|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.
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.
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 considered cancelling that week's slate of games before ultimately rescheduling them after Week 17.
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, there were several instances of two teams in different divisions going 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.
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|
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)|
|Most Valuable Player||Rich Gannon, Quarterback, Oakland|
|Coach of the Year||Andy Reid, Philadelphia|
|Offensive Player of the Year||Priest Holmes, Running back, Kansas City|
|Defensive Player of the Year||Derrick Brooks, Linebacker, Tampa Bay|
|Offensive Rookie of the Year||Clinton Portis, Running Back, Denver|
|Defensive Rookie of the Year||Julius Peppers, Defensive End, Carolina|
|NFL Comeback Player of the Year||Tommy Maddox, Quarterback, Pittsburgh|
|Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year||Troy Vincent, Cornerback, Philadelphia|
|Super Bowl Most Valuable Player||Dexter Jackson, Safety, Tampa Bay|
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.