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National Football League
Current season or competition:|
2014 NFL season
|No. of teams||32, divided into two sixteen-team conferences, each of which consists of four four-team divisions.|
|Most recent champion(s)||Seattle Seahawks (1)|
|TV partner(s)||CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN, NFL Network|
The National Football League (also called the NFL) is an American football league. There are 32 teams in the league. The league is a professional league, which means that the players are paid to play and that it is their job. A league is a competition between a number of teams. The teams play other teams, and the results are used to list the teams in order of who is best. The team at the top of the list (called a league table) is the best team and the team at the bottom is the worst team.
It is now the most popular professional league in the United States by number of television viewers. The NFL also has the highest per-game attendance of any professional league in the world; in the most recent 2011 season, the average crowd at an NFL game was more than 67,000. Its championship game, the Super Bowl, is an unofficial national holiday in the U.S., and is seen by more people than any other American television program.
History of the NFL
In 1920, an American football league was formed. It was called the American Professional Football Association. In 1921 it changed its name to the National Football League. In 1960 another league was formed, called the American Football League. In 1970 the National Football League and the American Football League joined together so that the teams from each league could play each other. The league called the National Football League changed its name to the National Football Conference (usually called the NFC) and the league called the American Football League changed its name to the American Football Conference (usually called the AFC). The two conferences together are now called the National Football League. People can also call it by the acronym NFL for short.
Because the U.S. is a big country and it would be hard for teams to travel a long way to play other teams, the teams are separated into smaller regional divisions based on where they are in the country. The teams are separated like this:
Teams in the AFC
Teams in the east
- Buffalo Bills (from Orchard Park, New York, near Buffalo)
- Miami Dolphins (from Miami Gardens, Florida, near Miami)
- New England Patriots (from Foxborough, Massachusetts, about halfway between Boston and Providence)
- New York Jets (from East Rutherford, New Jersey, near New York City)
Teams in the north
- Baltimore Ravens (from Baltimore, Maryland)
- Cincinnati Bengals (from Cincinnati, Ohio)
- Cleveland Browns (from Cleveland, Ohio)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
Teams in the south
- Houston Texans (from Houston, Texas)
- Indianapolis Colts (from Indianapolis, Indiana)
- Jacksonville Jaguars (from Jacksonville, Florida)
- Tennessee Titans (from Nashville, Tennessee)
Teams in the west
Teams in the NFC
Teams in the east
- Dallas Cowboys (from Arlington, Texas, near Dallas and Fort Worth)
- New York Giants (also from East Rutherford, New Jersey, playing in the same stadium as the Jets)
- Philadelphia Eagles (from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
- Washington Redskins (from Landover, Maryland, near Washington, D.C.)
Teams in the north
- Chicago Bears (from Chicago, Illinois)
- Detroit Lions (from Detroit, Michigan)
- Green Bay Packers (from Green Bay, Wisconsin)
- Minnesota Vikings (from Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Teams in the south
- Atlanta Falcons (from Atlanta, Georgia)
- Carolina Panthers (from Charlotte, North Carolina)
- New Orleans Saints (from New Orleans, Louisiana)
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (from Tampa, Florida)
Teams in the west
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The teams in the NFL play games against each other from September to January. This time is called a season. Each team plays 16 games. This is how which games a team will play is chosen:
- Each team plays a game against all the other teams in their regional league twice, once at their own stadium (this is called playing "at home") and once at the other team's home stadium (this is called playing "away").
- Each team will also play all the teams in another regional league in the same conference (AFC or NFC). They will play two of those teams at home and two of the teams away. The other regional league that they play changes every year. For example, a team in the AFC North will play teams in the AFC South one year, the AFC East the next year, the AFC West the year after that, and then the AFC South again the year after that.
- Each team will also play all the teams in one of the regional leagues from the other conference. They will play two of these teams at home and the other two teams away. The regional league from the other conference changes every year too. For example a team in the AFC North will play teams from the NFC North one year, then teams from the NFC South the next year, then teams from the NFC West the next year, then teams from the NFC East the next year, then teams from the NFC North again the next year.
- Each team will also play two teams from the same conference in the regional league that they are not already supposed to play against. The teams that they play will be the teams that were about as good as they were last season and finished in the same position in their own regional leagues. For example if we look at a team in the AFC North that finished 3rd out of the 4 teams in the AFC North, if this team is going to play all the teams in the AFC West this year anyway, they will play the teams that finished 3rd in the AFC East and the AFC South.
Since the 2006 season, the NFL has used a "flexible-scheduling" system for the last seven weeks of the regular season where there is a Sunday night game. The system is designed so that the league has the flexibility in selecting games to air on Sunday night that will feature the current hottest, streaking teams.
Under the system, all Sunday games in the affected weeks will tentatively have the "early" start time of 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, except those played in the Pacific or Mountain time zones, which will have the tentative start time of 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT. On the Tuesday 12 days before the games, the league will move one game to the prime-time slot, and possibly move one or more 1 p.m. slotted games to the 4 p.m. slot. During the last week of the season, the league could re-schedule games as late as six days before the contests so that as many of the television networks as possible will be able to broadcast a game that has playoff implications.
At the end of every NFL season, the eight teams that finish the season at the top of their leagues and two teams from each conference that were the best teams apart from the eight league winners (these four teams are called Wild Cards) enter a competition to see who is the best team in the whole league. This is called the Playoffs. There are a total of 12 teams in the Playoffs, six from the NFC and six from the AFC. The six teams in each conference are listed in order of how well they played in the season. This is called seeding and it is done to make it easier for the better teams to win. The teams that did not win their leagues (the Wild Cards) are always the fifth and sixth seeds in the list, even if they were better than a team that won a different league.
Wild Card games
In the first part of the playoffs (called Wild Card Weekend) there are four games.
- the team that was the sixth best in the AFC plays the team that was the third best in the AFC
- the team that was the fifth best in the AFC plays the team that was the fourth best in the AFC
- the team that was the sixth best in the NFC plays the team that was the third best in the NFC
- the team that was the fifth best in the NFC plays the team that was the fourth best in the NFC
The teams that lose these games are not in the playoffs competition any more. Now there are only 8 teams left.
In the second part of the playoffs (called the Divisional Playoffs) there are four games.
- the lowest seeded team from the AFC that won in the last round plays the best team in the AFC
- the other team from the AFC that won in the last round plays the second best team in the AFC
- the lowest seeded team from the NFC that won in the last round plays the best team in the NFC
- the other team from the NFC that won in the last round plays the second best team in the NFC
The teams that lose these games are not in the playoffs competition any more. Now there are only 4 teams left.
In the third part of the playoffs (called the Conference Championship Games) there are two games.
- the two teams from the AFC that won in the last round play each other. The winner is the AFC Champion.
- the two teams from the NFC that won in the last round play each other. The winner is the NFC Champion.
The last part of the playoffs is called the Super Bowl. The AFC Champion and the NFC Champion teams play each other to decide who is the best team in the NFL.