The Tennessee Titans have defeated the New Orleans Saints by two points in a game that came right down to the end.
For its millions upon millions of salivating fans, the NFL’s 16-game regular reason means two things.
One, that any football we do get is never nearly enough. And two, a season this lacking in on-field action better be crammed with plenty more off-field goodies to keep our attention.
Having gone over the basics in part one, part two of my crash course to the world’s greatest game looks at the key events on the schedule of a typical NFL season.
The most anticipated event of the offseason, the draft brings all 32 teams together under the bright lights of New York’s Radio City Music Hall to select and sign the best talent straight out of college.
But far from looking like a free-for-all bloodbath, with more cash and expletives flying around than a Wall Street brokerage, the draft is actually a very fair process.
It consists of seven rounds, containing 32 picks in each round. If you came dead last the previous season, you hold the dubious honour of selecting first in each round. Walk into New York the defending Super Bowl champion, and you have to wait for everyone else to have their turn.
Not everyone has to stay put, though. Some teams, like the Dallas Cowboys, spend the entire three days wheeling and dealing with other teams in order to get their man. More stoic participants, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, prefer to stay put and let fate do her job in deciding who falls to them.
Naturally, household names are taken in the first round, with mid-level talent taken later and the relative nobodies snapped up in the sixth or seventh round. But don’t be fooled – a player’s college resumé isn’t always the best indicator of NFL talent.
Some of the biggest superstars of the modern game were completely unheard of coming out of college, so don’t sleep on the nobodies. They might just prove the hero of the Super Bowl.
Following the excitement of the draft is four weeks of ‘football lite’. Essentially a series of trial games, NFL coaches use these contests to separate those ‘on the bubble’ and those about to get told to hand in their iPad and hope some other team likes their stuff.
For this reason, starters see very limited in-game action, and the final score is nowhere near as important as analysing who steps up and makes plays.
For fans tuning in to watch a random game, things can get boring quickly. Once the starters swap their helmets for hats and start casually sipping Gatorade on the sidelines, the action slows dramatically.
The runs aren’t as fast, the passes aren’t as accurate, and the hits aren’t as bone crunching. Isn’t it time for real football yet?
Game day is finally here, and with just 16 chances to separate the cellar-dwellers from the silverware contenders, you better believe every game counts.
The league’s 32 teams are separated into two conferences of 16 teams apiece. From there, teams are evenly split into four divisions (called the North, South, East and West) per conference.
The league has a schedule that dictates every opponent for the year, but the most important takeaway is this: you play each of the other three teams in your division twice (once at home, and once away). Win your division and you make the playoffs. Take into account the fact that certain division rivalries are some of the most compelling in world sport, and you’re guaranteed an action-packed race to the playoffs in at least one division every year.
The NFL sends twelve teams to the playoffs, so with eight participants already decided on the basis of winning their division, the other four spots are taken by teams with the best win-loss record among everyone who didn’t win their division (called ‘wild cards’).
Teams that came first and second in each of the two conferences earn a bye in the first week of the playoffs. For everyone else, it’s sudden death.
By week two, four teams per conference are left to slug it out, and from there it’s pretty straight-forward. The two winners of the Blue conference games play each other for the Conference Championship in week three, as do the two winners in the Red conference.
The winner of each Conference Championship advances to week four, where they play each other in the big game.
It’s got fighter jets. It’s got the national anthem. It’s got moderately entertaining half-time shows. It’s got awful commercials that everyone seems to think are god’s gift to comedy.
It can only be the Super Bowl; the finest slice of Americana Monday morning Australian television has to offer.
You gave it a go last year just because, well, it’s the Super Bowl. Imagine how much more fun it’ll be in February of 2015 once you’ve picked a team and got your first season of NFL fandom under your belt.
But more on that tomorrow…