Prior to the 2002–03 season, the league realigned its teams into eight divisions (four in each conference). Thus, the 12-team playoff format was modified. The league still abides by this updated system today:
As a result, a wild card team can no longer host a playoff game during the opening Wild Card round. Prior to the 2002–03 playoffs, a team could finish second in its division and host a playoff game by claiming the number 4 seed as a wild card team. The new rules meant that the number 4 seed would be awarded to a division champion and not a wild card team (non-division champion). Under the new system, a wild card team can host a playoff game only if the number 5 and number 6 seeds in one conference advance to a Conference Championship Game, in which case a number 5 seed would host the game.
During the 2001–02 NFL playoffs, the NFL experimented with playing Saturday prime time playoff games. The league was pleased with the results, and decided to revise its entire playoff schedule, beginning with the 2002 season. Wild Card and Divisional Saturday games continued to be played at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. EST, as they had in the previous season. Sunday wild card and divisional playoff games were moved from 12:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. EST to 1:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., respectively.
The start times for the Conference Championship Games were also changed, from 12:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. EST to 3:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. respectively. The conferences would then begin to annually alternate between the early and late games, with the first game during this 2002–03 season being the NFC title game and the second the AFC title game. Since then, the NFC title game is first in even-numbered seasons (2002, 2004, etc.) and the AFC title game first in odd-numbered seasons (2003, 2005, etc.). This continued a rotation that began with the Conference Championships in the 1996 NFL Playoffs.
This change would also avoid the future possibility of having to reschedule a 9:30 a.m. PST/10:30 a.m. MST Conference Championship Game if both contests took place in those time zones. Conference Championship Games in those time zones now start no earlier than 12:00 p.m. local time. When Denver and San Francisco hosted the AFC and NFC Championship Games in 1990, the league moved both contests back an hour, but it also forced the networks to reluctantly change or move their prime time lineups. Holding the games on separate days like in 1982–83 was rejected due to the short notice.