Founded in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, the National Football League is by far the most popular and longest-lived professional American Football league.
The NFL plays mostly on Sundays (with additional games Mondays and Thursdays) from September to February. The regular season lasts from early September to late December/early January. The division winners and two "wild card" teams (the two best records in each conference not to win a division) proceed to a seeded playoff tournament through January, culminating in the Super Bowl, played between the conference champions on the first Sunday in February, which is usually the most-watched television program of the year and therefore gets the best commercials.
One oddity of the NFL is that no team actually plays in New York City; while there are two "New York" teams, they both actually play nearby in East Rutherford, New Jersey (though both originally played in the city itself for decades). Plus, from 1995 to 2016, no team played in the Los Angeles area at all. L.A.'s former teams (they had two in 1994) moved elsewhere. The Rams, one of the teams that moved away in 1994, moved back in 2016, with the Chargers returning to Los Angeles from a 55-year stay in San Diego in the 2017 season. On the flip side, the NFL has a team in the smallest metro area to have any major league sport: Green Bay, Wisconsin. This is mostly due to the early era of the NFL when most teams played in small towns like Green Bay or Canton, Ohio. The Packers are the last team from that era to stick around in the original location, mostly due to being owned by the town, being close enough to the Milwaukee media base, and the rabid fanbase (they have a sellout streak dating to the 1960s).
The NFL is also the only one of the 4 "major" North American sports leagues that has no teams outside of the United States. note There is also a 9-team professional Canadian Football League which plays a version of gridiron football similar to American Football (their championship game is called the Grey Cup) but they have no affiliation with the NFL, although many see the CFL as an unofficial 'minor league', due to the number of failed NFL and former college players who ultimately go play up North, plus the occasional CFL-to-NFL success story note .
NFL Divisions and Teams
The NFL's 32 teams are divided between two conferences, the NFC and the AFC, and 8 divisions, each of which has some of its own unique personality. The conferences, the National and American Football Conferences, are Artifact Titles from the the time when many of the AFC franchises played in the rival American Football League (AFL) before the league merged with the old NFL in 1970. Normally, each team considers every other team in its division as a rival, but there are some inter-conference and inter-divisional rivalries as well. note
Divisions have changed from time to time. The most recent change came about when the Houston Texans entered the league, causing a switch from the three-division system that had been in place since the NFL-AFL merger to a four-division method. Each conference has four divisions ("North", "South", "East", "West") of four teams each. These divisions are organized to promote established rivalries, so they bear little resemblance to actual geography, especially if teams change cities:
- The Baltimore Ravens are in the AFC North, despite Baltimore being in the mid-Atlantic. note
- The Dallas Cowboys are in the NFC East even though Dallas is in the Southwest, albeit a piece of the Southwest in the Central time zone. Interestingly, this was not caused by a relocation. note Prior to the Rams moving back to Los Angeles, both the NFC East and the NFC West were both even screwier, as the Cowboys were geographically west of the St. Louis Rams, a member of the NFC West. The Rams' placement was retained upon realignment despite their move because they wouldn't fit anywhere else; their move back makes at least the Rams make geographic sense. The Cowboys, however...
- The Indianapolis Colts note are in the AFC South, even though they're geographically north of the Cincinnati Bengals, a member of the AFC North. note
- Prior to the four-division alignments in 2002, many of the teams were placed in even worse configurations compared to the division name. A prime example: the Arizona Cardinals played in the NFC East from 1988 to 2001. note Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, and Carolina Panthers were originally in the NFC West (and no, they hadn't moved from somewhere else). note
The divisions are presently as follows:
- NFC East (Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, & Washington Redskins): A slight artifact title because Dallas is west of the Mississippi, however, it was structured this way to preserve the intense rivalries amongst its four teams. The NFC East is considered one of the league's stronger divisions and is its most decorated with its teams holding 13 Super Bowls (as of the upcoming 2018 season); with the Eagles' win in Super Bowl LII, they're the only division whose teams have all won at least one. The winner usually rotating among the Giants, the Eagles, or the 'Boys (with the 'Skins holding the bag). Each of the teams usually puts up a pretty good game against each other as well. Sometimes called "The Glamour Division", both because all four teams are big-market teams with long histories, and because, in recent years, all four have a tendency to excite hype and excitement in the offseason which they usually do not live up to. Unlike other divisions, where each team might have one other team they specifically single out as The Rival more so than the other teams in the division, in the NFC East all four teams' fanbases hate the other teams, to the point that the only proper answer to "Who would you root for between (two division rivals)?" is to want Bane to blow up the stadium.
- NFC North (Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, & Minnesota Vikings): AKA, "The Black & Blue Division" and "The Norris Division."note It was known as the NFC Central Division prior to the 2002 season and was the only NFL division to remain intact after the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Thus, it is considered the oldest division in professional football.note Green Bay won the first crown en route to its eleventh NFL Championship and second Super Bowl victory in 1967. The next two were won by Minnesota which went on to dominate the division in the '70s, followed by Chicago in the '80s and Green Bay in the '90s with the division crown rotating between the three of them in the '00s. Detroit has struggled since the 1950s, with the low point for the franchise being a winless season in 2008 - but those struggles have resulted in some high draft picks that the team has used as of late to become...well, pretty darn good. It is home to some of the longest running rivalries in the NFL and two of the teams were previously led by Brett Favre over the course of 18 seasons (GB: 1992-2007 & MIN: 2009-2010).
- NFC South (Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, & Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Originally thought of as the castoffsnote when pro football went to four divisions, they've actually played pretty good, albeit inconsistently (good one year, terrible the next and vice versa). Since the division's inception, all four teams have won the division at least thrice, with Carolina and New Orleans holding five titles each and Atlanta holding four; also, the NFC South became the first division since the 2002 realignment to have all four of its members represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. They're also the only division without any teams predating the 1960s (the Falcons and Saints were established in 1966 and 1967, respectively, followed by the Buccaneers in 1976 and the Panthers in 1995). In the division's early years, no one team was dominant, with all four teams winning the division title within the first five years; however, the division alternated between New Orleans and Atlanta between 2009 and 2012, and from 2013 to 2015, Carolina had been the dominant team. Tampa Bay currently has the longest playoff drought in the division, not making the playoffs since 2007 and has finished in last in the division in 8 out of the past 11 seasons, and in the three seasons where they posted a winning record, the Bucs lost out on a playoff berth, usually due to tiebreakers. Oddly, from 2003 to 2007 and in 2009, the previous year's last-place team won the division. In 2008, the previously last place team, Atlanta, merely made the wild card playoff spot instead, and in 2010, Tampa Bay, 2009's last place team, just missed out on the playoffs, losing a tiebreaker to (the eventual Super Bowl XLV winner) Green Bay. However, in 2014, the South regained its "weakest division" crown, with all four teams finishing the 2014 season with losing records and its champion, Carolina, becoming the second teamnote to enter the playoffs with a losing record in a non-strike-affected season; Carolina's subsequent victory over Arizona re-ignited the debate on whether division winners should automatically get home field in their first playoff game. However, in the 2017 season, New Orleans, Carolina and Atlanta comprised half of NFC playoff race with New Orleans winning the division for the first time in six years. With that, the NFC South has been seen by many as a competitive division again.
- NFC West (Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, & Seattle Seahawks): For most of the 2000s one of the league's weakest divisions, usually only sending its division winner to a one-and-done playoff experience although this was subverted by RB Marshawn Lynch and Seattle with a shocking victory over the defending champion Saintsnote , despite having a losing record heading into the game. Also inverted by Arizona in 2008 thanks in large part to Kurt Warner's resurgence where they reached the Super Bowl despite only nine regular season wins and being called "the worst playoff team" by many people. (Speaking of Warner, the Rams' Greatest Show on Turf offense dominated the division in the early 00's but slowly fell out of power to Seattle, and then Arizona.) San Francisco used to be one of the NFL's strongest franchises with four championships in the 80's and one in the 90's, when it was known for the innovative "West Coast Offense" and having several hall of fame players on the roster (Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, see above). However, as those players all retired or fell to injury as the 90's wore on, the team slipped into "also ran" status for nearly a decade until they returned to the playoffs in 2011. After that, with the resurgence of the 49ers and the rise of the Seahawks and Cardinals, followed by the Rams' sudden resurgence in 2017, the NFC West was considered by many to be the toughest division in the league. With the Rams' return to the Super Bowl in 2018, the NFC West became the second division to send all four of its members to at least one Super Bowl since the 2002 realignment.
- AFC East (Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, & New York Jets): Starting from the early 2000s, New England had an absolute lock on this division, winning it almost every yearExceptions , with the best thing any other team could hope for being a wild-card berth. Aside from the Patriots, it's a fairly weak division - the Jets are a huge case of Every Year They Fizzle Out, the Dolphins haven't done anything aside from their 2008 division title and a 2016 Wild Card berth, and the Bills have been dire since the mid-late 90s, with their 2017 wild-card berth their first playoff appearance in this century. Notable for the fact that it contains entirely of former AFL franchises, with three of them being original AFL teams; that's why it retained the geographic oddity of having Miami in its division even though it is geographically the southernmost NFL city. One interesting fact is that none of the teams actually play in the main cities of their metropolitan areas. The Bills have played in Orchard Park, NY since 1973; the Dolphins in Miami Gardens (which is not part of the City of Miami), FL since 1987; the Patriots in Foxborough, MA (which is why they changed their name from the Boston Patriots to New England Patriots) since 1971; and the Jets in East Rutherford, NJ across the river from NYC since 1984.
- AFC North (Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, & Pittsburgh Steelers): The home of intimidating defenses and hardcore players...and the Cleveland Browns. All of these teams have fairly storied histories - well, except Cincinnati (were fairly decent in the '80s, making the Super Bowl twice, but typically struggle so much they are better known as the Bungles). The division's typically a showdown between Pittsburgh and Baltimore, with Cincy a respectable third and Cleveland a distant fourth. The balance of power shifted in the first half of the 2010's, with Cincy winning the division twice and clinching a wild-card berth three other times... only to fizzle in the playoffsnote ; a rash of free-agent losses and injuries since 2015 have taken them back out of contention.
- AFC South (Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, & Tennessee Titans): Until recently a contender for "strongest division", at the moment they're another "one good team and three bad ones" division. Indy ran away with the division during the Peyton Manning years. Tennessee and Jacksonville used to put up a decent fight, but since the end of the Noughties both have been in the bottom half of the league. Houston was known as a decent team in a division where "decent" wasn't good enough. They earned (their first two) playoff appearances in 2011 and 2012note before regressing back to their usual "decent" state, though we're good enough to win the division in 2015, only to be shutout in the opening round of the playoffs. The 2017 season, which saw both the Colts (Luck) and Texans (superstar DL J. J. Watt and promising rookie QB Deshaun Watson) struggle with key injuries, flipped the script, with the Jags winning the division and Titans claiming a wild card.
- AFC West (Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, & Oakland Raiders): Another entrant into the contest for "weakest division". Back when they were in San Diego, the Chargers had a fairly solid lock on the division until 2011, though Denver has since taken control, first under Tim Tebow and then under Peyton Manning. Kansas City and Oakland have made top-10 draft picks for several years now - although with a few recent coach/QB shifts (John Fox and Peyton Manning to Denver, and Alex Smith and Andy Reid to Kansas City; more recently Case Keenum to Denver), the division suddenly stacks up as one of the stronger ones in the NFL. By the way, these four teams have been in the same division since the beginning of the AFL.
- The Baltimore Ravens began play as an "expansion" team in 1996, though they were not a traditional expansion team as they were the result of the original Cleveland Browns' relocation. What happened is that owner Art Modell wanted to leave Cleveland with the Browns, but the Browns name and history remained in Cleveland (to be used by a "revived" Browns team under new ownership) while the Ravens were considered to be the "new" team. Confused? You should be. note There's also the unofficial but not unpopular view of viewing the Ravens as the direct successor of the Baltimore Colts and the Indianapolis Colts as a franchise team - in fact, most former Baltimore Colts players consider the Ravens to be their team rather than the Colts. The Ravens are known mostly for their stifling defense. The face of the team for their first 17 years of existence was linebacker Ray Lewis, who led the team to Super Bowl wins in the 2000 and 2012 seasons, but non-Baltimore fans prefer to focus on how he was indicted for murder in 2000. Ah, the NFL. The Ravens are division rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the rivalry between the two teams has been said to be the most bitter in the NFL note Currently, the Ravens are in the middle of rebuilding their team, after a series of retirements, having to trade away players due to hitting salary caps, and kicking players off the team arrested for any crimes, as part of a zero tolerance policy to restore the team's public image in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal (see Notorious Players below).
- The Buffalo Bills are the third team to lose four Super Bowls. Not only that, they did it four years in a row. Other than that, possibly the only NFL city with weather worse than Green Bay. As the city of Buffalo's economy has been in a tailspin for nearly four decades, the Bills were commonly mentioned when talking about putting a team in Los Angeles. They played some home games in nearby Toronto to attempt to expand their regional appeal and alleviate this concern, but raising others; there was talk of having them become the first Canadian NFL team. Speculation about a future move increased after founding owner Ralph Wilson died in 2014. A few weeks later, Donald Trump publicly expressed an interest in buying the team to keep it in Buffalo, but lost out to Terry Pegula, an energy billionaire who also owns the Buffalo Sabres and was also committed to keeping the team in town. He ended the Toronto home games early as part of his commitment. Speaking of Toronto, once the Blue Jays made it to October again, the Bills held the dubious distinction of not only having the longest postseason drought in North American sports, but also being the only "Big Four"note team who hadn't made a playoff appearance in the 21st century; this was finally snapped in 2017, when they won their regular season closer and were then gifted the No. 6 seed from the Ravens (who lost out of nowhere to the Bengals) a few minutes later.
- The Cincinnati Bengals are a historically bad team that has been in two Super Bowls (XVI and XXIII) and lost both in close contests to the San Francisco 49ers. Pretty much came into existence solely as a Take That! effort to allow former Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown to come back to the league after being fired years before; the team even uses the same helmet color as the Browns. Like every other team in the AFC that has at some point been associated with the state of Ohio, they are bitter rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers; in fact, by the early 2010's, the Bengals-Steelers rivalry was considered a candidate for "most bitter in the NFL", after a half-decade of intensification due to Cincy's 2005-06 playoff appearance, their first in fifteen years (and first division title under the AFC North banner) being spoiled by Pittsburgh at home in the Wild-Card Round. Games between them from 2010-15 became known for high injury and penalty counts on both sides. Right now, their biggest claim to fame is having the longest playoff victory drought in the NFL. While they only recently broke a five-year streak of playoff appearances, they still haven't actually won in the postseason since the 1990 wild card round, when they beat the Houston Oilers (the team now known as the Tennessee Titans). note
- The Cleveland Browns are a former powerhouse that has won and appeared in more professional championships than any other team, but has not been to a championship game since 1964. Known for choking in the clutch, especially against the Denver Broncos in the mid to late 1980s. (Don't ask Browns fans about "The Drive" or "The Fumble".) After the original team was taken to Baltimore by owner Art Modell (don't mention him around Browns fans either) in 1996, the city filed a federal lawsuit and was awarded the team name, colors, and franchise history. The Browns then returned, as an expansion team, in 1999. Since then, the team has been a laughingstock, in large part due to constantly-shifting coaching staffs, high-profile draft picks that that haven't panned out, and a paranoid front office that has all but banned the team's main broadcaster from merely reporting team news they disagree with (while their games are broadcast nationally on CBS, their team shows and preseason games air on the NBC affiliate, which is oddly more flowery about Browns team news). Ultimately, the franchise has proved to be a constant punchline to their divisional rivals, even more so in the current era of free agency, which is specifically designed to help struggling teams get better, while making it hard for those who do best. When they were purchased by truck stop mogul Jimmy Haslam in 2012, he seemed to be serious about reforming the team. However, Cleveland's penchant of rotten luck seems to be continuing; not soon after Haslam's purchase of the Browns, his truck stop company, Pilot Flying J, was investigated for fraud, complete with the FBI and IRS staging a raid at one point. The organization thought the drafting of Johnny Manziel in the 2014 draft would finally help bring the team to respectability, but instead, the rookie QB ended up spending more time partying and shooting his mouth off than playing, with multiple incidents involving his behavior occurring on and off the field. Manziel's first start in a regular season game ended in a 30-0 blow-out loss to the Bengals, then a hamstring injury the following week took him out for the season, and he only started three games in 2015. Eventually, his behavior and performance spiraled to intolerable levels, and he was cut from the team in 2016. However, his replacement, Robert Griffin III, cut after a tumultuous stint with the Washington Redskins and signed with the Browns for 2 years at $15 million, had the potential to be as big of a PR nightmare as Manziel, at least on the field (RG3 has little if any off-field baggage). As it turned out, RG3 missed almost all of the 2016 season due to a pair of injuries, and was out of football entirely in 2017. The Browns' latest head coach, Hue Jackson, hired away from the Bengals (where he was their offensive coordinator) in 2016, was the team's sixth coach in the past ten years; despite bottoming out the franchise at an 0-16 mark in 2017 (and going 1-31 across two seasons at the helm), Jackson was allowed to keep his job for a third season (at least until he was fired in week 8), which brought further questions about Haslam's competence as owner.note Their stadium, officially FirstEnergy Stadium, Home of the Cleveland Browns, is also referred to by its derisive nickname "The Factory of Sadness." Oh, and one more statistic: The quarterback who has won the most games in Cleveland since the Browns' return in 1999 is Ben Roethlisberger... who has played his entire NFL career with the Steelers. This may not be the case in a couple of years or so, given that Baker Mayfield, who took over as the starting QB three weeks into the 2018 season, led the Browns to more wins than they had in the three previous seasons combined.
- The Denver Broncos are the second team to lose four Super Bowls and the first to lose five. Historically a strong franchise, they eventually won two behind quarterback John Elway at the tail end of his career, and a third in Super Bowl 50 behind Peyton Manning at the tail end of his career with Elway now running football operations as President. Also always seem to have a stud anonymous 1000-yard rusher every year. Their stadium, called Broncos Stadium at Mile High for now (the "Mile High" having been added in an attempt to calm complaints about the stadium's former corporate names, and as a Shout-Out to previous home Mile High Stadium), is literally a mile up, just like the rest of Denver, which makes their home games tough on the visiting teams. Some players with certain medical conditions cannot play there without literally risking their lives and thus must miss the games.note Made a lot of noise in the 2009 offseason when new coach Josh McDaniels succeeded in alienating the team's star quarterback so badly that they were forced to trade him to Chicago. (Chicago made the playoffs in 2010, McDaniels got fired before the season was over). McDaniels drafted Tim Tebow before leaving Denver, who led the Broncos to a stunning playoff spot. However, Tebow was traded to the New York Jets after John Elway was returned to the franchise as President, and signed veteran QB Manning. In the 201314 season, the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl with the most productive offense in NFL history according to many sports experts, but they ended up losing 43-8 to the Seattle Seahawks, who had the best defense of the year and one of the best defenses in NFL history. In 2015, Manning truly showed the effects of age and injuries, missing significant time during the season, but he came back for the end of the season. The Broncos then rode a defense about as dominant as that of the 2013 Seahawks to victory in Super Bowl 50 in what proved to be Manning's final game.
- The Houston Texans are the NFL's newest franchise. They began play in 2002, five years after the old Houston Oilers left town to become the Tennessee Titans. Incidentally, the NFL originally awarded the franchise to Los Angeles, but civic arguments over a new stadium in L.A., coupled with a record-breaking expansion bid by Houston businessman Bob McNair ($700 million, not including the price tag for the new stadium) forced the NFL to change its mind and award the team to Houston instead. However, since the Titans owned (and refused to sell) the rights to the Oilers name and colors (Titans owner Bud Adams specifically had the team spend two seasons as the "Tennessee Oilers" so that a repeat of the Cleveland Browns situation would be impossible), they based their name after the original Houston Texans, a WFL team that played in 1974. After several seasons at or below mediocrity, the Texans broke through in 2011 with their first division win and the franchise's first playoff berth, fueled mostly by a revitalized defense.
- The Indianapolis Colts are a mediocre franchise that suddenly became dominant after drafting popular media-darling quarterback Peyton Manning in 1998. With Manning on the team, they became a regular playoff contender (including a Super Bowl win in 2007), but when he was out for the 2011 season due to a neck injury they instantly fell to worst in the league. But thanks to No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck, new head coach Chuck Pagano, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians (who took over as interim coach when Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia), and other players and staff, the Colts went from 2-14 to 11-5 and right back in the playoffs. The Colts are a long-running franchise that dates, in some form, all the way back to 1913note . They were in Baltimore until they literally escaped in moving vans in the middle of the night in 1983; the city of Baltimore now wishes they had had the presence of mind to do to this team what Cleveland did to the Browns... A team of many firsts. As the Baltimore Colts, they had the first cheerleading squad and the first official mascot in the NFL, and were also the first NFL team to put a logo on their helmets. Contrary to popular belief, the Colts don't have the first NFL marching bandthat honor belongs to the Redskins. Also, the band predates the current Colts franchise; it was created for the first Baltimore Colts, which folded after the 1950 season.note The Colts also won the first-ever sudden-death overtime game, the 1958 Championship Game against the New York Giants note which has sometimes been referred to as "The Greatest Game Ever Played". Divisional rivals of Tennessee, Jacksonville and Houston.
- The Jacksonville Jaguars are a franchise based in the North Florida city that began play in 1995 and chose a predatory feline as their mascot. Along with the Carolina Panthers (another expansion team with a predatory feline mascot created that year), they made it to their respective conference championship in 1996 but lost. Midway into the 2011 season, the Jaguars made a huge news via firing long time head coach Jack Del Rio and previous owner Wayne Weaver selling the franchise to Shahid Khan, a billionaire from Pakistan, called "The Face of the American Dream" by Forbes, whose mustache is as well known as his business skills — fans can be seen wearing "Khanstaches" at home games in support of their new owner. They share divisional rivalries with Tennessee, Houston and Indianapolis and are geographical rivals of Miami and Tampa Bay, although none of the teams in Florida take their rivalries seriously. Currently the Jaguars are rebuilding from the poor decisions of the previous regime. The current coach is Doug Marrone after previous head coach Gus Bradley was fired, with the most well-known player now being quarterback Nick Foles, who backed up Carson Wentz in Philadelphia and led the Eagles to their only Super Bowl win when Wentz was out injured, and signed with the Jags as a free agent after the 2018 season. As the Jacksonville Metro area has only 1.5 million people (and thus a tiny media market)note , this is another team that was considered for a move to Los Angeles, not helped by a multi-year commitment to play one home game in London, leading to the team sometimes derogatorily being referred to as the London Jaguars. These rumors were pretty much killed by a series of stadium upgrades which include the largest video boards in the world, an upgrade to the end zone club area featuring a pair of swimming pools, and for the 2016 season, the construction of an amphitheater complete with a multi-use Flex Field. Of course, the Rams and Chargers returning to LA have made relocation there a moot point anyway.
- The Kansas City Chiefs started life as an original AFL team as the Dallas Texans, owned by AFL founder Lamar Hunt until his death. They moved to Kansas City once it became obvious that Dallas wouldn't support two teams (the Cowboys started at the same time; the Texans won the AFL championship in 1962 but the not-very-good-at-the-time Cowboys, being in the more established NFL, were the more popular team), changed their name because the Kansas City Texans is clearly ridiculous (although there is word Hunt did consider keeping the Texans name), but still includes their pre-Chiefs years in the team history. Under Hank Stram, the Chiefs won three AFL championships (1962, '66 and '69) and appeared in the first and fourth Super Bowls, beating the Vikings in the latter. Unfortunately, it didn't last and the Chiefs went into a decline in the mid-1970s, not long after they lost to the Miami Dolphins in a playoff game that went into two overtime periods and is still the longest game in NFL history (a United States Football League game in the 1980s went into a third overtime, but that doesn't count). There was a brief renaissance during the early years of Marty Schottenheimer and a scorched-earth 2003 campaign that ended with a first round playoff loss but since the mid-'00s they have been increasingly pathetic. If you ever heard the phrase "you play to win the game" with odd stressing on the syllables, blame the Chiefs' former head coach, Herm Edwards, who nearly destroyed the team. They did however win their division in 2010 thanks to a new coach and a much-improved offense and front office. In the 2013 season, the Chiefs would sadly be added to the history of greatest upset losses in playoff history. They had a 28-point lead over the Colts, but lost the game with a final score of 45-44, finishing second under the infamous Houston Oilers and Buffalo Bills game of '92 in terms of upset losses in a playoff game. Things started looking up again for the Chiefs though during the 2015 season. Despite having a 1-5 start, the Chiefs managed an amazing 10-game win streak that earned them a Wild Card playoff in which they utterly destroyed the Texans 30-0, finally ending their own long playoff drought... at least one of them. While it was their first playoff win since the 199394 playoffs, it was in Houston, meaning that they still had no home playoff win in that time span. They have since won three straight AFC West titles (20162018). In the first two seasons, they went one-and-done in the playoffs, both at home; in the third, they finally got their elusive home playoff win, beating the Colts in the divisional round. The 2018 season also saw the emergence of Patrick Mahomes as arguably the game's best young QB. The Chiefs have a running rivalry with Seattle over who has the loudest fans; at many of their home games, they and Seattle attempt to set new world records for crowd noise. KC has the record for now.
- The Los Angeles Chargers were an original AFL franchise who made the jump to the NFL. They were originally based in Los Angeles, but they played for only one season before moving to San Diego in 1961. They got their nickname because they were owned by Barron Hilton (yes, Paris's grandfather), who also owned the Carte Blanche credit card (though because of their lightning logo scheme this has almost been all but forgotten). The Chargers have a longtime habit of choking during the playoffs, first with Dan Fouts in the 1980s, then 20 years later with LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers. Made the Super Bowl in 1994, but suffered a humiliating blowout at the hands of the 49ers. Current Giants QB Eli Manning was first drafted by the Chargers, but demanded a trade before he even started playing. The Chargers' general manager at the time, A.J. Smith, was dubbed "The Lord of No Rings" by Eli's father Archie for his inability to put together a Super Bowl-winning team, and was used as Eli's justification for refusing to sign. Smith's continued failure to win a Super Bowl, despite offensive superstars like Tomlinson and Drew Brees, and exceptional return specialist Darren Sproles, having played for his teams (all of them now either playing elsewhere or retired, in the case of Tomlinson), made the nickname stick among fans. The Chargers have a very nasty rivalry (as in: violence in the stands between fans, resulting in the San Diego Police Department having a standing tactical alert for all Chargers-Raiders games during their time in San Diego) with the Oakland Raiders, possibly fueled by the fact that the late Al Davis had started his career as an assistant coach with the Chargers and only went to the Raiders when he was passed up for the head coaching job. Never Live It Down, indeed... The Chargers made noises about moving back to LA for over a decade (largely because Qualcomm Stadium was built in the 1960s and is falling apart). They stayed in San Diego for the 2016 season, and as of January 12, 2017, they exercised their option to join the Rams in their new stadium once it's built. Until the new stadium in Inglewood is ready, the team is playing in the MLS-specific Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson; at 30,000 seats, DHSP is the smallest stadium used in the Super Bowl era.note With the Chargers' move to LA, the team was thoroughly ridiculed for their now-quickly-abandoned alternate logo. Hardly anyone in LA wants the Chargers, with the city vastly preferring the Rams, especially after that team posted a winning record in 2017. Even the league and the other owners, despite pre-approving the move in the previous year, reportedly want the Chargers to go back to San Diego.
- The Miami Dolphins are best known as the only team in the Super Bowl era to achieve a "perfect season" (no losses or ties in regular season or playoffs), doing so in 1972. The only other teams that came close were the 1984 49ers and the 1985 Bears, both of whom went 15-1 in the regular seasonnote and went on to win the Super Bowlnote (and are the main contenders to the '72 Dolphins for the title of "greatest NFL team of all time"), and the 2007 Patriots, who went undefeated in the regular season and the playoffs but failed to seal the deal. Other than that, the Dolphins were the team of Dan Marino, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, who never won a Super Bowl. Ever since his retirement, they've pretty much had a revolving door at quarterback. Also had Don Shula, the winningest coach in the NFL, and since 1970, have been the winningest team in the league. To their credit, they've appeared in five different Super Bowls, losing three, but winning two back-to-back.
- The New England Patriots, the current Super Bowl champions, have been the strongest team of the 21st century. They spent decades as one of the NFL's perennial whipping boys, with their highest marks as a franchise being getting completely obliterated by the vaunted Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX (1985) by a score of 46-10 and losing to Brett Favre and the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI in 1996, but they're now best known for their insane run of success since 2001. Led by quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, the Patriots transformed into a perennial juggernaut, winning three Super Bowls in four years and repeating as champions in 2003-2004, and returning to the Super Bowl in 2007 and 2011, losing to the New York Giants. And then they returned to and won the Super Bowls for the 2014 and 2016 seasons, making them the fourth team to win five. Their loss to the Eagles in 2017 ironically made them the second team to lose five as well, tying them for most losses.note But then they further enhanced their status as the century's strongest team with their 2018 win in Super Bowl LIII vs. the Los Angeles Rams to catch up to the Pittsburgh Steelers with 6 Super Bowl wins; interestingly, their status as the only team in the four major sports leagues to hold both the records for most wins and most losses in their sport's championship game was made possible by a fellow Boston-area team just three months earlier as the Los Angeles Dodgers' 2018 World Series loss to the Boston Red Sox broke a tie for most World Series losses with the New York Yankees, who still comfortably hold the record for wins. They were accused of illegally recording their opponents' defensive signals from the sidelines in 2007, an allegation known as "Spygate". Belichick was fined $500,000 note , the Patriots' organization was fined $250,000, and they lost their first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. In the 2014 postseason, the Patriots were accused of cheating yet again; dubbed "Deflategate" or "Ballghazi", the team was accused of using deliberately underinflated game balls during the AFC title game. Much like Spygate, Deflategate cost the Patriots dearly: the team was fined $1 million, Tom Brady was suspended for the first 4 games of the 2016 season (the suspension, originally for the first 4 games of the 2015 season, was challenged in court and struck down, but reinstated for the 2016 season on the NFL's appeal), and the team forfeited its first-round pick in the 2016 Draft and its fourth-round pick in the 2017 Draft. Were called the Boston Patriots from 1960-1970 until the building of Foxboro Stadium, next door to their current home of Gillette Stadium; both stadiums are actually closer to Providence, Rhode Island than to Boston. Around this time it was decided that the team represented the whole New England area.
- The New York Jets are New Jersey's other, more forgettable team. Originally the New York Titans. Traditionally Long Island's football team, they have been based in the Giants' home stadium since 1984. Sometimes derisively referred to as "Jersey-B" in the sports media, and more recently came to be nicknamed the "New York Jest". They are known for their "J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets" chant, which some of the rowdier fans translate to... other four-letter words. Did we mention that the Jets have a rather tough fanbase (although not as rough as the Eagles'). They've even stopped selling alcohol at a few games because of it. The high point of the franchise came in 1968, when quarterback Joe Namath "guaranteed" victory over the heavily favored Colts, and actually won Super Bowl III, giving the AFL teams credibility. (The guarantee thing seems to be endemic to New York City sports: see Babe Ruth in 1932, Mark Messier in 1994, Jim Fassel in 2000.) Besides creating the annoying tradition of underdog teams "guaranteeing" victory in important games, this had the more lasting effect of proving the viability of the AFL and validating the merger with the NFL that had been agreed to. After the Super Bowl win, they spent decades as a bottom-of-the-barrel team, though in the '80s they were known as a defensive powerhouse led by their "New York Sack Exchange" D-line. The Jets had a brief but noteworthy boom period in 2009 and '10 under outspoken head coach Rex Ryan and quarterback Mark Sanchez, where they declared war on the New England Patriots and eliminated them from the '10 playoffs. Since then they've slid back into mediocrity and below.
- The Oakland Raiders are the Eagles of the West Coast, as their fans often dress up in ridiculous costumes for the game. From 1966 (when Al Davis became a permanent part of the team's ownership) to 1983, "The Silver and Black" built up their mystique as they performed consistently well, winning ten division titles and three out of four Super Bowl appearances (XI, XV, and XVIII), and serving as The Rival to the Pittsburgh Steelers (from 1974-76 they played in three consecutive AFC championship games). They were the first wildcard team to win the Super Bowl in Super Bowl XV. In 1982, after a drawn-out fight with both the Oakland Coliseum (over improvements) and the NFL (over Davis's right to relocate his team), the Raiders moved from Oakland to Los Angeles. They were quite popular in LA, but had to play in the aging Los Angeles Coliseum. With 95,000 seats the Coliseum was usually not sold out for games which caused TV blackouts for the Raiders in LA. The area was also considered dangerous and the Raiders attracted many gang members as fans. After failing to get a new stadium, Davis moved the team back to Oakland in 1995. Once a dominant team throughout the 60's, 70's, and 80's, the team hit a low point after a 48-21 Super Bowl loss to the Buccaneers in 2002. The Raiders of the 2000's were known mostly for a revolving-door coaching staff, for picking up players that (due to either age or criminal history) no one else will touch, for drafting/signing speedy players who can't really do anything else to outrageous contracts. Al Davis was also known for massively interfering in the coaches' jobs during his tenure as owner. However, once his son Mark Davis took over, the team has improved considerably, posting a 7-9 record in 2015 and then a 12-4 record in 2016 after a great draft in 2014 that netted them 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack (though he would end up being traded to the Bears shortly before the 2018 season) and up-and-coming QB Derek Carr. The Raiders have a long-standing rivalry with San Francisco due to their proximity (their home cities are separated only by the width of the San Francisco Bay) that has historically been more intense between the administrators of each club than on the field. For a long time, the two clubs even refused to schedule each other in preseason because of it, and they won't again beginning in 2012 due to fan violence after their 2011 preseason game. As of 2019, it's the only team that shares its home field with a Major League Baseball team, in this case, the Athletics, thus it plays over dirt during the early part of the season rather than a full grass field. Oakland fans are among the most loyal in professional sports despite the team's recordnote , and constitute detractors for every other NFL team in existence (with particular emphasis on the Chargers, Chiefs, and 49ers). They were usually considered the team most likely to move, most likely back to Los Angeles, ironically. That changed when the NFL approved the Rams moving back to Los Angeles in 2016 along with an option for the Chargers. The Raiders had an option to move if San Diego refused to accept the terms, but the Chargers decided to join the Rams in their new stadium. By then, the Raiders were deep in discussions for a move to Las Vegas. After a few twists and turns, the owners approved the Las Vegas move in March 2017, to take effect once a new stadium is built in Vegas (currently expected to open in 2020). The team's unofficial anthem is "The Autumn Wind" - have a listen.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers are perhaps the most successful team of the modern NFL era, a contrast to their status as perhaps the most pathetic team in the pre-merger NFL.note They have won the Super Bowl six times and have played in eight, tied with the New England Patriots for the former and tied with the Dallas Cowboys and the Denver Broncos for second in the latter. Generally known for playing a conservative offense and aggressive defense. They won two Super Bowls in the 2000s, but are historically known for their great teams in the 1970s and their "Steel Curtain" defense. In a disturbing turn of fate, many members of the great 1970s teams later suffered various misfortunes and mental/physical problems traced to their playing days. The team of current broadcaster and occasional TV personality Terry Bradshaw, winner of 4 Super Bowls. They've recently had a few big-name players in the news for various reasons both good (Alejandro Villanueva) and not good (Santonio Holmes, Ben Roethlisberger). Heinz Field is known for having a field that's been called the worst in the NFL, though the players refuse to switch to turf like the Patriots did because of tradition (during a horrible rainstorm in 2006 the Steelers and Dolphins nearly played into overtime scoreless because of a very muddy field already pummeled by a pack of college and high school football games the week before; the Steelers only won near the end on a chip-shot field goal. This game might be remembered for the punt that stuck in the turf when it landed). Prior to Chuck Noll's tenure, which began in 1969, the Steelers had never won an NFL title in any era and had only one playoff appearance, which was a divisional tie-breaker, not a championship game. Since 1969, the Steelers have had just three head coaches: Noll, Bill Cowher and current head coach Mike Tomlin. The Steelers have also been owned by the Rooney family since their founding. The team typically features a run-first offense, most recently led by star running back Le'Veon Bell (since departed to the Jets); however, the talents of Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Bell himselfnote , along with the team's uncanny knack of drafting talented wide receivers from any roundnote enable them to run a gunslinging high-passing offense as needed. As of 2018, the Steelers hold the record for most playoff wins at 36.
- The Tennessee Titans were formerly known as the Houston Oilers. Generally pretty good year in and out, they were well-known for using the "Run and Shoot" offense in which two extra wide receivers replace the tight end and fullback. Led by QB Warren Moon, they put together good records in the '90s but never made it through the playoffs, once blowing a 32-point lead in the 4th quarter to Buffalo (the largest surrendered margin in playoff history). They moved to Tennessee in the late 90's, dropped the "Run and Shoot" (and the "Oilers" name, since Tennessee is not particularly famous for oil production), and got their revenge on Buffalo in 1999 by pulling off an absolutely ridiculous last-play kickoff return to win the game, dubbed the "Music City Miracle". They made it to the Super Bowl and lost when the game's final play ended just inches short of the goal line. The team has struggled in the years since, drafting players (Vince Young, Chris Johnson) with high prospects that have ended up disappointing in high-profile ways. The Titans were coached for 16 seasons by Jeff Fisher and Jeff Fisher's mustache, one of the great underrated coaching duos in the league; at the start of his tenure, they were still the Oilers.
- The Arizona Cardinals are the NFL's oldest franchise (they began in Chicago in 1898 as the "Morgan Athletic Club"), and historically one of its least successful. In fact, as of 2016 and the Chicago Cubs of MLB finally breaking their championship drought, the Cardinals now have the longest playoff drought in sports, having last won an NFL Championship in 1947. They have only ever won the NFL title twice, and the first time was a Disqualification-Induced Victory. In 2008, however, they won more playoff games in three weeks than the team had won in the previous 60 futile years, coming within a minute or so of winning a Super Bowl. Sometimes called the "football Cardinals", a throwback to the time they played in St. Louis, a city which already had (and still does have) a baseball team by the same name. Currently play in a stadium that looks like a giant steel rattlesnake curled up in the desert. For a long time, it was named for the University of Phoenix, an online school which doesn't even field a chess team, but now bears the name of the State Farm insurance company. They own one of the best playing wide receivers around in Larry Fitzgerald. The team is sometimes joked to be under a curse from the aforementioned disqualification-induced championship (see The Other Wiki's article on the 1925 NFL Championship controversy). They've had a string of horrible luck recently - they missed the playoffs despite going 10-6 in 2013. In 2014, their first- and second-string quarterbacks (Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton) combined for a 9-1 record before they both suffered season-ending injuries. They finished 11-5 and made the playoffs, but being down to their 4th-string quarterback lost in the wildcard round.
- The Atlanta Falcons were rushed into the NFL in the mid-'60s when it looked like the AFL was going to put a team there. They really haven't gotten over that birthright, seeming to always fall just short of credibility. They made it to the Super Bowl in 1998, but lost to John Elway's Broncos. From their inception in 1966 until 2009, the team never posted consecutive winning seasons. They're currently owned by Home Depot founder Arthur Blank, and were the team Michael Vick was playing for when his rather cruel hobby was exposed. They had a run as perennial Super Bowl contenders from 2008 to 2012, but came down with a reputation as a team that chokes in the playoffs. Since then, they seem to have come down with a franchise-wide case of the Yips - playing poorly against bad teams, playing well but not quite well enough against good teams, and back to losing records. In 2016, they made their second all-time Super Bowl appearance; however, the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead against Tom Brady's Patriots, allowing the Super Bowl to go into overtime for the first time, where the Falcons ultimately lost.
- The Carolina Panthers are an expansion team created in 1995 alongside the Jacksonville Jaguars. They made it to the conference championship in 1996, and all the way to the Super Bowl in 2003, where they lost to the Patriots by a field goal (though it was later revealed that numerous members of that team had been using steroids). Since then, it had been a slow erosion to non-contender status. The drafting of college superstar Cam Newton has helped revitalize fan interest in the Panthers. They became the second team to make the playoffs with a losing record (7-8-1) in 2014, breaking the long-reviled 'NFC South Curse', the lack of a repeat NFC South champion, in the process. The next season, behind a powerful offense (with Newton earning league MVP honors) and underrated defense, they were the last unbeaten NFL team, walked away with the NFC South title, and dominated the NFC playoffs.note However, the offense fizzled out against the Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
- The Chicago Bears are the other original NFL franchise, actually predating the league. They started in Decatur, Illinois, before being moved to Chicago by NFL legend George Halas. As with most Chicago sports franchises, their best days are far in the past, with eight league championships through 1963 (including the first true championship, won in the first 'indoor' NFL game in 1932, which was played in Chicago Stadium due to subzero conditions), and only one (in 1985) since then. Classy NFL good guy Walter Payton played here, as did Brian Piccolo (as in Brian's Song), William "Refrigerator" Perry, and Dick Butkus. The SNL "Superfans" sketches ("Da Bears!") are based on stereotypical Chicago fans. Although the topic is a subject of frequent debate, the 1985 Bears are generally considered to be in the running with the '70s versions of the Steelers and Cowboys for "best team of all time". Their Super Bowl win that year was an epic 46-10 dismantling of the New England Patriots, one of the most statistically lopsided Super Bowls ever. Non-football fans probably know the 1985 Bears less as a powerhouse and more for their ill-advised "Super Bowl Shuffle" music video. Currently, the fans wish the Bears would get a better defense because it seems like every play ends with a big gain or score allowed. Or at least they did until they upgraded their defense in 2018, most notably picking up superstar linebacker Khalil Mack.
- The Dallas Cowboys are possibly the most storied NFL franchise, as well as the most hated according to an ESPN poll (they edged the Patriots for the dubious honor), they were the Team of the '90s, winning three Super Bowls to go along with their two in the '70s. The team of Tom Landry and later Jimmy Johnson. Owned by Jerry Jones, one of the more divisive executives in the league. Rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers, thanks to some classic matchups in the '70s. All three other teams in the NFC East hates the Cowboys; the Eagles would claim to be the Cowboys' biggest rival, but the distinction really goes to the Washington Redskins, which is a much more heated and historic rivalry. Became known as "America's Team" in the '70s and is sometimes derisively referred to as "South America's Team" due to the drug habits of some of its players during the '90s. Also known by some detractors as "Mexico's Team"... though this is actually true, since the Cowboys are phenomenally popular south of the border, being the only NFL team whose games are consistently available on Mexican television. Always, always, always play at home on Thanksgiving Day. The team plays in the league's largest stadium, which is known for having one of the largest television displays in the world above the field. In addition to various names mocking Jones, the new stadium's external appearance has also led to it being nicknamed the Death Star.note
- The Detroit Lions started out in Portsmouth, Ohio, where they were known as the Spartans, and moved to Detroit in 1934. They were arguably the team of the 1950s. Since then, they have struggled. They became the first team to go 0-16 in a season in 2008, and have made fewer playoff appearances than many teams half their age. They've been really bad for a really long time (their last championship was in 1957). It got so bad under the tenure of general manager Matt Millen that fans organized protest marches and put up billboards demanding he be fired, some of them appearing at sporting events in other cities. Barry Sanders, an incredible running back who was on the verge of breaking the NFL's career rushing record, quit the NFL rather than continue his career carrying such an abysmal squad on his shoulders. The Sanders-era Lions peaked in 1991, when they went 12-4 and defeated the Cowboys in the Divisional Round, only to be defeated by the Redskins in the NFC Championship Game. The other team that always plays on Thanksgiving Day. They're currently rebuilding their team after drafting popular and dominant college players Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh and Jahvid Best in recent drafts; the investment seems to have paid off, with the Lions coming up with their first 5-0 start since 1956 in 2011 before being narrowly defeated by the 49ers; Detroit also clinched their first winning season and playoff appearance since 1999. The 2012 season was a return to traditional Lions losing form, marked by generally good gameplay followed by inexplicable 4th-quarter collapses. But after a similarly mediocre 2013, 2014 saw them make another playoff appearance, only to be bounced in Dallas after the most controversial call in a weekend of questionable officiating by the referees.note . They made another appearance in 2016 only to lose to the Seahawks. As of 2018, they're the only NFC team (and one of four teams in the entire NFL) without any Super Bowl appearances, and the only one to have gone the entire Super Bowl era (1966-) without any note .
- The Green Bay Packers, originally named the "Acme Packers" during the initial birth of the NFL, were the team of the '60s, when under the reign of legendary head coach Vince Lombardi they won five of their record 13 NFL championships (including the first two Super Bowls) and earned the city of Green Bay the nickname of "Titletown, USA." With a population of just over 100,000, Green Bay is microscopic by American major league sports standards; note nonetheless, their success has helped them cultivate a notoriously large and rabid fan base that extends throughout the whole world, resulting in a presence of "cheeseheads" at every road game that sometimes even drowns out the home crowd. Their home stadium, Lambeau Field, is subject to some absolutely terrible weather late in the season, leading to it being termed "The Frozen Tundra"note . Countless games have been played (and watched) in ridiculous conditions such as -15 degrees plus wind, including the notorious 1967 "Ice Bowl" which they won to get to Super Bowl II. It is also home to a tradition known as the "Lambeau Leap"note where players are expected to leap into the stands after scoring a touchdown. Also, Lambeau is the first modern stadium to be built specifically to host an NFL team, and has hosted an NFL team for more seasons than any other venue.note The team is also known for its unique community ownership note , banned under current league rules but grandfathered in for the Packers, which guarantees that they'll never move to a larger market.
- The Los Angeles Rams are one of the more traveled NFL teams. They started in Cleveland, then moved to Los Angeles when the NFL needed a West Coast presence, then moved out of Los Angeles when then-owner Georgia Frontiere saw the chance to make more money in St. Louis. Frontiere took over the team 15 years earlier when her husband, Carroll Rosenbloom, died mysteriously in a drowning accident. The team won the Super Bowl in 1999 after being terrible for most of the '90s, when Kurt Warner rose from obscurity to lead a high-flying offense known as the Greatest Show on Turf. Similar to the Atlanta Braves in Major League Baseball, the Rams hold the distinction of winning three league championships in three different citiesnote . Warner and RB Marshall Faulk monopolized the MVP from 1999-2001, and the 2001 team looked like an all-time great until the Patriots shut them down and upset them in the Super Bowl. Since then, the Rams have declined to near-insignificance once again. Due to the Edward Jones Dome being ranked among the worst in the NFL, current owner Stan Kroenke began looking toward moving the team back to Los Angeles, and unveiled a proposal for a new stadium in Inglewood where he owns part of the land that would be used. The city of St. Louis had countered with its own stadium proposal to keep the Rams in town, though, beginning a game of franchise tug-o-war. It eventually came down to the NFL deciding which deal was the best fit (read: most lucrative for the league). On January 12, 2016, it was made official: the Rams would be moving back to Los Angeles. In 2017, the Rams posted their first winning record since 2003, and went to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
- The Minnesota Vikings are another entrant in the "ridiculous fans" department; some fans dress in elaborate Viking costumes for games. The Vikings were led by popular quarterback Fran Tarkenton in the '70s (except for his five-year interlude with the New York Giants), which only led to them becoming the first team to lose four Super Bowls. (Technically, the Vikings' first Super Bowl loss was with Joe Kapp as quarterback; this hasn't stopped Fran from being known as the guy who lost 4 Super Bowls.) Was the home of Brett Favre for his final two seasons, which caused some drama as he was essentially a cult hero in neighbor/rival Wisconsin (where the Packers play). Known for a rather ridiculous series of painful playoff collapses, including a loss in 1998 when their placekicker (who hadn't missed a single kick all season) shanked an easy game-winning FG against the Falcons, as well as in the 2010 NFC Championship game where despite dominating the eventual Super Bowl champion Saints in nearly every statistic, they gave up 8 turnovers and lost in incredibly painful fashion. Home to the "Purple People Eaters", a dominating defense in the 70's including the likes of Alan Page and Carl Eller, with John Randle being part of another Purple People Eaters era in the 1990s. Also hosted Adrian Peterson (see "Notorious Figures") for his best years.
- The New Orleans Saints have historically been a consistently terrible team, fans of the Saints actually started the practice of wearing paper bags over one's head to protest a poorly performing team. Their inability to win games also earned them the derisive nickname "The Ain'ts". They are the team that killed Archie Manning's once-promising pro career, as he was their only good player (and arguably their only even decent player). For a while in the '90s they were known as "the only team that has never won a playoff game", a label they finally shed in 2000. Their home city has this nasty tendency to get obliterated by hurricanes, so they've played home games elsewhere. Recovered in the late '00s after hiring Sean Payton and signing Drew Brees, they're now quite good, and won in Super Bowl XLIV against the favored Indianapolis Colts - their first ever Super Bowl game. The key to their turnaround has been developing a deep roster of solid, close-knit players rather than relying on big stars. The strategy paid off in the 2010 season when, despite injuries plaguing the starting lineup, the Saints called on a seemingly endless supply of effective running backs and wide receivers well-suited to Brees's pass-heavy play style.
- The New York Giants are historically the better of the two teams that play in New Jersey. Like the Jets, they used to actually play in New York, but they moved to New Jersey in 1976 so that they could have a dedicated football stadium instead of having to share with the New York Yankees. One of the oldest teams in the NFL, dating back to 1925. Have won 4 Super Bowls and 4 additional NFL championships from before the Super Bowl. Officially named the "New York Football Giants", even though there hasn't been a baseball New York Giants since 1957. Won a miracle Super Bowl in '07 against the then-undefeated New England Patriots, the most notable part of which being a play where quarterback Eli Manning evaded an almost certain sack and threw the ball to third-string receiver David Tyree, who caught it against his helmet in mid-air with safety Rodney Harrison hanging on him. They're known for being "road warriors" who perform better in hostile stadiums than in their own... which was certainly the case in '07, in which their six losses included only one on the road, and their playoff run to win the Super Bowl was entirely on the road, defeating three teams that they'd lost to during the regular season.
- The Philadelphia Eagles are known mostly for their rowdy, unpleasable fan base, which the Guardian has compared to British football hooligans.note Veterans Stadium, before its demolition to make way for "The Link" (Lincoln Financial Field), had a courthouse in the basement (Seamus P. McCaffery of the Philadelphia County Municipal Court, presiding; he was later elected to the PA Supreme Court), because of the number of fans that were arrested during games, although things have calmed down considerably in the past few years and "Eagles Court" was abolished in 2003 when the old stadium was closed. The 700 Level of Veterans Stadium was particularly infamous for containing the worst of the worst; quite intentionally no equivalent exists in The Link. Eagles fans are arguably best known for an incident in which Santa Claus was heckled and pelted with snowballs at halftime.note On one occasion, some fans cheered a career-ending neck injury to an opposing playernote who was a jerk off the field and the poster boy for everything fans of other teams hated about the Cowboys of the 1990s. That said, however, it should be noted that they have never killed or maimed fans of opposing teams (unlike other cities). They genuinely love their team and are extremely outspoken in their criticism. Their quarterback was Donovan McNabb for most of the 2000's, with whom the fans had a love-hate (well, mostly hate) relationship, which led the team to trade him in 2010 to the Redskins, which opened the door for his backup Michael Vick to start his comeback the next season. Home games always sell out, no matter how bad they are, and to them the most important thing about their players is that they play with all their heart, guaranteeing the city's love (yes, it really does exist). Their now-championship season was categorized by being written off as done after the injury to starting QB Carson Wentz, despite a) a 13-3 record, b) being the #1 seed in the NFC, and c) having home field advantage throughout the playoffsnote . Philly being...well, Philly, they fully embraced their underdog label all the way to their first title. Fun fact: both of their Super Bowl entrants this century (after the 2004 and 2017 seasons) were coming off of a 13-3 season record, beating the Atlanta Falcons and the Minnesota Vikings to enter the Super Bowl, and then facing the Patriots in the end.
- The San Francisco 49ers (named after the Forty Niners of the California Gold Rush) were a historically terrible team, with four playoff appearances in 30 years in the NFL...until the 1980s, when head coach Bill Walsh's innovative "West Coast Offense" helped transform them into the most dominant team in the NFL. Led by back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young, and all-time leading wide receiver Jerry Rice, they notched fifteen playoff appearances and five Super Bowl wins from 1981-1998. Following Young's departure and an ownership change, they faded from relevance for most of the 21st century, but the 2011 hiring of former quarterback and Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh as head coach signaled another change in fortunes. The new-look 49ers, successful behind a power running game and implacable defense, have since reached the NFC Championship game three years running and ignited a ferocious rivalry with the Seattle Seahawks. After the Packers incurred their first Super Bowl loss in their fourth trip in 1998, the Niners were the only team to have won more than one Super Bowl without losing once and the first team to win 5 Super Bowls since its conception (Dallas would become the 2nd), until they finally lost to the Ravens (who themselves gained that distinction, coached by John Harbaugh in the much-hyped brother vs brother matchup) on their sixth trip in 2013. After failed negotiations for a new stadium in their namesake city, they settled on having a new stadium, Levi's Stadium, built in Santa Clara next to their headquarters; the stadium was completed and opened in 2014, and with Harbaugh returning to college football, the Niners had struggled to find an identity until 2019, when head coach Kyle Shanahan led the team to their first winning season and playoff spot in 6 years.
- The Seattle Seahawks are another historically not-very-good team that has recently rose to dominance. In fact, they are known for their stretch of over twenty years without a single playoff win starting in 1983 with a loss to the Raiders in the AFC Championship Game, and finally ending in 2005 with a Super Bowl appearance. Throughout The '90s, they were the benchmark of forgetfully average, with a majority of their seasons being at, or within one game of, a .500 record. Have gained a reputation as a place for future Hall of Famers to play the year before they retire. They're the only NFL team to switch conferences twice, playing their first season in 1976 in the NFC, then transferring to the AFC, before returning to the NFC in 2002 as part of realignment, thus making them the only team to appear in both the AFC and NFC championship games. Lost Super Bowl XL in one of the most controversial championship games in history, with many questionable referee calls consistently in the opponent Steelers' favor. Following a leadership change from semi-retired coaching legend Mike Holmgren to the Coach/GM duo of former USC coach Pete Carroll and Green Bay executive John Schneider in the 2010 season, they became the first team in 28 years to make the playoffs with a losing record (7-9), causing a lot of complaining amongst fans because the playoff system gave them, as a division champion, a home field game in the wild card round against a numerically superior, but lower seeded opponent. Said critics, and most everyone else, were silenced with a shocking first-round win over the then-defending champion New Orleans Saints, culminating in a play late in the fourth quarter which became known as the "Beastquake", after Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch went "Beast Mode" with a 60+ yard touchdown run which sealed the deal for Seattle that caused the crowd to cheer so loudly that the rumbling registered on nearby seismographs as an earthquake. No, it did not have anything to do with Lynch stomping the turf so hard it shook the ground. They've since become a surprise NFC powerhouse after completely replacing every player on the team over a two-year period, and assembling a defensive backfield considered one of the best in NFL history, nicknamed "the Legion of Boom". In 2013, they became the first team in NFL history to re-sign a quarterback who had begun the season as a starter for them previously (Tarvaris Jackson in 2011) back to their roster as a backup. In 2012-2013, the Seattle Seahawks drafted Russell Wilson and made him the starter. In the 2013-2014 season, the Seahawks finally won their first Super Bowl in franchise history by surprisingly blowing out the Denver Broncos whom had the most productive offense in NFL history according to sports experts. The Seahawks had the best defense of the year, as well as one of the top defenses in NFL history. They held the high-powered offense of the Broncos to a stunning 8 points, while scoring 43 points of their own.
- The Seahawks are also known, along with the Chiefs, for having the loudest fans in the league (who had the #12 retired in their honor as the "12th man" under license from Texas A&M, which originated the concept and holds the rights to that name). This is at least in part due to their stadium being deliberately designed to amplify the sound from the stands. For this reason, CenturyLink Field has more false starts than any other stadium in the league. The Chiefs are their rivals in regard to crowd noise; the two teams often try to steal the world record from each other. CenturyLink Field is so loud that the Seahawks were once accused of piping artificial crowd noise through the stadium speakers. However, an investigation proved these claims untrue. The fans really are just that loud.
- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Their first season in 1976 was perfect. Perfectly awful, as they lost all 14 games they played. The next year, they improved. They only lost their first 12 games, then won their last two (also notable that after their first win the opposing team's head coach and starting quarterback got fired). After making three playoff appearances between 1979 and 1982, things declined and didn't get much better until 1996, when Tony Dungy was delivered unto the Tampa Bay Area. The next year, they changed their uniforms from garish "creamsicle" orange-and-white to the current pewter-red-black scheme, and changed their logo from a winking pirate to a skull flag. That's around when they won the Super Bowl, led by coach Jon "Chucky" Gruden. Since then they've slid back into sub-mediocrity. Late team owner Malcolm Glazer and the two sons who run the teamnote are mildly disliked in Tampa. Don't ask English soccer fans about Malcolm, especially around Manchester.note Along with the Patriots, they're one of two teams to be named after a region as opposed to a specific city or state; The "Tampa Bay" in their name refers not just to Tampa, but also the nearby, and just as big, cities of Clearwater and St. Petersburg.
- How bad was that 1976 winless season? One reporter asked then head coach John McKay, "What do you think of the offense's execution?" He replied, "I'm in favor of it."
- Statistically, the Buccaneers hold the worst lifetime winning percentage not only within the NFL, but across all four major leagues (as of the end of the 2018 NFL season, 266-424-1 (.386)).
- The Washington Redskins is the team with the deepest pockets, though this hasn't translated to success on the field since 1992 because current team owner Daniel Snyder seems to love buying overpriced free agents who flame out quickly, and cause fan hate with such actions as charging fans to watch training camp and make HD broadcasts of preseason games cable-only. Also possibly the most politically incorrect team name in all of sports, especially given that Native American-derived team names and mascots have in general been falling out of favor for years. Because of this and the fact that they play in Maryland, not Washington DC proper, sportswriter Gregg Easterbrook assigned them the joke name "Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons". They are the bitter rivals of the Dallas Cowboys, dating at least back to the early 1970s. They have won 3 Super Bowls; head coach Joe Gibbs was known as the first coach to win three Super Bowls with 3 different starting quarterbacks (Joe Theismann in '82, Doug Williams in '87, Mark Rypien in '91).
- The Redskins have been jokingly used as bellwethers for presidential elections: if they won their game before Election Day, it meant the incumbent's party candidate would win. They got it right every election cycle until 2012, when their loss "predicted" a Mitt Romney victory. The bellwether status returned in 2016, when they tied their last game before the electionnote and Donald Trump won the electoral vote and lost the popular vote.
NFL Scheduling and Games
Each team plays a 4-game preseason, a 16-game regular season, and a postseason that involves 12 teams.
The 16 games (8 of which are at the home stadium and 8 of which are away games) during the regular season are determined as follows:
- 6 games against the team's three divisional rivals (2 each; 1 home, 1 away)
- 4 games against every team in another division in your conference (2 home, 2 away)
- 4 games against every team in a division in another conference (2 home, 2 away)
- 2 games against two other conference teams that finished in the same position in their division (1 home, 1 away)
Basically, let's say we have the 2019 Dallas Cowboys. Dallas was first in their division, the NFC East, in 2018. In 2019, the NFC East is playing the NFC North and AFC East. That means that 6 of Dallas's games will be against their 3 divisional rivals (New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins), 4 games will be against all 4 NFC North teams (Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings), 4 games will be against all 4 AFC East teams (Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets), and the other two will be against the teams that came in first place of the NFC West (Los Angeles Rams) and NFC South (New Orleans Saints). That's how a 16-game schedule is generated.
Postseason qualification involves 12 teams which qualify for the playoffs. Each division will send the team with the best winning percentage note - this is the division champion. However, there are also 4 wild-card spots (2 AFC, 2 NFC) that are up for grabs. These go to the teams with the best records remaining in the leagues. There are some fantastically complicated tiebreaker rules to go along with that, but an average football fan should be fine with just this knowledge.
Each team also gets some seeding based on how they performed during the regular season. Each conference has six seeds. Seeds 1 through 4 are the divisional champions, seeds 5 and 6 are the wild-cards. The top two seeds in each conference get a first-round bye week during the playoffs. The 3 and 6 seeds will always square off against each other, and the 4 and 5 seeds will do the same. The lower-ranking of the teams that wins those contests (4, 5, or 6) will face against the 1 seed, and the higher-ranking (3, 4, or 5) will play the 2 seed. Playoff games are single-elimination. Each game is held in the home stadium of the higher-ranking team, so the 1 seed gets home advantage in their entire time in the playoffs.
In recent years there's been talk of extending the regular season to 18 games and reducing the preseason to two. It's tied to the labor contract talks the league has had with the NFLPA. Preseason games are sparsely attended and generally ignored by fans, but they're important for giving newly-signed players some time on the field, and for determining who should be the starters and who needs more time to develop. Proposals to lengthen the regular season are also controversial because in addition to resulting in less time on the field for rookies and backups, it would mean that starters would have to play more...thus increasing the risk of injuries.
There have also been calls to modify the playoff format, either by expanding it to 14 teams, or by changing qualification or seeding to be based purely on record. The former proposal has been taken seriously by the NFL commissioner and is considered somewhat likely to eventually happen; the latter usually gets called for when a division winner with a mediocre or even losing record hosts a wild card team with a strong record in the playoffs, and usually is forgotten by the start of the next season.
The NFL Draft
The NFL Draft occurs each year in late April or early May. However, following the Draft is a year-round pastime in and of itself.
Draft scouting goes on throughout the college football season, but really begins to ramp up during Bowl Season in college football (mid-December to early January), where many of the best players will play their final collegiate game before declaring for the NFL Draft. There have been plenty of great Bowl performances that elevate players into first-round consideration, and vice versa - plenty of projected first-rounders have given shoddy performances and seen their draft stock plummet.
Following the end of college Bowl Season come the collegiate All-Star games. Typically coached by NFL coaching staffs (or free agent coaches with NFL experience in a few cases), these games invite college football's best players to compete against one another in a pro-style game. Most prominent is the Senior Bowl, held every year in Mobile, Alabama since 1951. As the name suggests, only players who have completed their full college eligibility are invited to attend. Other All-Star games include the East-West Shrine Game (the oldest of the All-Star games), the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl (where former NFL players serve as position coaches), the HBCU Spirit Bowl (which invites players from historically black colleges), the Dream Bowl (which invites players from FCS, D-II, and D-III schools), and the Tropical Bowl (which invites the best players not invited to any of the other games). It is also common for players to attend multiple games as schedules allow (particularly the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game). NFL scouts attend all of these games, in addition to their practices, in order to study the prospects.
The next portion of draft scouting comes during the NFL Scouting Combine, which has been held in Indianapolis since 1987. In a typical year, 335 of the top college players who have declared for the draft will be invited. There are a few traditional drills (the 40-yard dash, the cone drill, the 225-lb bench press, among others) that almost every prospect participates in. However, plenty of prospects decline to work out at (or even attend) the combine for various reasons. While declining usually hurts their draft stock, it doesn't hurt as badly as a poor Combine performance would. As such, only the prospects who are already projected to be drafted very high usually skip the Combine since they could only really hurt their draft stock. Every year, there are always always a few unheralded prospects who turn in exceptional performances in the Combine drills. These "workout warriors" typically see their draft stock skyrocket. (In the latter years of former owner Al Davis' life, his Raiders became something of a running joke for consistently drafting these types of players.)
Another Combine activity is the (in)famous Wonderlic Test, a basic intelligence test taken by the participants. The test contains 50 questions which must be answered within 12 minutes. While the results are supposed to be confidential, they are almost always leaked. Offensive Linemen and Quarterbacks perform the best on average, while Wide Receivers and Running Backs generally perform the worst. Defensive players tend to be scattered in between. A perfect 50 has only ever been achieved once (WR/P Pat McInally in 1975). Harvard QB Ryan Fitzpatrick scored a 48 after completing the test in a record 9 minutes (and would later score a perfect 50 upon retaking the test). Draft bust QB Vince Young reportedly scored a 6 on the test, whose designer said that a score of 10 should be attainable by anyone who is literate. (Young was later retested and scored a 16.)
Next is a college's Pro Day, where professional scouts come to the prospect's college where he is able to work out in his own facility. Prospects who performed poorly at the Combine can rehabilitate their draft stock with a good Pro Day. Additionally, since all of the draft-eligible prospects of a given school will participate, lower-end prospects (who often weren't invited to the Combine or an All-Star Game) who have good performances may be able to catch the eye of pro scouts there to see their higher profile teammates.
In the final months leading up to the Draft, teams may bring up to 30 prospects to their team headquarters for individual meetings and interviews. This is a time for the team decision makers to get to know the prospects on a more personal level, to potentially determine how that prospect would fit within the team's environment. Teams will also often invite players they have no intention of drafting (or the opposite, not inviting players they do want to draft) in order to prevent other teams from figuring out their draft strategy.
Finally, the NFL Draft itself occurs. The first pick of each round goes to the team that had the worst record in the league in the previous year, and each selection goes up until the team that won the Super Bowl makes their pick. (Ties are broken via strength of schedule and then, if needed, a coin flip.) Draft picks can be traded just like players - and they often are (the Ricky Williams trade, in which New Orleans traded eight draft picks for the #5 overall pick with which they selected Williams, is an especially notable one). Prior to the 2011 CBA putting a rookie contract salary structure in place (see below), it was almost always speculated that the teams holding the highest draft picks would try to trade down to avoid giving a giant contract to a guy who hasn't even played in an NFL game, but that rarely happened. With rookie contracts being significantly reduced since then, teams with lower picks have been much more willing to trade up, especially for elite quarterback prospects. (For example, each of the top two picks of the 2016 NFL Draft were traded to teams moving up for the top QB prospects.)
Since 1994, the draft has consisted of seven rounds, though there have been additional rounds in the past (with as many as 30 as recently as the 1960s). The last overall draft pick is called "Mr. Irrelevant" and receives the distinctive Lowsman Trophy (which looks like the Heisman, except the player is fumbling the ball). During the summer after the draft, the NFL typically holds what is known as the "Supplemental Draft". This draft is for players who did not declare for the main NFL Draft but have had various circumstances (kicked off the team, ruled academically ineligible, early graduation, etc.) affect their college eligibility since. The order is the same one used in the main draft and any team who selects a player in a given round will forfeit a pick in the equivalent round of the next year's draft. (Hall of Fame WR Cris Carter and infamous draft bust Brian Bosworth were each selected in the Supplemental Draft.)
A player who is highly-drafted but, for whatever reason (injury, underperformance, off-field issues), fails to have a distinguished career is known as a "draft bust". Since "bust" players are usually let go to save face and team reputation if no one else will take them in a trade, the drafting team may literally have nothing to show on-field for their drafting effort. This is especially painful if the team is consistently bad enough to be awarded high picks for consecutive years. Some fanbases in particular seem perpetually haunted by their team suffering either years of draft futility or instances of drafting a merely passable player ahead of one who became a legitimate star. Ryan Leaf, drafted #2 overall in 1998 and out of the league by 2001, is known as the biggest bust in NFL history (and arguably in professional sports overall). "Workout warriors" from the Combine are seen as particularly high risks of being draft busts. See the "Notable Draft Busts" category below for a detailed list of specific examples.
Conversely, a player whose retrospective performance is greater than one would expect given their draft position is known as a "draft steal" (best example: Tom Brady, picked 199th in 2000, in the sixth round). While the biggest examples of draft steals are low-round picks that turn out to be top-tier players, players drafted in the second, third, or even low in the first rounds can be considered steals depending on their talent and the interest on draft day (Aaron Rodgers, for example, was projected to be drafted first overall by the 49ers in 2005, but instead fell all the way to the Green Bay Packers at 24th after the 49ers selected Alex Smith instead).
After the draft, players who were eligible to be drafted but who were not selected may sign with any team as "undrafted free agents." Very few ever make a team's final roster right away, but are frequently signed to the practice squad, are resigned the following offseason for another chance to make the team, or move on to play in the CFL or Arena League. While it is not especially common, undrafted players can and have gone on to be highly successful players in the NFL. Some of the most famous examples from recent history are Tony Romo, Wes Welker, Antonio Gates (who played basketball instead of football in college), and Arian Foster. Hall of Fame players John Randle, Warren Moon, Dick "Night Train" Lane, and Kurt Warner also started their careers as undrafted free agents.
Prior to 2011, the contracts awarded to highly drafted rookies were ludicrously out of control. Frequently, players drafted in the top 10 picks were given total contracts and guaranteed money higher than all but the most elite veteran players at their respective positions. (For example, quarterback Sam Bradford, selected #1 overall by the Rams in 2010 received a contract worth $78 million, which had $50 million in guarantees and had a maximum value of $86 million. This placed him in the top 5 highest earning quarterbacks in the NFL before taking his first snap in the pros.) In the 2011 CBA, the NFL instituted a "rookie salary structure" which greatly restricted the money that could be given to rookies, intending to leave more money available to spend on veteran players. (Cam Newton, the #1 overall pick in 2011 to the Carolina Panthers, received a much more modest $22 million total deal.) This, along with increased minimum veteran salary floors, has led to an unintended consequence of many teams going with a youth movement of rookies and other first-contract players rather than mid-level veterans at many of their positions, preferring to look more often for rookie sleeper hits than pay higher salaries for a fair-to-middling veteran placeholder. This means that many teams have a majority of rookie and first-contract players at a majority of positions with a handful of superstar contracts but a decreasing amount of veteran depth. (In 2007, for example, 11 teams had a starting lineup with an average player age under 27. In 2017, 24 teams had starting lineups averaging under 27.)
The Pro Bowl
Late in the season, players are named to Pro Bowl teams. It's (supposed to be) considered a huge honor to get sent, but many players will pull out for whatever reason, usually because pro football is quite risky enough when there are meaningful stakes involved; it wouldn't be worth it to be injured in an exhibition game that doesn't count except for conference bragging rights that only stat geeks care about. Fan ballots account for a full third of the votes, with coaches and players making up the remaining two thirds.
All-Star games are generally relaxed affairs, with players taking a more casual approach because of the risk of injuries. Since American football is such an injury-heavy sport, the NFL codifies this by playing the Pro Bowl under a slightly different rule set than the regular game. Offensive changes basically remove any elements of surprise such as offensive motion, while all defenses must be run in the 4-3 formation, and absolutely no blitzing is allowed. Punts, field goals and PATs are kicked unopposed as the defense isn't allowed to rush the play.
The Pro Bowl got even more irrelevant in 2010, when the game was played the week before the Super Bowl (as opposed to the week after), and moved from Aloha Stadium in Honolulu to the Super Bowl host city (in 2010, this was Miami). This meant three things: first, that the Super Bowl teams universally barred their players from participating (even with the restrictive rules, there's still some chance of injury, and no coach is going to let one of his players skip out on practice the week before the Super Bowl to play in a meaningless glorified scrimmage); second, that any number of players who didn't want to go to South Florida were pulling out; and third, the draw of a free trip to Hawaii was gone (many players live in Florida anyway, so a visit to suburban Miami isn't that exciting to them; the game was likewise a treat for Hawaiian fans, as Hawaii has no top-tier professional teams). All told, around 40 players ended up dropping out, allowing such luminaries as David Garrard (he of the 7-9 Jacksonville Jaguars) - the sixth alternate at quarterback - and Vince Young (of the 8-8 Tennessee Titans) to play in the game. Huge honor, indeed. To add insult to injury, the league more or less had to force the Super Bowl teams to sit and watch the entire game. The game has since been moved back to Hawaii, but is still scheduled before the Super Bowl, so many of these problems are expected to persist. After NFC starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers publicly criticized the lack of effort from his teammates, commissioner Roger Goodell has mentioned the possibility of changing the Pro Bowl format, or dropping the game altogether. More recently, one of Goodell's underlings publicly stated that future games could be moved to Australia; while the potential move was not seen as likely to improve the quality of play, it could entice more players to make the trip. Eli Manning, for one, said he'd "hop on the plane" to play in an Australian Pro Bowl.
From 2014 to 2016, the AFCNFC matchup was dropped in favor of a draft format, in an attempt to prevent one team having a massive skill advantage due to drop-outs. Only the team captains were assigned, and each was assisted in the selection process by a retired Hall of Fame player (for 2016, Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice) and the winner of either of two Fantasy Football competitions. The AFCNFC format returned in 2017, with the game moving to Orlando through the 2019 edition.
Worries about injuries are also why the Pro Bowl is scheduled when it is, instead of around the middle of the season like the MLB, NBA and NHL All-Star Games. The fact that those leagues hold All-Star Games as part of their mid-season celebrations results in more universal participation by the top players, because nobody is missing out on key preparation for a championship game by participating. But since football has higher risk of injury than baseball, basketball and ice hockey, holding the Pro Bowl after the season ends means that if an injury does occur the player will have the whole offseason to recover. Thus, even though it would probably make Pro Bowls more fun and exciting, there's essentially no chance of them being moved to mid-season in line with other leagues.
From 1961-70 the Pro Bowl was paired with the "Playoff Bowl", a match between conference playoff losers to determine third place in the league overall (which is relevant for draft purposes, but can just as easily be handled on the basis of overall record). It was never very popular (Vince Lombardi called it "a loser's bowl for losers" among other, less printable things), so it was eventually discontinued after the AFL-NFL merger.
- Most Valuable Player: The award given to - wait for it - the player who makes the biggest impact in the entire season. Peyton Manning has a record five of them.note Almost always goes to offensive players, specifically quarterbacks (with the occasional, increasingly-rare running back), to the point that some have mockingly suggested renaming it the "Most Valuable Quarterback" award.
- Most Recent Winner: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
- Offensive Player of the Year: Given to the best offensive player of the year. Many people view it as the official runner-up to MVP, given that it will frequently go to the player who finished second in MVP voting (though sometimes it will just go to the MVP anyway). Again, quarterbacks and running backs are almost universally favored here. (Jerry Rice has two, the only non-QB or RB to win one.) Offensive linemen? Who're they? Marshall Faulk and Earl Campbell are tied for the most, with three each. (Each won all three in consecutive seasons.)
- Most Recent Winner: Mahomes
- Defensive Player of the Year: Given to the best defensive player in the league in a given year. Linebackers, cornerbacks, and defensive linemen can be counted on to usually win the award. Safeties get the short end of the stick - only five have won the award since its inception (1971), but three of those have won since 2000, so maybe opinions are changing. Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt are tied for the most, with three to their credit.
- Most Recent Winner: Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Rams
- Offensive Rookie of the Year: Best rookie on offense. Shockingly enough, for many years, this one didn't go to many quarterbacks (to explain, a lot of teams that draft a quarterback early are wanting for other skilled players at other key positions, knowing that they'll accept a couple of years of losing so that they can build the team they want around that guy, and without a good line to protect him and good receivers to throw to it's hard for any quarterback, let alone a rookie, to really shine). There was a 34-year period between quarterbacks winning this award (Dennis Shaw in 1970 and Ben Roethlisberger in 2004); so, running backs and wide receivers tended to dominate it. Since Roethlisberger won in 2004, however, there has been a major increase in quarterbacks winning the award. (Offensive linemen are still left out in the cold.) The lowest drafted player to win the award is Denver RB Mike Anderson, the 189th pick (6th round) in the 2000 draft—you're reading that right, he was selected ten picks ahead of Tom Brady.
- Most Recent Winner: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
- Defensive Rookie of the Year: Best defensive rookie. Most commonly goes to linebackers or defensive linemen, as no defensive backs won the award in the 21st century until 2015. However, this is another award where opinions may be changing, since the 2015 and 2017 awards both went to cornerbacks. The lowest drafted player to win the award is Atlanta linebacker Al Richardson, the 201st (8th round) pick in the 1980 draft.
- Most Recent Winner: Darius Leonard, LB, Indianapolis Colts
- Comeback Player of the Year: The redheaded stepchild of the awards, the AP initially ditched it after a few seasons (1963-1966) and brought it back in 1998. "Comeback" has a lot of definitions with regards to sports - so, a comeback player could be a player who came back from a massive injury (Peyton Manning, 2012note ), or came back from a non-injury absence (Michael Vick, 2010note ), or came back from a couple of down years (Jon Kitna, 2003note ) or maybe even finally had a good year when he had never had one before (Tommy Maddox, 2002note ). Since Vick won in 2010, the voters have trended toward giving this award to a player who missed most or all of the previous season with a major injury or illnessnote . Chad Pennington has two, the only player to win more than once. Due to the differing interpretations of what "comeback" means, this one might create the most arguing among fans.
- Most Recent Winner: Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Coltsnote
- Coach of the Year: Given to the league's best coach. Shockingly, this one isn't automatically given out to the coach who has the league's best record, but instead, it's usually given to a coach who has experienced an epic turnaround, especially a coach who was just hired to a new team and turns them from losers to a playoff team. Don Shula has a record six of them.
- Most Recent Winner: Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears
- Assistant Coach of the Year: The most recent addition to the list of AP awards (first awarded in 2014), it is given to the top assistant coach in the NFL. Thus far, it has been awarded to the coordinators of the league's best offenses or defenses.
- Most Recent Winner: Vic Fangio, Defensive Coordinator, Chicago Bearsnote
There are several other awards worth noting which aren't voted on by the Associated Press:
- Walter Payton Man of the Year: Formerly known simply as the "NFL Man of the Year" award, it took on the name of legendary running back Walter Payton in 1999 (himself the winner of the award in 1977). This award celebrates not only a player's excellence on the field, but his charity work off the field. Each team nominates one of their own players, bringing the total nominees to 32. A panel of judges including Connie Payton (Walter's widow), the commissioner of the NFL, the previous year's winner, and a group of former players vote on the winner. It is considered one of the biggest honors in the NFL to win this award, or even to be nominated for it.
- Most Recent Winner: Chris Long, DE, Philadelphia Eagles
- Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award: Named for the founding owner of the Steelers, this award goes to the player viewed as most sportsmanlike. As with the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, each team nominates one player. A panel of former players then reduces the field to four finalists from each conference, and all NFL players then vote for the winner.
- Most Recent Winner: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
- Deacon Jones Player of the Year: Named for the legendary defensive lineman, this award is quite simple: it goes to the player who records the most sacks in an NFL season.
- Most Recent Winner: Shaquil Barrett, OLB, Tampa Bay Buccaneersnote
- Executive of the Year: One award category not covered by the Associated Press, the Sporting News "Executive of the Year" award recognizes the non-coach team employee (usually a General Manager or sometimes a Team President) who did the most to contribute to his team's success. Bill Polian has a record five of them, winning at least one in each of his stops as General Manager (Buffalo, Carolina, Indianapolis).
- Most Recent Winner: Ryan Pace, GM, Chicago Bears
Names to know in the NFL (alphabetical in category, by last name)
Due to length, the page had to be split. "Names to Know" can now be found on the dedicated National Football League Names To Know page.
For some of the more notable NFL plays, go here.
For notable NFL Controversies, see here.