The National Football League known as the NFL is the official league of one of the most popular sports in America; American Football. Due to its frantic action and nail biting games, it has been growing in popularity across Europe and beyond in recent years. Many of the games star players have grown into household names and have reached celebrity status such as Tom Brady, Odell Beckham Jnr and Antonio Brown. Read below for our in-depth NFL basics guide.
The teams, players and league in general are all subjects of conversation in a specialized and dedicated TV channel known as the NFL network which is broadcast 24/7. The informative programs and news reports are full of analysis and expert opinion and is a great place to pick up on the NFL basics. To help any NFL rookies out there with the key points, below you will find a snapshot of useful information that will help ease you into the game and save you the time of reading through the arduous football for dummies book.
The duration of the game is 60 minutes long. If the score between the two teams is a draw at the end of the regulation 60 minutes, then an additional period of overtime is played for 10 minutes. Both teams have the chance to win the game in this additional period.
The 60 minutes of an NFL game are divided into four quarters of 15 minutes each. The first and second quarters are separated from the third and fourth quarter by a half time period. There is a 2 minute warning at the end of the second and fourth quarter which are often action packed as the final seconds of each half come to an end.
A football field is 120 yards from one end to the other. The playable area is 100 yards in total, with two 10 yard deep end zones at either end of the pitch. The goal posts are found on the outer perimeter of each end zone and as such are the length of the field (120 yards) apart. The goal posts are 18 feet 6 inches wide and kicking the ball through them results in the team scoring points. The distinctly painted line markings on the field are split into 10 yard intervals and clearly indicate the position on the pitch. The 50 yard line represents the middle of the pitch and each line from there (both left and right) represents the distance to the relative end zone.
A team roster can be made up of a total of 53 players at the beginning of a season. The team needs to find the correct balance of offensive (attack), defensive (defence) and special team players to make a successful locker room. Only 11 players are allowed on the pitch at any one time, regardless what phase of the game is being played. Franchises cannot ‘buy’ players but rather they try to strengthen their roster by swapping or trading players with other teams. If a team wants to acquire a player from another team, they will need to offer draft picks and/or another player in exchange.
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The NFL draft time takes place once a year in April and it is when the top college football prospects are signed by the professional teams. Each team sends scouts to review the potential of the young players and then ranks the players desirability. Teams are able to exchange and trade draft picks during the season for players currently on their roster. After a season of trading players and picks between each other, the teams are then listed numerically to determine the order in which teams will pick the players. The 2018 NFL draft for example saw the Cleveland Browns with the first overall pick of the top player from the draft. Other teams then get to chose the next available player in descending order. In an effort to make the league entertaining and fair, the order in which teams pick players in the draft is determined on the finishing position of the team from the previous season. So the team that finishes 32nd (last) in one season, will get the 1st pick to choose the most promising young player in the upcoming draft. That is of course, unless they have already traded that pick for a player in the months preceding the draft.
A touchdown is worth six points and can be scored by the team on offence reaching the opponent’s end zone. This can be achieved when an offensive player either carries the ball into the end zone or catches a ball in the end zone. A team scores a touchdown when the ball breaks the boundary line of the end zone by any offensive player. An additional point can be scored in the form of a field goal. A team that successfully makes the extra point conversion will therefore score 7 points for a touchdown.
Ironically, at the time of writing, there are no rules in relation to the national anthem. One would think from the huge amount of press about the issue, that there to be a national anthem policy in place, but there isn’t. While most Americans stand for the anthem before a game, there has been a growing number of players who are protesting against issues and deciding to kneel or sit instead. Colin Kapernick was the first player to kneel rather than stand at attention during the anthem and since then other players have done the same. Malcolm Jenkins the Philadlephia Eagles safety has more recently raised his fist during the anthem in solidarity with Kapernick and to protest against social injustices.
There are 32 teams in the NFL split into 2 divisions; the American Football conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). Looking back at NFL history books, it shows that in 1966 the two separate leagues of that era merged to form one league with two divisions. This arrangement has now held firm for over 50 years and has bought great success and riches to the teams and their respective NFL owners. All 32 teams in the league are known as franchises and are located around major cities in the US. Each division has 4 conferences; split into North, South, East and West. The regular season runs from September until January and consists of 17 weeks. Each team plays 16 games (8 at their home stadium and 8 at opponents stadiums) against other teams in the league. Each team also has a bye week where they do not have a game and can rest players.
Every year each team will play their 3 divisional rivals twice and the remaining games will be against teams in other divisions and even conferences. The NFL schedule is based upon the position the team finished in the previous year. So if a team finished 4th in the division last year, they will play teams who also finished 4th in their relevant divisions.
After 17 weeks of games the regular season finishes and the 8 teams at the top of their conference plus the two best placed teams in the conference progress to the playoffs. This part of the system sees 6 teams from both the AFC and NFC compete in a knockout style format. The teams are seeded from 1st to 6th in the order they finished the season after 17 weeks. The 6th placed team faces the 3rd best team, with the 5th placed team facing the 4th best team. These two wild card games take place for teams in both the AFC and NFC.
The divisional playoffs is the next round of the knockout stages. It sees the lowest seeded team remaining after the wild card round playing against the highest seeded team and the second lowest team play against the second highest team. Again this takes place for teams in both the AFC and NFC so that there are 4 divisional games. The league is structured so that the team that performs best in the regular season will have the easiest path to the Super Bowl.
The conference championships are 2 games (one in the AFC and one in the NFC) between the two teams that won their respective divisional playoff. The winner of each of these games is declared the AFC or NFC Champion for that year and go on to face each other in the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl is the culmination of the whole season and can be referred to as the World Cup Final of NFL. The game sees the AFC and NFC Champions compete against each other to determine which team is the best in the NFL for that year. The game is not just a sporting spectacle, but also known for its half time performance by megastar musicians. In recent times Super Bowl adverts have become talking points for many as companies try to come up with new and memorable adverts.
The commissioner of the NFL (currently Roger Goodell) oversees teams in both the AFC and NFC. The league enforces the rules and regulations on each team and all of its players. Apart from disciplinary issues, the NFL limits each teams budget on wages paid to its players in the form of a salary cap. This rule sets out a yearly predetermined fiscal number at which a team can pay the total of their players on their roster. It ensures that all teams are playing on a level financial playing field and that no team can have a huge number of star players, as they will not be able to afford them. When a players contract is up for renewal, a long and extensive negotiation takes place between the player and the team. If the team can afford to (and want to) keep him, then they try to structure the contract in a way that keeps the team under the stipulated salary cap. Many highly skilled and sought after players command huge salaries in the many millions a year.