Oakland Raiders (6,237)|
|Yards rushing||Minnesota Vikings (2,507)|
|Yards passing||Oakland Raiders (4,475)|
|Fewest points allowed||Tampa Bay Buccaneers (196)|
|Fewest total yards allowed||Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4,044)|
|Fewest rushing yards allowed||Pittsburgh Steelers (1,375)|
|Fewest passing yards allowed||Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2,490)|
|Scoring||Priest Holmes, Kansas City (144 points)|
|Touchdowns||Priest Holmes, Kansas City (24 TDs)|
|Most field goals made||Martin Gramatica, Tampa Bay (32 FGs)|
|Rushing||Ricky Williams, Miami (1,853 yards)|
|Passing||Chad Pennington, New York Jets (104.2 rating)|
|Passing touchdowns||Tom Brady, New England (28 TDs)|
|Pass receiving||Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis (143 catches)|
|Pass receiving yards||Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis (1,722)|
|Punt returns||Jimmy Williams, San Francisco (16.8 average yards)|
|Kickoff returns||MarTay Jenkins, Arizona (28.0 average yards)|
|Interceptions||Brian Kelly, Tampa Bay (8)|
|Punting||Todd Sauerbrun, Carolina (45.5 average yards)|
|Sacks||Jason Taylor, Miami (18.5)|
- Carolina Panthers – John Fox; replaced George Seifert, who was fired following the 2001-02 season
- Houston Texans – Dom Capers became first head coach in Texans history.
- Indianapolis Colts – Tony Dungy; replaced Jim Mora, who was fired following the 2001-02 season
- Oakland Raiders – Bill Callahan; replaced Jon Gruden, who was traded to Tampa for two 1st round draft picks, two 2nd round draft picks and cash.
- San Diego Chargers – Marty Schottenheimer; replaced Mike Riley, who was fired following the 2001-02 season
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jon Gruden; replaced Tony Dungy, who was fired following the 2001-02 season
- Washington Redskins – Steve Spurrier; replaced Marty Schottenheimer, who was fired following the 2001-02 season
- Baltimore Ravens: PSINet Stadium reverted to Ravens Stadium after naming rights holder PSINet filed for bankruptcy
- Chicago Bears: The Bears temporarily played at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois while Soldier Field underwent a major renovation
- Dallas Cowboys: Texas Stadium’s AstroTurf was replaced with new RealGrass turf surface by week 5 of the season.
- Detroit Lions: The Lions moved from the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan to Ford Field in Downtown Detroit, with the Ford Motor Company acquiring the naming rights
- Houston Texans: The expansion Texans begin playing at Reliant Stadium, the league's first stadium with a retractable roof, with Reliant Energy acquiring the naming rights
- New England Patriots: The Patriots moved from Foxboro Stadium to CMGI Field, with the tech company CMGI acquiring the naming rights
- St. Louis Rams: The former Trans World Dome was renamed the Edward Jones Dome after Edward Jones Investments acquired the naming rights
- Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks moved from Husky Stadium to Seahawks Stadium
- Tennessee Titans: Adelphia Coliseum reverted to The Coliseum after naming rights holder Adelphia Communications Corporation filed for bankruptcy
Reebok becomes official provider
This section needs additional citations for verification. (December 2018)
Reebok took over the contract to be the official athletic supplier to the NFL for all 32 teams’ uniforms. Previously, all teams had individual contracts with athletic suppliers. American Needle, which had a contract with a few teams before the Reebok deal, challenged the NFL in court over Reebok's exclusive deal, with the NFL effectively stating that it was a “single-entity league” instead of a group consisting of various owners. The case eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. In 2009, the Supreme Court agreed to hear American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League. In 2010, the court ruled that the NFL is not a single entity. Reebok remained the league's athletic supplier through the 2011 NFL season, when Nike took over the contract for the 2012 NFL season.
Reebok had initially announced when the deal was signed in 2000 that aside from the expansion Texans, all NFL teams would be wearing new uniforms for the 2002 season. However, after protests from several owners—most vocally Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney—Reebok later rescinded the proposal. Reebok did, however (by player request to reduce holding calls), shorten the sleeves on the jerseys for teams that hadn't done so already (most players had been for the previous decade tying the sleeves tight around their arms to prevent holding) and made the jerseys tighter-fitting. This is perhaps most noticeable on the Indianapolis Colts jerseys, where the shoulder stripes, which initially went from the top of the shoulders all the way underneath the arms, were truncated to just the top portion of the shoulders.
Although Reebok rescinded the idea of all NFL teams wearing new uniforms for the 2002 season, the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks did redesign their uniforms, with the Seahawks also unveiling an updated logo in honor of their move to Seahawks Stadium and the NFC.
- The Buffalo Bills introduced new uniforms featuring, among others, a darker shade of blue, nickel gray as an accent color, and red side panels on both the home and away jerseys
- The Carolina Panthers added blue third alternate uniforms
- The Cleveland Browns added orange third alternate uniforms
- The Denver Broncos added orange third alternate uniforms
- The Houston Texans expansion team introduced dark blue helmets; dark blue and white jerseys, both with red trim; and white pants to be worn with the blue jerseys and blue pants with the white jerseys. The new helmet logo features a bull head colored and shaped in such a way to resemble the flag of Texas and the state of Texas.
- The Jacksonville Jaguars added black third alternate uniforms, and introduced new black pants with home uniforms for selected games.
- The New Orleans Saints returned to wearing gold pants with their black jerseys, and with their white jerseys for selected games. They introduced a gold alternate jersey but only wore it for one game.
- The New York Jets began wearing green pants with either their green or white jerseys
- The San Diego Chargers switched back to navy pants with white jerseys, also brought back throwback powder blue uniforms for one game.
- The Seattle Seahawks introduced new uniforms featuring, among others, a lighter "Seahawks Blue", a darker "Seahawks Navy" and lime green piping. The helmet was changed from silver to the darker navy color. The helmet logo was also modified, re-colored accordingly to the new team colors, and the eyebrows and eyes redrawn to make it a more aggressive bird.
- The St. Louis Rams removed the side panels from their jerseys.
- The Washington Redskins introduced replicas of their 1960s design as a third alternate uniform.
- In the most extreme cases, the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs did not play from 1973 through 1991, the New York Jets and St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals did not play from 1979 through 1995, the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants did not play from 1973 through 1989, the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers did not play from 1978 through 1993, and the Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos only played one time from 1976 through 1997. Additionally, while the Buffalo Bills played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seven times between 1976 and 2001, all seven of those games were played in Tampa.
- Football Outsiders 2002 Team Efficiency Ratings
- 2002 OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY RATINGS
- 2002 DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY RATINGS
- Pro Football Reference.com – 2002
- Murray, Ken (May 21, 2001). "Nfl Vote On Realignment Nears". Hartford Courant. Archived from the original on November 8, 2016. Retrieved November 6, 2016.
- "Realignment for 2002". National Football League. May 23, 2001. Archived from the original on December 26, 2016. Retrieved November 6, 2016.
- Mason, Andrew (May 23, 2001). "Old faces, new places". National Football League. Archived from the original on June 5, 2001. Retrieved November 6, 2016.
- Urena, Ivan; Pro Football Schedules: A Complete Historical Guide from 1933 to the Present, pp. 17-18 ISBN 0786473517
- "16–0: The Myth of Perfection". The Fount. Archived from the original on February 7, 2008. Retrieved February 6, 2008.
- Cardinals among teams to benefit from new roof rule
- "Records". 2005 NFL Record and Fact Book. NFL. 2005. ISBN 978-1-932994-36-0.
- "American Needle Supreme Court Ruling: NFL Loses Lawsuit". Huffington Post. May 24, 2010. Archived from the original on May 27, 2010. Retrieved June 14, 2010.
- "Nike strikes uniform deal with NFL". ESPN.com. Associated Press. October 12, 2010. Archived from the original on June 10, 2015. Retrieved June 19, 2017.
- Bouchette, Ed; Dulac, Gerry (December 25, 2000). "Steelers Report: 12/25/00". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Archived from the original on November 26, 2010. Retrieved September 1, 2008.
- NFL Record and Fact Book (ISBN 1-932994-36-X)
- NFL History 2001– (Last accessed October 17, 2005)
- Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League (ISBN 0-06-270174-6)
- NFL adopts changes to rules (Last accessed October 17, 2005)
- New alignment takes effect in 2002 from ESPN.com, May 22, 2001 (Last accessed March 11, 2009)
- NFL Announces 2002–2009 Schedule Rotation (Last accessed January 19, 2008)
- Seattle moved to NFC in approved realignment plan from CNNSI.com, May 22, 2001 (Last accessed December 9, 2005)