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The most recent iteration of the NFL logo reduced the 25 stars in the canton to 8—one for each division.

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, as well as the most popular sports league in the United States and the wealthiest professional sports league by revenue in the world.

Originally consisting of 14 teams scattered throughout the Midwest and Northeast of the United States, the NFL competed and merged with various other smaller leagues over the next few decades. By the 1950s, it had become the premier professional football league in the nation, though it remained behind Baseball and even Collegiate American Football in terms of overall popularity. The NFL saw massive growth in the latter half of the 20th century. In the '60s, the NFL partnered and eventually merged with the competing American Football League, greatly expanding its number of teams and markets. The league created a championship playoff system in 1933, but the Super Bowl championship game between the NFL and the AFL introduced in 1967 truly elevated postseason football into must-watch television. Exciting games and deft marketing elevated the NFL above its competitors to make professional football the most popular sport in the United States by the 21st century.


The NFL plays mostly on Sundays (with additional games Mondays and Thursdays) from September to February. The regular season currently lasts seventeen weeks from early September to late December/early January, with teams only playing one game per week with an additional mid-season bye—unlike the other major professional sports in North America, football is simply too physically punishing a game to play dozens of times a season. The division winners and three "wild card" teams (those with the 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 who originally played in the city itself for decades, their now actually play in nearby East Rutherford, New Jersey. Plus, from 1995 to 2016, no team played in the Los Angeles area at all. The city had two prior to 1994, when they both left for different reasons. The Rams moved back in 2016, and the Chargers returning to Los Angeles from a 55-year stay in San Diego in 2017. 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 1960).

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 change from time to time. The most recent change came about when the Houston Texans entered the league in 2002, 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 Indianapolis Coltsnote  are in the AFC South, even though they're a Midwestern team that's geographically north of the Cincinnati Bengals, a member of the AFC North.note  No other team in either South Division is located outside the Southern United States.
  • 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 and their teams are presently as follows:

NFC Divisions and Teams

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    NFC East 
  • NFC East (Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, & Washington Football Team): A slight Artifact Title because Dallas is west of the Mississippi, but it was structured this way to preserve the intense rivalries among its four teams. The NFC East was historically one of the league's stronger divisions and is its most decorated, with its teams collectively holding 13 Super Bowl wins; they're also the only division whose teams have all won at least one. Since the realignment, the winner has rotated among the Giants, the Eagles, or the 'Boys (with Washington left holding the bag). The NFC East was the first division since the 2002 realignment to send 3 teams to the playoffs, when the 2006-07 playoffs had the Eagles winning the division and the Cowboys and Giants winning both wildcard spots. It is 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 fail to live up to, culminating in 2020 when all four failed to put up a single winning record, winning them the derisive nickname "The NFC Least".
    • The Dallas Cowboys, known as "America's Team" since at least the '70snote , are the winningest, most highly valued, and likely the most hated franchise in the NFL (they edged the Patriots for that last dubious honor in an ESPN poll). They were created as an expansion team in 1960 to prevent the AFL's Dallas Texans from edging out the NFL in Texas, potentially the most football-crazed state in the country.note  The Cowboys were long known as the team of the legendary Tom Landry, who coached them for their first 29 years of existence. Despite getting off to an awful start, with a 0-11-1 record in their first year, the Cowboys put up 20 consecutive winning seasons under Landry, winning two Super Bowls in the '70s (VI and XII) with QB Roger Staubach and appearing in three more (V, X, and XII). Since 1989, the Cowboys have been owned by Jerry Jones, one of the more divisive executives in the league due to his extensive involvement in team operations—he infamously fired Landry and replaced him with Jimmy Johnson, only to Win Back the Crowd by making the Cowboys the Team of the '90s, winning three more Super Bowls (XXVII, XXVIII, XXX) with a star-studded roster that included "The Triplets"—star QB Troy Aikman, notoriously volatile wide receiver Michael Irvin, and the all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith. Since then, however, the 'Boys have been unable to return to the Big Game, always seeming to fizzle out in the playoffs. This failure is emphasized by their status as the league's Spotlight-Stealing Squad—they draw in the most viewers in the regular season during primetime games, which ensures that they receive more of those slots (including always, always, always playing at home on Thanksgiving) and more media attention than any other team. All three other teams in the NFC East especially hate the Cowboys; the Eagles would claim to be the Cowboys' biggest rival, but the distinction really goes to the Washington team, which is a much more heated and historic rivalry. They are also noted rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers, thanks to some classic matchups in the '70s.
      • The team's wealth also means they play in the league's largest stadium, which is known for having a retractable roof and one of the largest television displays in the world above the field. In addition to various names mocking Jones ("Jerry World" and "Six Flags Over Jerry" being the most popular), the stadium's external appearance has also led to it being nicknamed "the Death Star".note  Prior to its completion in 2009, the team played its first 12 seasons in the Cotton Bowl before moving to the now-demolished Texas Stadium, which was the bane of many players and TV cameramen due to the bizarre shadows cast by the hole in its roof, a leftover of a failed attempt to build a retractable one—Cowboys players and fans joked the hole was so God could watch His favorite team play. Their uniform colors are blue and silver, with helmets that sport their trademark "lone star" logo.
    • The New York Giants, nicknamed "the G-Men", are historically the better of the two teams that play in New Jersey and thus the one that receives the greater share of media attention in the nation's largest media market. One of the oldest teams in the NFL, dating back to 1925, they have been owned by the Mara family for three generations. They are officially named the "New York Football Giants", even though there hasn't been a baseball New York Giants since 1957. The Giants won 4 NFL Championships before the Super Bowl (1927, 1934, 1938, 1956). From 1958-1963, the Giants made it to five of the six championship games, losing each one; the first of those losses against the Colts is widely considered one of the greatest games ever played, an affair that went into overtime and helped to popularize the sport nationwide. Those glory years were followed up with a 17-year playoff drought before the constantly-feuding owners finally hired a general manager. The "Big Blue Wrecking Crew" defense of the '80s, led by coach Bill Parcells, turned the team around and led them to two Super Bowl victories (XXI, XXV). They remained fairly competitive in the following years, even appearing in Super Bowl XXXV, but were generally not considered among the elite NFL squads until they won a miracle Super Bowl XLII against the then-undefeated New England Patriots; they repeated this upset over the dominant Patriots again four years later in XLVI, laying the grounds for a strong rivalry with the Pats. This era of the team was 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. Since their last Super Bowl win, however, the Giants have mostly slid into mediocrity, earning only a single playoff berth in that span.
      • The football Giants started out playing in the Polo Grounds (aka "the Bathtub"), which they shared with the baseball Giants. They moved to Yankee Stadium in the '50s, shortly before the baseball Giants left for San Francisco. When they did eventually get their own stadium in 1976, it was built outside of New York in neighboring East Rutherford, New Jersey. Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands (aka "the Swamp") lasted until the "New Meadowlands" stadium was built right next to it in 2010 (now called MetLife Stadium). The Giants have shared their venue with their AFC counterpart, the Jets, since 1984. Their uniform colors are blue with red accents, and their helmet logos are simply the initials "N.Y."
    • The Philadelphia Eagles were founded in 1933 by Bert Bell, who appointed himself the team's coach after three losing seasons—with no one able to fire him, he put up the worst coaching record in league history before later going on to a much more successful career as the NFL's commissioner. The Eagles have gone through many different majority owners since Bell. In the '50s, they were owned by a group of one hundred different investors, an arrangement that is currently banned by NFL bylaws; they have been owned by Jeffrey Lurie, a film producer, since 1994. Though the team won three pre-Super Bowl championships (1948-9, 1960), they were very bad through most of the '60s and '70s, putting up one winning season in a 16-year span where they failed to make the playoffs. Even after coach Dick Vermeil turned the franchise back into contenders in the late '70s, leading them to their first Super Bowl appearance in XV, the team continued to fall short of winning the Lombardi Trophy for decades. They came close once again during the 13-year tenure of coach Andy Reid in the early '00s, making an appearance against the dominant Patriots in XXXIX after three straight NFC Championship losses, but locker room drama fragmented that team. Their 2017 season was widely 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 playoffs. Philly being... well, Philly, they fully embraced their underdog label all the way to their first title. Outside their fierce division rivalries, they have a (slightly) more respectful one with the Steelers—during World War II, the two Pennsylvania teams briefly merged into the "Steagles" due to the wartime player shortage.
      • More than their on-field play (especially during the team's years of mediocrity), the Eagles are known mostly for their rowdy, unpleasable fan base, which the Guardian has compared to British football hooligans.note  Eagles fans are known to pick fights with the opposing team and players and arguably best known for an incident in which they heckled Santa Claus and pelted him with snowballs at halftime.note  On one occasion, some fans cheered a career-ending neck injury to an opposing playernote . They even hate their own players, should they fail to live up to their expectations—Eagles fans infamously booed quarterback Donovan McNabb when he was drafted and never let up. However, it should be noted that they have never killed or maimed fans of opposing teams (unlike other cities). They genuinely love their team; 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). 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 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. The Eagles' primary color is midnight green, and their helmets prominently sport eagles' wings.
    • The Washington Football Team (formerly known as the "Redskins") has an extensive history that has mostly been Overshadowed by Controversy involving ownership and their mascot name. Founded in 1932 as the Boston Braves, founder George Preston Marshall adopted the "Redskins" moniker (more on that below) the following year and moved to the nation's capital in 1937; two championships in 1937 and 1942, Marshall's marketing savvy and showmanshipnote , and the team's two decade monopoly of the American South made them extremely popular and wealthy even as they went through a record-setting 25-year playoff drought. They finally broke this streak in the '70s under new owner Jack Kent Cooke and coach George Allen, who took the team to a Super Bowl appearance in VII; Allen's team became known as the "Over the Hill Gang" for his dependence on veteran players. Head coach Joe Gibbs brought the team their first three Super Bowl victories with three different starting quarterbacks in the '80s and early '90s: Joe Theismann in XVII (who also appeared in a loss to the Raiders the next year), Doug Williams in XXII, and Mark Rypien in XXVI. During this era, they had one of the most dominant offensive lines in league history, nicknamed "The Hogs".note  Since 1992, however, the team has fallen back into the bottom of the league's hierarchy, due in part to current owner Daniel Snyder, who loves to buy overpriced free agents who flame out quickly and causes fan-hate by charging fans to watch training camp and making HD broadcasts of preseason games cable-only; since he purchased the team in 1999, it has only made the postseason six times and only won one playoff game. The team are the bitter rivals of the Dallas Cowboys, dating at least back to the early 1970s, intentionally invoking the imagery of Cowboys and Indians prior to the name change.
      • Infamously, the Washington Football Team long had 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 and "Redskin" was once just about the most offensive thing you could call a Native American.note  None of this was helped by the fact that original owner George Preston Marshall was infamously racist even by 1930s standards. Until the early 1960s, he made sure the Redskins were the last NFL team to hire black players, only integrating when the federal government threatened to kick them out of their (government-owned) stadium if they didn't integrate like the rest of the league.note  In 2020, the Washington team retired their team name; a new one has not yet been announced, and they played as the mascot-less "Washington Football Team" for the 2020 season.Reasoning  With no mascot or logo, the team played with the same burgundy and gold color scheme as before, but rather than a logo, player's helmets instead feature their numbers in embossed gold, in a callback to various pre-WWII football teams. Ironically, the name "Washington Football Team" isn't even accurate—they have played in FedEx Field in nearby Landover, Maryland, since 1997. The team has also 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.note 

    NFC North 
  • 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. The division crown rotating between the three of them in the '00s, with Green Bay returning to mostly dominate through the '10s. Detroit has struggled since the '50s, 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, just okay.
    • The Chicago Bears are one of the original NFL franchises, formed as the Decatur Staleys in 1920note . They were moved to Chicago the next year by founder, player-coach, and NFL legend George Halas, who dropped the Artifact Title name the next year in lieu of one that honored the Chicago Cubs, which loaned them their stadium at Wrigley Field for nearly fifty years. Halas coached the team himself for over four decades; his daughter Virginia Halas McCaskey is the current owner, and the team uniforms bear his initials on the sleeves. Classy NFL Nice Guy Walter "Sweetness" Payton played here, as did Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers from Brian's Song, tough guy linebacker Dick Butkus, and William "Refrigerator" Perry. As with most Chicago sports franchises, their best days are far in the past, with eight pre-Super Bowl championshipsnote  and only one Super Bowl (XX) since then. That '85 Bears team coached by the beloved Mike Ditka (who also played on the Bears' 1963 Championship team) is generally considered to be in the running for "best team of all time", especially on the defensive side of the ball. 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, though non-football fans probably know that team less as a powerhouse and more for their ill-advised "Super Bowl Shuffle" music video. The team has mostly stayed in the middle of the pack since Ditka's firing in 1992, having only made the playoffs seven times in that nearly thirty year span, though their 2006 team put up an appearance in Super Bowl XLI.
      • The Bears have played in Soldier Field since 1971, though the neoclassical structure dates back to the 1920s and is technically the oldest stadium in the NFL. However, its extensive 2002 renovation, which many criticized as "looking like a spaceship landed on the stadium", caused it to lose its national landmark status. Even with the renovation, it has the lowest seating capacity of any NFL venue, and its location next to Lake Michigan has made it one of the roughest fields to play from a weather standpoint, with freezing winds and storms common. The SNL "Superfans" sketches ("Da Bears!") are based on stereotypical Chicago fans and their blind love for Coach Ditka. Their colors are a dark navy blue and burnt orange. Though they use an image of a bear on some merchandisenote , their primary logo is a simple wishbone "C".
    • The Detroit Lions started out in 1930 in Portsmouth, Ohio, where they were known as the Spartans, and moved to Detroit in 1934, taking the name "Lions" in reference to the Detroit Tigers. Owned by the Ford family (yeah, that one) since 1963, they're the other team that always plays on Thanksgiving Day, having done so every year since the move to the Motor City. They won their first championship in 1935, then had a 16-year playoff drought, only to snap back and become arguably the team of the '50s when they won three championships (1952-3, 1957). Since then, however, the Lions have mightily struggled. They've been really bad for a really long time, not just failing to win a championship but not even appearing in one (the longest drought in the league), making fewer playoff appearances than many teams half their age, and generally falling short in all areas of play. In NFL lore, this has been attributed to "The Curse of Bobby Layne", the team's superstar quarterback that they traded away after the 1957 championship. Over the next three decades, the team only saw the playoffs three times and didn't win a single postseason game. They became playoff contenders in the '90s thanks to Barry Sanders, an incredible running back who was on the verge of breaking the NFL's career rushing record before he quit the NFL rather than continue carrying such an abysmal squad on his shoulders. 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; this wasn't enough to save the Lions from becoming the first team to go 0-16 in the 2008 season. An early '10s rebuild seemed to have paid off with a few playoff appearances, but the team has largely continued to flounder; Calvin Johnson, a wide receiver of comparable skill and promise to Sanders, likewise quit football entirely rather than keep playing for them. They remain 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 without anynote .
      • The Lions played most of their first four decades in Detroit in Tiger Stadium. They departed the city in 1975, moving to the northern suburb of Pontiac to play in the Silverdome, which got its name from its distinctive roof: a fiberglass fabric tarp held up by air pressure, the first of its kind in any sporting venue. While this technology allowed the Lions to shelter themselves from the elements and caught on in a few other stadiums, it also required frequent maintenance and repairs from specialists and could tear under the weight of sufficient snowfall. This, coupled with a desire to return to the city proper, led the team to relocate in 2002 to Ford Field in downtown Detroit, a facility with a permanent roof that boasts architecture evoking old Motor City factories. The city of Pontiac tried to keep the stadium in use with new tenants for several years, but it sat mostly abandoned and in extreme disrepair for 16 years, becoming a favorite site of post-apocalyptic film shoots and urban explorers until it was finally destroyed in 2017 to make room for yet another Amazon warehouse. Their colors are Honolulu blue and silver.
    • The Green Bay Packers, originally named the "Acme Packers" during the initial birth of the NFL, are the last of the NFL's "small town teams". With a population of just over 100,000, Green Bay is microscopic by American major league sports standards.note  Nonetheless, their on-field success and unique ownership model has helped them to not only survive but prosper, cultivating 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. Founded in 1919note  by George Whitney Calhoun and coach Earl "Curly" Lambeau, the Packers were the dominant team of the '30s, winning 6 early championshipsnote . "The Pack" struggled through the '50s, only to become an even more dominant team in the '60s when, under the reign of legendary head coach Vince Lombardi and a team full of Hall of Famers, they won three more championships (1961-2, 1965) and the first two Super Bowls, earning the city of Green Bay the nickname of "Titletown USA". They then went through another Dork Age that lasted over two decades, making only two playoffs in that span while hiring several former players from the '60s dynasty as head coach, making the name "Titletown" seem more and more like a sad callback to foregone Glory Days. However, the team has seen sustained long-term success since the early '90s thanks to the generational quarterback talents of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, who have brought the city a Super Bowl apiece (XXXInote  and XLV) and helped the Packers maintain the league lead in total championships.
      • The Packers were the first NFL team to play in a venue specifically built for football, City Stadium, which was built in 1925 and still operates as the local high school field. However, their home stadium since 1957, Lambeau Field, is far more famous, being the longest-serving venue in the league.note  It is subject to some absolutely terrible weather late in the season, leading to it being nicknamed "The Frozen Tundra".note  Countless games have been played (and watched) in ridiculous conditions such as -15 degrees Fahrenheit 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", where players are expected to leap into the stands after scoring a touchdown. The Packers also stand out for their unique community ownership—the people of Wisconsin (and the rest of the US, due to their widespread fandom) own shares of stock invested in the team, making the team publicly owned. This system is banned under current league rules but grandfathered in for the Packers, guaranteeing that they'll never move to a larger market. Their colors are dark green and gold, and their logo is a simple "G" in an oval.
    • The Minnesota Vikingsnote  were created in 1961 as an expansion team. After a rough early start, coach Bud Grant turned the team into perennial contenders. After winning the last NFL Championship before the 1970 merger, the team has been known for a rather ridiculous series of painful playoff collapses that have kept the generally winning team from ever winning a Super Bowl. The Vikings were led by popular quarterback Fran Tarkenton in the '70s, who led the team in three of their four Super Bowl appearances during that era alongside the "Purple People Eaters", a dominating defense including the likes of Alan Page and Carl Eller. Despite their regular season success, however, the Vikings lost all four of these contests and have yet to even return to the Super Bowl since 1976.note  John Randle helped lead another Purple People Eaters era in the '90s, star receivers Cris Carter and Randy Moss put up a record-setting offense in 1998, and running back Adrian Peterson dominated the league in the late '00s/early '10s. However, the Vikings' postseason story has only got worse thanks to more major collapses. These include an NFC Championship loss in 1998 when their placekicker (who hadn't missed a single kick all season) shanked an easy game-winning FG against the Falcons, and 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 (the Vikings and Saints have had a strong rivalry ever since). The team is currently owned by Zygi Wilf, a billionaire real estate developer and the first non-American-born owner in NFL history.note 
      • After sharing Minneapolis' Metropolitan Stadium with the Minnesota Twins for the first two decades of their existence, the Vikings moved to the Metrodome in 1982 to escape from the harsh elements. One problem: the dome used a fiberglass fabric roof supported by air pressure, a popular option at the time that turned out to be a real problem in the Minnesota climate, as heavy snow storms caused multiple costly ruptures in the roof that got harder and more expensive to fix as fewer specialists became available to perform repairs. The Vikings abandoned the old "Thunderdome" in 2014 and spent a few years playing outdoors at the University of Minnesota's stadium until their new digs at the U.S. Bank Stadium were completed. The indoor stadium sports distinct angular architecture, a life-size Viking ship at its entrance, and a massive "Gjallarhorn" inside the stadium that is blown at the start of each game. The Vikings are another entrant in the "ridiculous fans" department; some fans dress in elaborate purple-and-gold Viking costumes for games and take part in loud chants of "SKOL!" throughout games. Players' helmets sport images of horns instead of their golden-haired Viking logo.

    NFC South 
  • NFC South (Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, & Tampa Bay Buccaneers): Originally thought of as the castoffs when the NFL went to four divisions,note  they've actually played pretty well, albeit inconsistently (good one year, terrible the next and vice versa). Since the division's inception, all four teams have won it at least thrice, with New Orleans holding seven titles, Carolina five, Atlanta four, and Tampa Bay three; it was also the first division since the 2002 realignment to have all four of its members appear in the Super Bowl. In 2014, the South regained its "weakest division" crown when all four teams finished the season with losing records and its champion, Carolina, becoming the second teamnote  to enter the playoffs with a losing record in a non-strike season. However, three years later, it had become one of the most competitive divisions, with New Orleans, Carolina, and Atlanta comprising half of NFC playoff race. Since then, the Saints have reigned over the division for four straight seasons. Unlike its counterpart, the AFC South, the NFC South is actually comprised exclusively of teams in the Southern United States.
    • The Atlanta Falcons were rushed into the NFL in 1966 when the league gave a franchise to local businessman Rankin Smith just when it looked like the AFL was going to put a team in the rapidly growing Southern city. They really haven't gotten over that birthright, seeming to always fall just short of credibility. It took over a decade for the team to even make the playoffs, and they didn't post consecutive winning seasons from their inception until 2009. In that time, they made it to the Super Bowl once in 1998 under coach Dan Reeves, earning the nickname the "Dirty Birds" for their physical playing style, but they lost to John Elway's Broncos. Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank purchased the team from Rankin's son in 2002. The team rose to prominence due to the electric play of star QB Michael Vick, only to lose him when his cruel hobby was exposed in 2007 and he was sent to prison. The Falcons 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 Super Bowl appearance; however, the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead against Tom Brady's Patriots by allowing the Super Bowl to go into overtime for the first time, where the Falcons ultimately lost and soon returned to total mediocrity.
      • The Falcons' colors are red and black, and their logo is a bird drawn in a vaguely "F" shape. After playing their first 25 years in Atlanta Stadium, the team moved to the Georgia Dome in 1992, a popular venue that hosted events in the '96 Olympics. The Falcons closed out their time in the outdated fabric-roofed structure with a home victory in the NFC Championship in 2016, then moved right next door to the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which features a distinctive and advanced "pinwheel" retractable roof.
    • The Carolina Panthersnote  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). After a slow erosion to non-contender status, the drafting of college superstar Cam Newton helped revitalize fan interest in the team. 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' in the process. The next season, behind a powerful offense and underrated defense, they 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, and injury issues sent the team back to mediocrity. The team's founder Jerry Richardson, a former NFL player who became a billionaire after investing in the Hardee's fast food franchise, was pushed out of team ownership by the league in 2018 due to workplace sexual harassment and racism; the team was bought out by hedge fund manager David Tepper.
      • After playing their first season at Clemson University's stadium, the Panthers moved into their own home in Charlotte (now called Bank of America Stadium). The team's colors are black, silver, and "Panther" blue.
    • The New Orleans Saints were historically a terrible team since their creation in 1967 as an expansion franchise sold to oil man John Mecom. Their inability to put up a winning season for the first twenty years of the franchise earned them the derisive nickname "The Ain'ts", and Saints fans actually started the practice of wearing paper bags over one's head to protest a poorly performing team. The team killed Archie Manning's once-promising pro career, as he was their only good player (and arguably their only even decent player) and they refused to trade him for over a decade in the era before free agency. Mecom sold the team to Tom Benson in 1984, who helped turn the team around somewhat. Coach Jim Mora soon brought the team their first few winning seasons, through they remained known through the '90s as "the only team that has never won a playoff game", a label they finally shed in 2000. They finally became regular contenders in the late '00s after hiring coach Sean Payton and signing QB Drew Brees. They're now quite good and even won Super Bowl XLIV against the favored Indianapolis Colts in their first ever Big Game appearance. Brees became a practical deity in the city after that win, bringing some much needed morale after the Hurricane Katrina disaster a few years prior. Unfortunately, the Saints were also subject to one of the biggest controversies in NFL history in "Bountygate", where it was revealed that the team's defense had been dealing out under-the-table bonuses for deliberately injuring other players at around the same time football was coming under scrutiny for its long-term physical effects. Recently, the Saints have developed a heated rivalry with the Minnesota Vikings due to a number of contentious meetings in the playoffs. After Benson's passing in 2018, ownership passed to his wife Gayle.
      • The Saints' colors are black and old gold, and their logo is a fleur-de-lis. They take their name from the hymn-turned-jazz staple "When the Saints Go Marching In", an unofficial anthem of their home city. Said city also has a nasty tendency to get ravaged by hurricanes, so they've played many home games elsewhere. After Katrina, they played in Baton Rouge, New York, and, most notably, San Antonio, a market that many viewed as the most prime for a new NFL franchise. Worries that the Saints might move to Texas all but dissipated after their Super Bowl victory, to the relief of their fans, who, after so many years as the league's step-stool, are currently some of the loudest and most unique in the NFL, prone to dressing up in elaborate Mardi Gras-style costumes and screaming their "WHO DAT?" fight song to anyone who will listen. The "Who Dat Nation"'s team first resided in the stadium of Tulane University before the creation of their current home, the Superdome, in 1975. The largest fixed-dome stadium in the world, the Superdome has hosted a record seven Super Bowls; the most recent in 2013 featured a power outage that brought the game to a lengthy halt. However, the dome is most famous for the number of displaced citizens it sheltered after Katrina.
    • The Tampa Bay Buccaneersnote  started out their first season in 1976 perfectly... perfectly awful, as they lost all 14 games they played in the only completely winless season in the 14-game era.note  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 once again; the team didn't make the playoffs for 14 years and didn't improve until after the death of team founder Hugh Culverhouse in 1994, when the team was sold to Malcolm Glazer and underwent a full rebrand that involved bringing in defensive guru Tony Dungy as head coach. Dungy and his "Tampa 2" defense turned the team into playoff contenders, and though he was fired after the 2001 season, coach Jon "Chucky" Gruden led the team to a victory in Super Bowl XXXVII the very next year. Soon after, however, they slid back into sub-mediocrity, not winning another playoff game after their Super Bowl victory and enduring a 13-year complete playoff drought starting in 2008. Both droughts ended in 2020 after the hiring of Patriots legend Tom Brady. Statistically, the Buccaneers hold the worst lifetime winning percentage not only within the NFL but across all four major American sports leaguesnote . Glazer and the two sons who now run the team after his death are mildly disliked in Tampa; don't ask English soccer fans about Malcolm, especially around Manchester.note 
      • Glazer's '90s rebrand of the Bucs involved more than just changing their on-field performance. Prior owner Culverhouse was known for being a real miser, and the Tampa Stadium (nicknamed "The Big Sombrero" for its distinctive curvature) had struggled to sell out for nearly two decades due not just to its size and the poor on-field product but the aluminum-and-concrete stadium's complete lack of coverage from the Florida sun. The new Raymond James Stadium is much nicer and famously features a pirate ship replica behind its end zone that fans can board during games and that fires its cannons whenever the team scores. Glazer also changed their uniforms from garish "creamsicle" orange-and-white to the current pewter-red-black scheme and their logo from a winking Errol Flynn-style swashbuckler to a skull flag (though some fans miss that old design).

    NFC West 
  • NFC West (Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, & Seattle Seahawks): For most of the 2000s, this was one of the league's weakest divisions, consisting of two perennial underachievers (the Cards and Hawks) and two former giants (the Rams and Niners) whose best players had long since retired; their collective win percentage in 2008 was .344, the weakest division record since the realignment (ironically, its strongest team, the Cardinals, went to the Super Bowl that year), and in 2010 they became the first division to fail to put up a single winning record. However, with the resurgence of the 49ers, the rise of the Seahawks and Cardinals, and the Rams' sudden rebirth after returning to Los Angeles, the NFC West is now 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. It is the only NFL division located entirely in the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones (which was far from true prior to 2002); its AFC counterpart has one Central Time Zone team.
    • The Arizona Cardinals are the NFL's oldest franchisenote , one of its most travelednote , and, historically, one of its least successfulnote . In fact, as of the Chicago Cubs finally breaking their championship drought in 2016, the Cardinals now have the longest championship drought in sports, having last won an NFL Championship in 1947. Prior to that win, their only other title was a Disqualification-Induced Victory that some believe permanently cursed the team (see The Other Wiki's article on the 1925 NFL Championship controversy). The Cards also put up a record-tying playoff drought of 25 seasons (1949-1973), only made the postseason six total times in the first 75 years of the NFL having playoffs, and went over half a century without winning a single playoff game. They were Chicago's original NFL team, as the franchise that would become the Bears were formed two decades later and played their first season in Decatur. The Bidwill family purchased the team 1932 and has owned them ever since, though their team's mediocrity and unwillingness to stick around means they don't have the same reputation as other older football families. They first left town in 1960 for St. Louis after years of playing second fiddle to the Bears. Since the city already had a baseball team of the same name, the Cardinals soon gained the nickname the "Gridbirds" or the "Football Cardinals". Those names followed them when low attendance caused by an aging stadium and terrible play led them to leave town once again for Phoenix. In 2008, the decades of disappointment finally started to turn around; they won more playoff games in three weeks than they had won in the last sixty futile years and came within a minute or so of winning Super Bowl XLIII. One of the stars of that game, all-time great receiver and all-around Nice Guy Larry Fitzgerald, has won the eternal admiration of Arizona fans for sticking with the team for well over a decade despite its constant struggles; they were a much more consistent contender in the '10s at least in part due to his steady presence.
      • The Cards played most of their time in Chicago at the White Sox's stadium at Comiskey Park, then stayed with the "Baseball Cardinals" their entire tenure in St. Louis. After playing their first 18 seasons in Phoenix at Arizona State's home venue, they finally got their own home in 2006, a stadium that either looks like a giant steel rattlesnake curled up in the desert or a barrel cactus depending on what team promo material you read. 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. In addition to its retractable roof, the stadium is notable for being the first to feature a retractable field that the team rolls out to get sunlight between games. Their colors, as one might expect, are cardinal red; the team actually gets its name from the color of the faded red jerseys the original club borrowed from the University of Chicago, not from the bird that is currently their mascot and logo.
    • The Los Angeles Rams are among the most traveled teams, being the only one to win a championship in three different cities. They started out in Cleveland in 1936 as part of the second incarnation of the AFL; they were the only team to survive that league's folding and join the NFL the following year. Though they struggled financially through WWII, even suspending operations in 1943, they won their first championship in 1945. Immediately after, owner Dan Reeves moved the team to Los Angeles to capitalize on a larger market, becoming the first professional sports team on the West Coast and opening the door for the Browns in Cleveland. The Rams put up several good years in L.A. that featured the dominant three-end passing offense of the early '50s (which won the 1951 Championship), the "Fearsome Foursome" defense of the late '60s, and the powerful rushing offense of Eric Dickerson in the '80s. The Rams garnered a reputation as a glamorous "Hollywood" team; it was the first NFL team to have all its games televised, and many of its great players went into acting careers. Detractors often accused the Rams of being more concerned with fame than on-field success, especially in the postseason—during their first tenure in LA, they appeared in only one Super Bowlnote . The team's performance dipped in the '90s, and it struggled to attract fans in the sports-crowded L.A. market, competing not only with the Super Bowl-champion Raiders but also two teams in each of the other major American sports, all while playing in an increasingly outdated stadium. Owner Georgia "Lady Ram" Frontiere saw the chance to win more fans in her hometown St. Louis, which had lost the Cardinals several years prior, and moved the team there in 1995.note  The Rams bounced back in 1999 when QB Kurt Warner rose from obscurity to lead a high-flying offense known as the Greatest Show on Turf to win Super Bowl XXXIV. Warner and RB Marshall Faulk monopolized the MVP from 1999-2001, and the 2001 team looked like an all-time great until the Patriots upset them in Super Bowl XXXVI under the leadership of some kid named Tom Brady. The Rams declined to near-insignificance until new owner Stan Kroenke began looking to move the team back to Los Angeles, beginning a game of franchise tug-of-war that ultimately resulted in the Rams returning to L.A. in 2016. The next year, they posted their first winning record since 2003, went to the playoffs for the first time since 2004, and made it to Super Bowl LIII the very next season before again losing to the Patriots.
      • The Rams' colors are royal blue and gold. Their helmets have sported a distinctive design of curved ram horns since the '40s, being the first team in the NFL not to just paint their helmets a solid color. They spent their first 34 years in California playing in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a national historic landmark built in 1923 that hosted two Olympics.note  The team actually played their last 15 years in California outside of L.A. at the much smaller Anaheim Stadium to get around the league's blackout rules and get closer to the Orange County suburbs. The Rams returned to the Coliseum after their stay in St. Louis while their current home was completed. In contrast to the shoddy reputation of the team's former "Battle Dome" in Missouri, SoFi Stadium is the most expensive sports venue ever built, costing an estimated $5 billion and featuring a tremendous two-sided circular video screen and a sweeping translucent roof. One problem: it opened in 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and thus was unable to host any fans in its inaugural season.
    • The San Francisco 49ers (named after the Forty Niners of the California Gold Rush) got their start in the All-America Football Conference in the '40s before joining the NFL after that league folded. Despite boasting a "Million Dollar Backfield" of future Hall of Famers in the '50s, the Niners were historically a mediocre team, with four total playoff appearances in their first 30 years in the NFL. That all changed in the '80s, soon after the team's purchase by the billionaire DeBartolo family, who hired coach Bill Walsh to lead and manage the Niners. Walsh's innovative "West Coast Offense" transformed them into the most dominant force 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 winsnote  from 1981-1998. At the end of that run, a corruption scandal led owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., to cede ownership to his sister; Steve Young retired soon after, and the team then faded from relevance for most of the '00s. The 2011 hiring of former quarterback and Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh as head coach signaled another change in fortunes. Behind a powerful running game and implacable defense, the new-look 49ers reached three NFC Championship games and appeared in Super Bowl XLVII, igniting a ferocious rivalry with the Seattle Seahawks in the process. When Harbaugh was ousted from the team due to clashes with management, the Niners again struggled to find an identity until 2019, when head coach Kyle Shanahan led the team to an appearance in Super Bowl LIV.
      • The 49ers spent their first 25 seasons in Kezar Stadium, then relocated to Candlestick Park, where they played for over four decades. After failed negotiations for a new stadium in their namesake city, the Niners settled on building a new stadium, Levi's Stadium, next to their corporate headquarters in Santa Clara, forty miles from the city itself. Levi's was completed and opened in 2014; it is located right next the Cedar Fair theme park California's Great America and notably features an organic farm on its roof that produces crops used in the stadium's concessions. Their colors are red and gold, and their logo is simply the initials "S.F." enclosed in a red oval.
    • The Seattle Seahawks are a historically not-very-good team that rose to dominance in the 2010s. An expansion team in 1976, they had a stretch of over twenty years without a single playoff win, starting in 1983 with a loss to the Raiders in the AFC Championship Game. Through 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, and they gained a reputation as a place for future Hall of Famers to play the year before they retire. The team were almost moved out of Seattle to Los Angeles before Microsoft exec Paul Allen purchased them in 1997. The Hawks eventually turned their fortunes around, breaking their drought in 2005 and making it to Super Bowl XL under coach Mike Holmgren before coming up short in one of the most controversial championship games in history, with many questionable referee calls in the opponent Steelers' favor. Following a leadership change to the duo of former USC coach Pete Carroll and former Green Bay executive John Schneider in 2010, the Seahawks became the first team in 28 years to make the playoffs with a losing record (7-9). Critics were soon silenced with a shocking first-round win over the then-defending champion New Orleans Saints, after Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch went "Beast Mode" with a 60+ yard touchdown run that sealed the deal for Seattle, causing the crowd to cheer so loudly that the rumbling registered on nearby seismographs as an earthquake.note  After assembling a defensive backfield considered one of the best in NFL history, nicknamed "the Legion of Boom", and a generational talent in QB Russell Wilson, the Seahawks became an unexpected powerhouse. In the 2013 season, the Seahawks finally won their first Super Bowl in franchise history by surprisingly blowing out the Denver Broncos in XLIX, their defense completely shutting down what had been the most productive offense in NFL history. They suffered a heartbreaking defeat against the Patriots in the Super Bowl the following year but have remained one of the league's leading teams.
      • The Seahawks are also known for having some of the loudest and most dedicated fans in the league; they retired the #12 in their honor as the team's "12th man"note . Their volume is at least partially due to their current home at Lumen Field being deliberately designed to amplify the sound from the stands (though their former home at the Kingdome was also one of the loudest in the league before it was demolished in 2000). Their stadium has more false starts than any other in the league.note  That home field advantage is much appreciated since the Seahawks, like most sports teams from their geographically isolated city, do a lot of flying, regularly ranking as the most traveled team. Their colors are a dark "college" navy and an extremely neon "action" green.

AFC Divisions and Teams

    AFC East 
  • AFC East (Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, & New York Jets): Since the creation of the current division structure, 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 has been a fairly weak division—the Jets are a huge case of Every Year They Fizzle Out, the Dolphins have barely done anything aside from their 2008 division title and a 2016 Wild Card berth, and the Bills were dire since the mid-late '90s, with their 2017 wild-card berth their first playoff appearance in this century. In 2020, the Bills broke the Pats' 11-year hold of the division title after New England put up their first losing season since the start of the Brady era, though time will tell how the division shakes out in the future. It is also notable for containing only 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; unlike the NFC East, at least all its teams are actually located in East Coast states. One more geography fact: None of the teams actually play in the main cities of their metropolitan areas.note 
    • The Buffalo Bills, one of the AFL's original teams, are the third team to lose four Super Bowls; thing is, they did it four years in a row in their only appearances in the game (XXV-XXVIII) under coach Marv Levy and quarterback Jim Kelly. Other than that, the Bills are best known for being the team O.J. Simpson played his best years in, albeit in a time where they weren't big contenders—outside their '90s dynasty, the team really hadn't been consistently strong since the AFL days when they won two championships. As the city of Buffalo's economy has been in a tailspin for nearly four decades, the Bills were commonly considered a candidate to move to Los Angeles. They played some home games in nearby Toronto to attempt to expand their regional appeal and alleviate this concern but raised 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 promised to keep the team in town. He ended the Toronto home games early as part of his commitment. The Bills held the dubious distinction of not only having the longest standing 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 17-year drought was finally snapped in 2017, when they won their regular season closer and were gifted the #6 seed after the Bengals delivered a surprising defeat to the Ravens.note  They currently are shaping up to be one of the stronger teams in the league, winning their division and a postseason game for the first time in 25 years in 2020.
      • By playing in Buffalo, the Bills are ironically the only NFL team to actually play in New York State; the two teams with the state in their names play in New Jersey. Buffalo is possibly the only NFL city with weather worse than Green Bay, with nearby Lake Erie generating plenty of harsh storms over the aging Bills Stadium, an open-air venue built in the early '70s next to a cemetery. Despite their smaller market and on-field struggles, their fanbase, the "Bills Mafia", is one of the more dedicated (and rowdy) in the league—their tailgating festivities are some of the most extreme, bizarre, and masochistic in sports. Their colors, like their division rivals the Patriots, are red, white, and blue. Their logo and mascot is not a "Bill" but a charging buffalo—their team name is in reference to the American entertainer Buffalo Billnote .
    • The Miami Dolphins were an AFL expansion team founded in 1966 by lawyer/politician Joe Robbie. They 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 in a 14-game season; alumni from this team still meet every year for a champagne toast after the last undefeated team falls short of their record.note . Much of this success can be attributed to Don Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history who led the team from 1970 to 1995. They appeared in five different Super Bowls under Shula's leadership, losing three (VI, XVII, and XIX) but winning two back-to-back (VII and VIII). The Dolphins were also the team of Dan Marino, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time who never won a Super Bowl, only appearing in one. Ever since the retirements of these two greats in the late '90s, the Dolphins have pretty much had a revolving door at both coach and quarterback and have sadly floundered, with only three playoff appearances and zero playoff wins since 2000. Paradoxically, they have regularly been an annoying thorn in the side of the league's best team in that era, usually costing their division rivals the Patriots one game per season no matter how dominant the Pats are and no matter how terrible the 'Fins have been. The team is currently owned by billionaire real estate developer Stephen Ross.
      • The Dolphins' colors are aqua with orange highlights. For many years, their logo featured a very stern dolphin wearing a football helmet over its blowhole, though that was admittedly part of the charm and the team continues to bring it back out a few times a season. The team played in the Orange Bowl for their first two decades. For a few seasons, the team had a dolphin (creatively named Flipper) that sat in a small tank by the end zone and jumped through hoops when the team scored touchdowns. They then moved to the new Joe Robbie Stadium, which has been renamed eight times since then; it is currently known as Hard Rock Stadium and is instantly recognizable for its massive canopy roof built to shield spectators from the South Florida sun.
    • The New England Patriots have been the strongest team of the 21st century, but 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. The owner of their stadium's land, Robert Kraft, kept the team from moving to another market, bought out the team entirely in 1994, and started to turn its operations around.note  After losing to Brett Favre and the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI in 1996, the Pats became a true juggernaut in the early '00s under quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, winning three Super Bowls in four years (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX). They returned to the Super Bowl in 2007 and 2011, the former after posting the league's only 16-0 regular season, but lost both times to the New York Giants. Then they returned to and won three more Super Bowls in the '10s (XLIX, LI, LIII), making them the second team to win six after the Pittsburgh Steelers and the first team ever to appear in 11. Their loss to the Eagles in 2017 ironically made them the second team to lose five as well, tying them for most losses.note  Their status as the league's Invincible Hero (and the attitudes of some of their fans) hasn't won the team many supporters outside their home market—they have often been called "The Empire" of the league, a reputation that worsened after numerous cheating scandalsnote . They were accused of illegally recording their opponents' defensive signals from the sidelines in 2007, an allegation known as "Spygate". Belichick was fined $500,000note , the Patriots' organization was fined $250,000, and they lost their first-round pick in the 2008 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, and the team forfeited several picks. Brady's departure from the team in 2020 marked the end of the most successful coach-QB pairing in league history, and the team put up its first losing record since he started playing the following season.
      • The team was called the Boston Patriots prior to 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. Foxboro was known for many years as one of the worst stadiums in the league—not only was it extremely barebones, its toilets overflowed in their first game and didn't work for the next thirty years. Its successor Gillette, nicknamed "The Razor", is much nicer; it prominently features a lighthouse behind the end zone that blows a horn during visiting teams' third downs. The Patriots' colors are, as one might expect, red, white, and blue (and silver). Their logo of a Revolutionary minuteman is nicknamed "the Flying Elvis" due to his apparent sideburns and chin; even after being in use for more than two decades, some fans still greatly prefer the old logo of "Pat the Patriot" snapping a football.
    • The New York Jets are New Jersey's other, more forgettable team. Originally, the team was named the New York Titans before changing their name in '63, after they moved to play in the Mets' Shea Stadium, to reference the jet airplanes from neighboring LaGuardia Airport that loudly flew overhead during games. Traditionally Long Island and New Jersey's football team, they have been based in the Giants' home stadium since 1984. 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 prior to the NFL-AFL merger.note  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. After the Super Bowl win, however, the Jets have yet to even revisit a championship game. They have spent decades as a bottom-of-the-barrel team, resulting in derisive nicknames like "the New York Jest", though in the '80s they were known as a defensive powerhouse led by their "New York Sack Exchange" D-line. They were fairly competitive in the 2000s, culminating with a brief but noteworthy boom period in 2009-10 when outspoken head coach Rex Ryan declared war on the New England Patriots, eliminated them from the '10 playoffs, and made two consecutive AFC Championships. Since then, however, they've slid back into mediocrity and failed to return to the playoffs. They were owned for most of their history by Leon Hess, but Johnson & Johnson heir Woody Johnson bought the team in 2000 after Hess' death (though the team is currently represented by Woody's brother Christopher while he serves as the U.S. ambassador to England).
      • The Jets' colors are Gotham green and white. Before sharing a home venue with the Giants, the Jets shared their home venue with MLB's Mets, first at Polo Grounds, then at Shea Stadium. Their fans 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 (though not as rough as the other green team in the Northeast, the Eagles)? They've even stopped selling alcohol at a few games because of it. Their logo is simply the team name enclosed in a green football.

    AFC North 
  • AFC North (Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, & Pittsburgh Steelers): The home of intimidating defenses and hardcore players, all of these teams have fairly storied and interconnected histories. 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 2010s, 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, though the rise of the long-suffering Browns to take their place has kept the division one of the most competitive in the league.
    • The Baltimore Ravens began play as an "expansion" team in 1996, though they were not a traditional new franchise but rather the result of the original Cleveland Browns' relocation. Browns' 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  Modell ceded ownership of the team to Maryland businessman Steve Bisciotti in 2004. The Ravens have been known mostly for their stifling defense, and the face of the team for their first 17 years of existence was linebacker Ray Lewis (though non-Baltimore fans prefer to focus on how he was accused of and indicted for murder in 2000). Despite their early hurdles, the Ravens have developed a strong following in Baltimore by... well, winning. The Ravens have made the playoffs in precisely half of their overall seasons, won two Super Bowls (XXXV and XLVII), and haven't had consecutive losing seasons since 1998. After a brief rebuilding period in the mid-'10s that followed a series of retirements, salary cap issues, and a zero tolerance policy on criminal behavior instituted to restore the team's public image in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal, the Ravens have since turned into an offensive powerhouse under superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson without sacrificing much of their prior defensive identity.
      • Though the team is technically the successor to the former Browns, many fans hold the unofficial but well-cultivated view of the Ravens as the direct successor of the Baltimore Colts. Not only did the Ravens play their first two seasons at the Colts' old Memorial Stadium and inherit their former marching band, most former Baltimore Colts players, most notably Johnny Unitas, considered the Ravens to be their team rather than the Colts—a statue of Unitas sits outside the Ravens' current home at M&T Bank Stadium in Camden Yards. The Ravens' complicated history is one reason why their rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers is among the most bitter in the NFL.note  The team's colors are purple, black, and gold, and their mascot, nicknamed "Poe", is a reference to Baltimore's most famous poet.
    • The Cincinnati Bengals joined the AFL as an expansion team in 1968. They came into existence pretty much solely as a Take That! effort to allow former Cleveland Browns coach Paul Brown to come back to the league after he was fired from his namesake team; the team even uses the same helmet color as the Browns. They went to two Super Bowls in the '80s (XVI and XXIII) and lost both in close contests to the San Francisco 49ers. Since then, their biggest claim to fame has been having the longest playoff victory drought in the NFL, earning them the nickname "the Bungles". Though they boasted a five-year streak of playoff appearances in the early '10s, they still haven't actually won in the postseason since the 1990 Wild Card round, and in recent years haven't come close to breaking that streak. Their owner during that entire era, Paul Brown's son Mike, is well known as one of the cheapest in the league, which likely contributes to the team's struggles. Only one Bengals player, legendary offensive lineman Anthony Muñoz, has been enshrined in Canton, the fewest of any franchise as old as the team; though the team has featured many players like QB Ken Anderson and CB Ken Riley that have put up dominating individual performances, their stay with the small-market underachiever likely cost them a spot in the Hall of Fame. Like every other team in the AFC that has ever been associated with the state of Ohio, they are bitter rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In fact, by the early '10s, the Bengals-Steelers rivalry was a candidate for "most bitter in the NFL", starting when Cincy's 2005-06 playoff appearance, their first in fifteen years (and first division title under the AFC North banner), was spoiled by Pittsburgh at home in the Wild Card Round after star QB Carson Palmer sustained a devastating knee injury in his first passing play. Games between them in that era became known for high injury and penalty counts on both sides.
      • The Bengals' team name does not refer to the Bengal region of South Asia but to Bengal tigers. As a result, their current uniforms are some of the most distinctive in the league, boasting an orange and black tiger stripe pattern on the helmets. This means that the team's logo is not featured on the helmet, which has resulted in a bit of a confusion for team merchandise—the team's official logo is a tiger-striped "B" (strangely not a "C" for the city they represent) but they also sometimes use a tiger head logo. The Bengals hosted the coldest game in NFL history accounting for wind chillnote , the 1981 AFC Championship (nicknamed "the Freezer Bowl"), in their old Riverfront Stadium. The Bengals moved into their current home, Paul Brown Stadium (a.k.a. "the Jungle") in 2000—besides Lambeau Field, it is the only venue to feature a heating system under the field to keep the ground from freezing solid (and, coincidentally, the only other one named after the team's founder). Bengals fans have a slogan/fight chant called "Who dey?"; don't mention to them its similarities to the Saints' "Who dat?" song, which predates it by several years.
    • The Cleveland Browns are a former powerhouse that has won and appeared in more professional championships than any other teamnote  but has also not appeared in one since the NFL-AFL merger. Their history is messy and complicated. They originally started out as the dominant team of the short-lived All-America Football Conference, winning the title in each of its four seasons. They continued to dominate when they joined the NFL in 1950 and won the championship that year. The Browns appeared in the next five championships and won another two (1954-5). They remained successful even after legendary QB Otto Graham retired and owner Art Modell fired the team's head coach and namesake Paul Brown. They won one more championship with superstar running back Jim Brown in 1964 and fell just short of appearing in Super Bowls III and IV by losing in the final two NFL Championships. After the Super Bowl became the NFL's true championship game, however, the team became known for choking in the clutch, especially against the Denver Broncos in three different AFC Championships in the '80s. (Don't ask Browns fans about "The Drive" or "The Fumble".) In 1996, the original team was moved to Baltimore by Modell (don't mention him around Browns fans either, unless you're cursing him out) over a dispute about the team's stadium. That would have been the end of the storied franchise's time in Cleveland...
      • ...had the city not filed a federal lawsuit that resulted in a settlement awarding the city the Browns' name, colors, and franchise history.note  The Browns then technically returned as an expansion team in 1999. These "new Browns" have been a laughingstock, only making the playoffs once and never winning a postseason match. This has been attributed to constantly-shifting coaching staffs, a paranoid front office, and high-profile draft picks like Johnny Manziel that have dramatically flamed out. They were purchased by truck stop mogul Jimmy Haslam in 2012, who seemed to be serious about reforming the team, but his company was investigated for fraud soon after his purchase, complete with the FBI and IRS staging a raid at one point. The franchise bottomed at an 0-16 mark in 2017, only the second franchise with such a "perfect" record. The head coach of this season, Hue Jackson, was rehired despite going 1-31 across two seasons at the helm, largely because he already the team's sixth coach in the past ten years, which brought further questions about Haslam's competence as owner.note  Rookie QB Baker Mayfield led the Browns to more wins than they had in the three previous seasons combined the next year, though the coaching roulette and losing records continued until 2020, when new head coach Kevin Stefanski brought the team its first winning record in over a decade, ending a 17-year playoff drought and 26-year playoff win drought.note 
      • The Browns' current stadium was built right after Modell first left town as part of the agreement to let the city keep the team's history. Officially called FirstEnergy Stadium, it is also referred to by its derisive nickname "The Factory of Sadness", and its location off the shore of Lake Erie often invites harsh weather. Their colors, as you might expect, are brown... and also orange. Players wear orange helmets without a logo; an image of these helmets itself serves as the Browns logo. Adding to the confusion: the team's mascot is a dog, and their fans are referred to as the Dawg Pound and often dress up as dogs at games. The Dawg Pound is one of the more loyal fanbases in the NFL, but the constant losing has also made them one of the violent and willing to take on-field matters into their own hands—among other incidents, the Dawgs pelted the visiting Broncos with so much debris in '89 that the team had to switch sidelinesnote , tore up the old Municipal Stadium's seats during the old team's final home game, and threw beer bottles at the refs after an officiating error cost them a game in '03.
    • The Pittsburgh Steelers are perhaps the most consistently successful team of the Super Bowl era. This is a sharp contrast to their status as perhaps the most pathetic team in the pre-merger NFL.note  The team was founded in 1933 by Art Rooney as the Pittsburgh Pirates, in reference to the city's baseball team; they were renamed the "Steelers" in 1940 in reference to the city's steel industry. For their first four decades, the team never won a title and only made the postseason once (in a divisional tie-breaker, not a championship game). As a result, the team regularly faced financial difficulties—they had to merge with the Eagles and Cardinals just to make it through WWII. This reputation changed starting with coach Chuck Noll's tenure, which began in 1969; they have since 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. In that time, the Steelers have stayed owned by the Rooney familynote  and have had just three head coaches (Noll, Bill Cowher, and current head coach Mike Tomlin). This lack of turnover has given the team one of the most stable identities in the league, known for playing a smothering defense and a run-first offense that, thanks to the team's uncanny knack of drafting talented wide receivers from any roundnote , enable them to run a gunslinging high-passing offense as needed. Under Noll, the team dominated the '70s with superstar QB Terry Bradshaw, a stacked passing and rushing offense, and a dominating "Steel Curtain" defense; this team won four Super Bowls in six years (IX, X, XIII, XIV). Cowher and Tomlin each brought Pittsburgh another Super Bowl victory with QB Ben Roethlisberger (XL and XLIII)note . In addition to their divisional rivals, the Steelers have intense rivalries with their fellow Pennsylvania team, the Eagles, and fellow "'70s great with an intense fanbase", the Raiders.
      • The success of the great '70s Steelers dynasty helped to boost the city's morale during a severe economic downturn in the region (though tragically, many members of the great '70s teams later suffered various misfortunes and mental/physical problems traced to their playing days). This earned them one of the league's most die-hard local fanbases, the Steeler Nation, who can be found whipping their Terrible Towels in countless sold-out games. Because of their on-field success and intense fanbase, the team travels well and is a fixture in national sports media. Heinz Fieldnote , built in 2000 to replace the aging Three Rivers Stadium, was known for having a terrible playing surface, though the players refuse to switch to artificial turf because of tradition.note  Like other Pittsburgh teams, the Steelers' color scheme is black and yellow. Their unique logo (three red, blue, and yellow four-pointed stars in a circle) comes from a flag once used by the local U.S. Steel company. Even more unique is that said logo appears on only one side of their helmet, specifically the right (from the wearer's perspective).

    AFC South 
  • AFC South (Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, & Tennessee Titans): Originally a contender for "strongest division", at the moment they're probably among the weaker ones, though that makes them one of the more internally competitive. Indy ran away with the division during the Peyton Manning years. Tennessee and Jacksonville used to put up a fight but fell to the bottom half of the league through most of the '10s. Houston started out as a decent team in a division where "decent" wasn't good enough but rose to become the division's winner for most of the decade after Manning's departure. The division title has been more or less up for grabs the last few years, with even the Jaguars clinching it in 2017 only to fall back hard the next year.
    • The Houston Texans are the NFL's youngest franchise. They began play in 2002, five years after the old Houston Oilers left town to become the Tennessee Titans. 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 back 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), the team took the name "Texans", becoming the sixth pro football team to use that namenote . After several seasons at or below mediocrity, falling short of a winning record through their first eight seasons, the Texans broke through in 2011 with the the franchise's first playoff berth and division win, fueled mostly by a revitalized defense led by J.J. Watt. They have regularly been a playoff contender since but have yet to make it to the Big Game.
      • The Texans colors are the blue and red of the Texas flag, which is represented in their logo in the shape of a bull's head. Their most die-hard fans occupy the "Bull Pen" section of the stands in NRG Stadium, which the team has played in through their whole history. NRG (originally known as Reliant Stadium) was built next to the Oilers' old digs at the Astrodome and was the first NFL facility with a retractable roof.
    • The Indianapolis Colts are a long-running franchise that dates, in some form, all the way back to 1913, though the connection is convoluted and tenuous and the NFL and the Colts don't officially recognize any of the history prior to 1953, when founder Carroll Rosenbloom set up shop in Baltimorenote . After struggling for its first few years, the Colts found their star quarterback, the legendary Johnny Unitas, and surrounded him with a host of Hall of Famers that took the team to two back-to-back championship titles in 1958-9. The first of these games, an away match against the New York Giants, was the first NFL game to be decide in sudden-death overtime, played a major role in popularizing professional football as a television spectacle, and is still often referred to as "The Greatest Game Ever Played". The team stayed competitive through the '60s, appearing in Super Bowl III in a surprise loss to the New York Jets before coming back for a messy victory against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V. However, they struggled through the '70s after Unitas' departure and the purchase of the team by Robert Irsay. With declining attendance and a lack of public funding for a new stadium, Irsay snuck the team out of town in moving vans in the middle of the night in 1983 to keep the city of Baltimore from claiming the franchise rights with eminent domain.note  The Colts remained mediocre in Indy, only making one playoff appearance in its first ten years there, but became dominant after drafting star quarterback Peyton Manning in 1998. They were the winningest team of the '00s in the regular season, and even with a playoff-performance issue that made them the Trope Namer for Every Year They Fizzle Out, they still notched a Super Bowl win in XLI and appearance in XLIV. However, when Manning went out from a neck injury in 2011, they instantly fell to worst in the league. They recovered thanks to their #1 draft pick of Andrew Luck as Manning's replacement, but Luck's injury problems and early retirement left the team still struggling somewhat to find its identity. Outside of their division, they have a solid rivalry with the Ravens (due to the Baltimore connection) and the Patriots (due to the Manning vs. Brady battles of the '00s).
      • The Colts were a team of many firsts. In Baltimore, 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 (a blue horseshoe) on their helmets. The Colts didn't have the first NFL marching band—that honor belongs to the Washington team—but the band is notable for both predating the current Colts franchise (it was created for the first Baltimore Colts, an AAFC team that folded after the 1950 season) and staying in the city after the team's departure, surviving twelve years before becoming the official marching band of the Ravens.note  The Colts played their first three decades in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, nicknamed "The Old Gray Lady of 33rd Street" (or alternatively "The World's Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum" due to their fanatical fans). A small private airplane once crashed into the upper deck of the stadium minutes after a 1976 playoff game; thankfully, because the game was a massive blowout, the stands were almost empty and no one was seriously hurt. After the move to Indy, the team played in the Hoosier Dome (later renamed the RCA Dome). Another one of those fabric-roofed venues, it was torn down in 2008 and replaced by Lucas Oil Stadium, a red-brick structure featuring massive windows and a retractable roof that has a reputation as one of the more gorgeous venues in the league. The Colts uniforms are blue and white.note 
    • The Jacksonville Jaguars are an expansion franchise that began play in 1995. The Jags made it to the AFC Championship in 1996 and 1999, lost both games, and have largely struggled to get out of the bottom of the league standings ever since, which, coupled with their tiny regional marketnote  and complete lack of any Hall of Fame players, has made them arguably the least notable team in the NFL. That's not to say the Jags aren't interesting, far from it. Midway into the 2011 season, the Jaguars made a huge news when founder Wayne Weaver fired long-time head coach Jack Del Rio and sold the franchise to Shahid Khan. A billionaire from Pakistan called "The Face of The American Dream" by Forbes, Khan's mustache is as well known as his business skills—fans can be seen wearing "Khanstaches" at home games in support of their owner. After a lengthy rebuild, he team made it back to the AFC Championship game in 2017 with a dominant "Sacksonville" defense, only to immediately slide back to sub-mediocrity. Because of Jacksonville's inherent disadvantages for financial successnote , the Jags were often 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". Those rumors were largely killed by a series of stadium upgrades and the Rams and Chargers returning to LA. The Jags were to play two of their eight 2020 home games in London, in no small part because they get twice as much money from a London game as they do from a game in Jacksonville, but the COVID-19 Pandemic caused these games to be moved back to North Florida. They are technically geographical rivals of Miami and Tampa Bay, though none of the teams in Florida take their rivalries seriously.
      • The Jags' colors are black, teal, and gold. The teal apparently comes from the noticeably blue tongue sported by their mascot, Jaxson de Ville, who hypes up the crowd at the start of each game by bungee jumping and ziplining from the top of the stadium's massive video board, one of the largest in the world. Their home at TIAA Bank Field, built upon the footprint of the former Gator Bowl Stadium, also has an end zone club area that features a pair of swimming pools.
    • The Tennessee Titans were formerly known as the Houston Oilers, one of the original AFL teams and holder of that league's first two championship titles. Created by Texas oilman Bud Adams, the Oilers were generally pretty good year in and out. In the '70s, the team was known for their powerful running game led by star Earl Campbell. By the '90s, 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 this era but never made it through the playoffs, once blowing a 32-point lead in the 4th quarter to Buffalo (the largest surrendered margin in NFL history). Adams moved the team to Tennessee in 1997 after a dispute over funding for a new stadium, naming the team after the state rather than a specific city so they could play in Memphis while their stadium in Nashville was finishednote . The team soon dropped the "Run and Shoot" (and the "Oilers" name after two years of folks pointed out that Tennessee is not particularly famous for oil production) and got their revenge on Buffalo in the 1999 Wild Card game by pulling off an absolutely ridiculous last-play kickoff return to win the game, dubbed the "Music City Miracle". This helped bring them to the team's sole Super Bowl appearance, which they lost when the game's final play ended just inches short of the goal line. The team struggled in subsequent years, drafting players with high prospects (QB Vince Young, RB Chris Johnson) that ended up disappointing in high-profile ways, but have recently returned to regular playoff contention. 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), and are currently coached by Mike Vrabel. Following Bud Adams' death in 2015, the team has been owned by his daughter, Amy Strunk.
      • After playing their first few seasons in local college stadiums, the Oilers moved into the Astrodome in 1968, becoming the first football team to play home games in an indoor venue on artificial turf. The Titans currently play at Nissan Stadium. Their colors are navy, "Titans" blue, and silver. The "Titans" name was selected from a fan-submission seemingly just for the Added Alliterative Appeal, resulting in one of the more confusing brand identities in the NFL. After boasting a simple oil rig as their logo for several decades, their current logo is a comet emblazoned with elements of the Tennessee flag. They also have an alternate logo of a T-shaped sword, one of their pre-game traditions has a special guest plunge a sword into the 50-yard line, and fans frequently dress up in classical Greek-style armor. However, their mascot... is a raccoon.

    AFC West 
  • AFC West (Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Las Vegas Raiders, & Los Angeles Chargers): These four teams have been in the same division since the beginning of the AFL. The Raiders dominated in the '70s and '80s, then were supplanted by the Broncos through the '90s. In the '00s, the Chargers had a fairly solid lock on the division, but Denver took back control in 2011, first under Tim Tebow and then under Peyton Manning, followed shortly thereafter by the Chiefs under Patrick Mahomes; today the division suddenly stacks up as one of the stronger ones in the NFL.
    • The Denver Broncos were an original AFL team and were one of the league's weaker squads prior to the NFL merger. After not making a postseason appearance for their first 17 seasons, the team surged to a Super Bowl appearance in XII, a loss to the Cowboys. In the '80s, under the ownership of Pat Bowlen, the Broncos became known as a strong franchise that always fizzled out, with coach Dan Reeves and star QB John Elway taking the team to three Super Bowls in four seasons (XXI, XXII, and XXIV) and losing each one. Elway eventually bounced back at the tail end of his career, thanks in part to head coach Kyle Shanahan and his ability to consistently find and develop stud anonymous 1,000-yard rushers. Elway and Shanahan brought the team back-to-back victories in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIIInote . They made a lot of noise after Shanahan's departure in 2009 when new coach Josh McDaniels alienated the team's 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 on a nail-biting season to a stunning playoff spot that introduced "Tebow Time" and "Tebowing" to the world. However, Tebow was traded to the New York Jets after Elway returned to the franchise as President and signed veteran QB Peyton Manning. In 2013, the Broncos made it to Super Bowl XLVIII with the most productive offense in NFL history but wound up losing 43-8 to the Seattle Seahawks, who had one of the best defense in NFL history, becoming the first team to lose five Super Bowls. In 2015, Manning truly showed the effects of age and injuries, missing significant time during the season, but came back for the end and rode a defense about as dominant as the 2013 Seahawks to victory in Super Bowl 50 in what proved to be Manning's final game. They have since slid to the middle of the pack and have yet to return to the playoffs.
      • The Broncos' stadium, called Empower Field at Mile High for nownote , is literally a mile above sea level, just like the rest of Denver, which makes their home games tough on the visiting teams and heavenly for kickers. Some players with certain medical conditions like sickle-cell anemia cannot play there without literally risking their lives and thus must miss the games. The scoreboard at Empower features a giant statue of "Bucky the Bronco", a carry-over from the old Mile High. Their colors are orange and navy blue, one of the more distinctive color combos in the league and a decided improvement over the truly hideous brown and mustard yellow uniforms with vertical striped socks they wore in their first two seasons in the AFL.
    • The Kansas City Chiefs are the current Super Bowl champions. The Chiefs started life as an original AFL team called the Dallas Texans, created by that league's founder, Lamar Hunt. They moved to Kansas City after three seasons once it became obvious that Dallas wouldn't support two teamsnote . They changed their name because the Kansas City Texans is clearly ridiculous (although there is word Hunt did consider keeping it) but kept their pre-Chiefs years in the team history. Under coach Hank Stram, the Chiefs won three AFL championships ('62, '66, and '69) and appeared in the first and fourth Super Bowls, beating the Vikings in the latter. Unfortunately, their success didn't last, and the Chiefs declined in the mid-'70s, experiencing a 14-year playoff drought. They had a brief renaissance in the '90s with coach Marty Schottenheimer and later laid down a scorched-earth 2003 campaign that ended with a first round playoff loss, but in the mid- to late-'00s they became increasingly pathetic. The hiring of Andy Reid as head coach in 2013 finally turned the Chiefs back into consistent winners. Patrick Mahomes emerged in 2018 as arguably the game's best young QB, earning league MVP honors that season and taking the team to their first post-merger league title the next year.
      • The Chiefs have a running rivalry with Seattle over who has the loudest fans; at many of their home games in Arrowhead Stadium, they and Seattle attempt to set new world records for crowd noise (KC has the record for now). The Chiefs' colors are red and gold, and their logo is an arrowhead featuring the city's initials. Now that the Washington Football Team has gotten rid of their mascot, theirs is currently the most controversial in the league; while the title "Chief" isn't associated with any particular people group and the team's official mascot has been a wolf since the late '80s, the team's fans have dressed up in Native American regalia and used the "tomahawk chop" since the move to Missouri, earning the organization a fair amount of criticism from indigenous groups.
    • The Las Vegas Raiders started life in Oakland as an original AFL team. From 1966 (when coach Al Davis became a permanent part of the team's ownership) to 1985, "The Silver and Black" built up their mystique as the league's heel, a crew of tough bruisers who played by Davis' motto of "Just win, baby." They performed consistently well in this era; they won the AFL Championship in 1967, won twelve division titles and three Super Bowls (XI, XV, and XVIII) under coaches John Madden and Tom Flores, and served as The Rival to the Pittsburgh Steelers (from 1974-76 they faced off in three consecutive AFC Championship games). In 1982, after a drawn-out fight with the Oakland Coliseum (over improvements) and the NFL itself (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 city's massive and aging Coliseum, which was located in an pretty rough area—the Raiders attracted many gang members as fans, most notably the gangsta rap group N.W.A.. The team struggled to sell out games, resulting in regular TV blackouts. After failing to get a new stadium, Davis moved the team back to Oakland in 1995. After a 48-21 Super Bowl loss to the Buccaneers in 2002, the once-dominant team entered a sharp decline, becoming known mostly for a revolving-door coaching staff, picking up players that no one else would touch due to either age or criminal history, drafting/signing speedy players who couldn't do much else to outrageous contracts, and Davis massively interfering with the coaches' jobs. Since Al's son Mark took over after his father's death, the team has improved somewhat but has yet to return to its former dominance; since their Super Bowl defeat, they made the playoffs only once (in 2016) and failed to make it past the wild card. Due to their nationwide popularity and outdated stadium, they were long considered the team most likely to move, most likely back to Los Angeles before the NFL approved the Rams and Chargers' moves in 2016. By then, the Raiders were deep in discussions for a move to Vegas. The owners approved the move in 2017, which the team finished in 2020 after the completion of their new stadium.
      • The Raiders' first games in Oakland were played at the temporary Frank Youell Field, which was named after a local undertaker. Before the move to Vegas in 2020, they were the last team to share its home field with a MLB team, in this case the Athletics; their home games were partially played over dirt during the early part of the season rather than a full grass field. Their new home, Allegiant Stadium, is one of the most expensive sports venues ever built, a massive black structure located right off the Vegas Strip featuring a translucent roof, a massive memorial torch to Al Davis, a roll-out grass fieldnote , and plenty of amenities for the various tourists the long-cash-strapped team sought to attract. Only problem: the stadium opened in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic and has yet to open to any guests. This is a real shame, because Raider fans are known for among the most loyal in professional sports despite the team's recent record and tendency to movenote . They are known to dress in elaborate costumes and constitute detractors for every other NFL team in existence (with particular emphasis on the 49ers, Steelers, and their division rivals). The portion of the stands these fans occupy, known as "the Black Hole", is only slightly less dangerous for an away team fan to enter than an actual collapsed star. The team's unofficial anthem is "The Autumn Wind"—have a listen.
    • The Los Angeles Chargers were an original AFL franchise first based in Los Angeles, where they played for only one season before moving to San Diego. They officially got their nickname from a fan submission, with founder Barron Hilton (yes, Paris's grandfather) liking the idea of fans yelling "CHARGE!" at games, but many suspect Barron's fondness from the name came from him also owning the Carte Blanche credit card (though because of their lightning bolt logo, these roots have been all but forgotten). Though the Chargers won the 1963 AFL Championship, they have since had a longtime habit of choking during the playoffs, first with Dan Fouts and the "Air Coryell" offense of the '80s, then with generational talents like Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Philip Rivers in the '00s. They made it to one Super Bowl in 1994, only to suffer a humiliating blowout at the hands of the 49ers. The Chargers' general manager in the '00s, A.J. Smith, was dubbed "The Lord of No Rings" for his inability to put together a Super Bowl-winning team, which led to their 2004 #1 draft pick Eli Manning refusing to sign with the team. Numerous analysts have attributed this choking to a persistent franchise Achilles' Heel for special team blunders; the 2010 team put up one of the best offensive and defensive performances in modern NFL history, but their special teams committed so many gaffes that the team missed the playoffs. The Chargers have a very nasty rivalry with the Raidersnote . The Chargers made noise about moving back to LA for years, largely because their stadium was built in the '60s and was falling apart, but didn't follow through on it because the absence of teams in that huge media market essentially gave it to them by default. A year after the Rams returned, they exercised their option to join them in LA in 2017.
      • The Chargers' colors are powder blue, white, and gold. While SoFi Stadium in Inglewood being built, the team played in the MLS-specific Dignity Health Sports Park; at 30,000 seats, DHSP was the smallest stadium used in the post-merger era.note . Hardly anyone in LA actually wants the Chargers, with the city vastly preferring the Rams, other local sports teams, and even other NFL teams—DHSP regularly failed to fill seats, and fans that did show up usually wore the other team's jerseys. Even the league and the other owners, despite approving the move in the previous year, reportedly want the Chargers to go back to San Diego. It may have been a blessing that the Chargers' first season in the massive SoFi was without fans due to COVID-19, though that stadium's massive price tag will likely incentivize keeping the second team in town. Their former longtime home in San Diego is now under demolition, to be replaced by a stadium only slightly larger than DHSP and new satellite campus for San Diego State, cutting off any possibility of a return for the foreseeable future.

Defunct Teams

    Defunct Teams 
Though many cities have lost their NFL teams to moves and rebrandingsnote , no NFL team has outright folded since before the creation of the AFL. In the first decade of its history, however, the league saw 36 teams, including all but two of its founding members, come and go; a third of those teams folded after the 1926 season, when league president Joseph Carr decided to cut out the least profitable teams to ensure the league's survival, and 13 lasted only a single season. Eight more collapsed in the '30s, two more in the '40s, and another two in the '50s before the last collapse, that of the Dallas Texans in 1952. Below is an incomplete list of some of the more interesting defunct teams.
  • The Akron Pros were an original team of the APFA and the league's first ever champions. Formerly a semi-pro team in the Ohio League dating back to 1908, then playing under the "Akron Indians" name, the Pros won the inaugural APFA season by boasting the league's best record, 8-0-3 (at the time considered a "perfect" season, as ties weren't counted against one's record). This caused a good deal of controversy among both the Decatur Staleys and Buffalo All-Americans, who both actually won more games (and, in the Staleys' case, played more) and never actually lost to the Pros—if you ever question the value of playoffs, that first controversy is one place to start.note  The 1920 Pros featured Hall of Fame running back Fritz Pollard, one of the first African-American players in the league; he would be made player-coach the following year, becoming the first African-American coach as well (and the only one until Art Shell over 60 years later). The Pros soon slid into mediocrity and folded after the 1926 season.
  • The Baltimore Colts were the third AAFC team to join the NFL after the merger along with the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns. Hall of Fame QB Y.A. Tittle started out playing for this team before garnering much greater success with the 49ers and New York Giants. However, while the other two teams became storied franchises, the Colts put up a single win in their inaugural 1950 season in the NFL and struggled financially as a result, leading the team to fold. However, a dedicated core fanbase and even more dedicated marching band (the second ever official one in pro football) survived. Three years later, Carroll Rosenbloom used the franchise and assets of the defunct Dallas Texans to revive the team name and reclaim its marching band, though he used the Texans' uniforms rather than the old Colts' green attire. The NFL doesn't recognize this team (now located in Indianapolis) as a true successor to the former AAFC franchise.
  • The Brooklyn Dodgers were created in 1930 after an ownership group in New York purchased the Dayton Triangles and moved their franchise to New York City.note  Although they were a below average team throughout their existence, they were one of the core clubs of the NFL when it began to stabilize during the '30s—they were the only franchise to fold after making it more than a decade in the league. They showed considerable improvement at the turn of the decade, drafting Hall of Famers Ace Parker and Bruiser Kinard while signing Pitt legend Jock Sutherland as their head coach. Most of this success, unfortunately, was undone in 1942 when the U.S. entered World War II and several players, including Parker and coach Sutherland, left to join the military. As the team continued its rapid decline, they changed their name to the Tigers in 1944, only to finish the season 0-10. They merged with the Boston Yanks for the following season, but team owner Dan Topping announced that he would be starting a new team, the New York Yankees, in the upstart AAFC. This resulted in the NFL revoking the Tigers franchise and assigning their players to the Yanks.
  • The Canton Bulldogs were essentially the home team of the APFA and a critical component for the NFL's early survival and eventual success. Originally founded in 1904 as part of the Ohio League, superstar running back Jim Thorpe turned the Bulldogs into the most financially secure professional football team in the country. This led representatives from some of the country's biggest teams to meet in Canton to form the APFA and Thorpe to become the league's first president. However, Thorpe left the team after that season, and the Bulldogs began to financially struggle even as they won back-to-back championships in 1922-3 and became the first team ever to win more than one. They merged with the short-lived Cleveland Indians in 1924, won another championship as the Cleveland Bulldogs, moved back to Canton the next year, and put up two dreadful seasons. The team was jettisoned from the league after the 1926 season as part of the NFL's effort to purge weaker teams to ensure its survival. The Bulldogs folded, but their legacy ensured that the Pro Football Hall of Fame was built in Canton.
  • The Chicago Tigers never officially joined the NFL, but because most of their games were played against NFL teams, they’re generally considered a charter franchise of the league. By extension, this also makes them the first team to ever fold, as they were the only inaugural team that didn’t return for the 1921 season. Legend has it that the Tigers played the Cardinals for the right to be the hosting team for Chicago, and that the Tigers folded after losing the game. This story has been mostly debunked, however; not only is there no evidence to suggest this bet took place, but the Cardinals allowed the Decatur Staleys to move to Chicago the following season.
  • The Columbus Panhandles were a club founded by railroad workers working the Panhandle route of the Pennsylvania railroadnote  in 1901. Future NFL president Joseph Carr purchased the team in 1904 and took advantage of their railroad association to make them a traveling team. The Panhandles were a original member of the NFL, but they were never very good. As league president, Carr dissolved his former team as part of the 1926 purge.
  • The Dallas Texans were the final NFL team to fold. In 1952, two young sibling millionaires, the Miller brothers, bought the old roster of the newly-defunct New York Yanks and set out to become the first ever major league sports franchise in Texas, an investment that made sense on paper considering the huge popularity of college football in the state for many decades. They couldn't even finish the season—after starting off with seven straight losses, terrible attendance, and a lack of sponsors, the Millers sold the team back to the league, who let it operate out of Hershey, Pennsylvania, for the rest of the year as its final traveling team. The NFL sold the players and other assets to Carroll Rosenbloom the next year, including their blue-and-white uniforms, which he used to make the Baltimore Colts. The Texans' collapse was such a disaster that the NFL didn't make any further expansions or team moves for seven years, the longest stretch of stability in the league's history at that point, only breaking and giving another franchise to Dallas when the AFL emerged with their own Dallas team, also named the Texans.
  • The Dayton Triangles were an original NFL team founded in 1913 as part of the Ohio League. No, they weren't named after a polygon; their Unfortunate Name was derived from their "home" stadium, Triangle Park, though they never actually played in it much, instead operating mostly as a traveling team. They were largely as big a joke as their name on the field, though they survived the 1926 purge and lasted until 1929. Some argue that the Dayton Triangles never truly left the NFL due to numerous convoluted sales of teams, players, and rights across two decades, five cities, and seven teams that can be traced all the way to the Indianapolis Colts, a fitting legacy for a strange traveling team even if the NFL doesn't recognize any of it.note 
  • The Frankford Yellow Jackets were the first Philadelphia-based team in the NFL (Frankford being a neighborhood in the city). Established in 1899, they didn't join the NFL until 1924. They won the league championship in 1926, but the Great Depression and the lack of broad support in their home city (which housed a number of independent neighborhood-based teams) caused them to fold in 1931. The NFL returned to the city in 1933 with the Eagles expansion franchise; though the NFL does not recognize the Yellow Jackets as part of the team's history, the Eagles did use the Yellow Jackets powder-blue and gold uniforms for their first few seasons.
  • The Los Angeles Buccaneers were technically the NFL's first West Coast team, save for the fact that they never played a regular season game in their home city. These Bucs were created in 1926, well before transcontinental travel was at the point where it would have been feasible to play games against teams based over 1,000 miles away. This meant that they played as a traveling team of players mainly from California that primarily operated out of Chicago. They did play two exhibition games in Los Angeles after the season ended, which is why the NFL recognizes them as their first team to play in LA. They put up a 6-3-1 record before folding in the offseason during the league's cost-cutting purge. The NFL didn't place another franchise along the West Coast until twenty years later when commercial air travel permitted the Rams' move from Cleveland to Los Angeles.
  • The New York Yanks started life as the Boston Yanks in 1944. From the start, owner Ted Collins wanted to place the team in New York and play in Yankee Stadium to drive up ticket sales, but Giants' owner Tim Mara was fiercely protective of his territory and refused to let the league sell another franchise in his market. They merged with Mara's closest neighbor, the Brooklyn Tigers, in 1945 during the tail-end of the WWII player shortage, staying in Boston but going simply as "The Yanks". When the Tigers' owner surrendered his franchise to join the AAFC the following year, the Yanks regained their Boston title. However, Collins never stopped desiring a New York team, and he got his wish when the AAFC began talks to merge with the NFL in 1949. He successfully bought a new New York franchise and dissolved the Boston team rather than agree to a move so he could write it off on his taxes; for this reason, the NFL considers them two separate teams. Once in New York, Collins had to call his team the "Bulldogs" for a year until the AAFC's Yanks dissolved and he could take their place. All this effort turned out to be for naught, however. Sharing a stadium with the Yankees was actually a curse, as the far more popular baseball team largely dictated their schedule and forced them to play mostly away games to preserve their turf. This took away the Yanks' revenue and chance to build a local fanbase, and the team folded after the 1951 season, having lasted twice as long in Boston than in its desired destination.
  • The Oorang Indians were a truly unique team in NFL history, not because of their name—there were five teams in the early NFL that called themselves the Indians—but because they actually were Exactly What It Says on the Tin: a group of Native American football players. This novelty team was put together in 1922 to promote owner Walter Lingo's dog kennel and breeding business (seriously). Led by Lingo's superstar friend (and former APFA president) Jim Thorpe, whose role as player-coach gave the team the "in" to join the NFL, the Indians were more of a traveling circus than a football team, with Lingo seeking to attract attendance by having his dogs and players put on a show with tricks, dances, and feats of strength (including one time wrestling a bear) at halftime—yes, this team is credited with inventing the halftime show. One more thing: "Oorang" is not a town, but the name of Lingo's most popular dog breed; the Indians' registered hometown was LaRue, Ohio, a city of less than 1,000 people, easily the smallest hometown in NFL history (and likely any professional sport)note . As you might expect, the team wasn't very good or popular and dissolved after just two seasons when the novelty wore off.
  • The Pottsville Maroonsnote  started their existence as an independent team in 1920. They were a consistently strong team who remained popular with local audiences, even starting their own league consisting of teams in Eastern Pennsylvania in 1924. After that league folded, the Maroons joined the NFL a year later and were the frontrunners to win the league championship following a 21-7 victory against the second place Chicago Cardinals late in the season. However, a week later, the Maroons played an exhibition game against a college all-star team in Philadelphia, which violated the territorial rights of the Frankford Yellow Jackets. While the Maroons claimed that they received permission from the NFL to host the game, league president Joe Carr suspended the Maroons for the rest of the season, with the Cardinals being awarded the championship instead. Their suspension was quickly lifted, however, when the NFL feared that they would jump to the upstart AFL the following season. While they continued to play well at first, financial difficulties caused their performance to decline over the next few seasons, with new ownership buying the team after the 1928 season and moving them to Boston as the Bulldogs. They folded the next year.
  • The Providence Steam Rollers were founded in 1916, joined the NFL in 1925, and won the league championship in 1928, the last title claimed by a now-defunct team. They folded three seasons later because of the Great Depression. Their mascot was an adorable huskie.
  • The St. Louis Gunners were an independent football team founded in 1931 and based out of the St. Louis National Guard Armory. They are potentially the only example of a team pulling a Put Me In, Coach! in NFL history; after the short-lived Cincinnati Reds folded mid-season in their second year of operation, the NFL permitted the Gunners to purchase their franchise and play out the last three games of the Reds' 1934 season. This "gift" turned out more of a curse—the cost of purchasing the franchise drove the team's owners deep into debt, and a fragment of a season was not enough for the team to recoup the cost. Their franchise was revoked and the team folded.
  • The Tonawanda Kardexnote  were founded in 1916 as the "Tonawanda All-Stars", later playing as the "Lumberjacks" and "Lumbermen". They played well against several APFA teams in the league's inaugural season and were permitted to join in their second year, where they became notorious as the shortest-lived team in league history. How short? One game, a 45-0 blowout loss against the Rochester Jeffersons, after which the Kardex seem to have literally faded from existence.

NFL Scheduling and Games

    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 2020 Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas City was first in their division, the AFC West, in 2019. In 2020, the AFC West is playing the AFC East and NFC South. That means that 6 of Kansas City's games will be against their 3 divisional rivals (Denver Broncos, Las Vegas Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers), 4 games will be against all 4 AFC East teams (Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets), 4 games will be against all 4 NFC South teams (Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers), and the other two will be against the teams that came in first place of the AFC North (Baltimore Ravens) and AFC South (Houston Texans). That's how a 16-game schedule is generated.

Postseason qualification currently involves 14 teams which qualify for the playoffs. Each division sends the team with the best winning percentagenote —this is the division champion. However, there are also 6 wild-card spots (3 per conference) 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 through 7 are the wild-cards. The top seeds in each conference get a first-round bye week during the playoffs. The remaining teams all face off in the Wild Card round, with the 2 seed playing the 7, 3 playing 6, and 4 playing 5. The lower-ranking of the teams that wins those contests faces the 1 seed, with the remaining two teams playing each other. 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 has been talk of extending the regular season to 18 games and reducing the preseason to two. This debate has been tied to the labor contract talks the league has every ten years with the NFLPA. Preseason games are sparsely attended and generally ignored by fans, since coaches rarely want to risk the health of their starting players and giving away their strategies on a meaningless game. However, they're important for giving newly-signed players some time on the field, for determining who should be the starters and who needs more time to develop, and potentially for giving starters time to acclimate to game conditions.note  Proposals to lengthen the regular season are also controversial because it would mean that starters would have to play more, thus increasing the risk of injuries; the most recent collective bargaining agreement has permitted the league to expand to 17 games starting in 2021.

There have also been calls to modify the playoff format, either by expanding it to 14 teams (which was done in 2020) or by changing qualification/seeding to be based purely on record. 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. A losing team has made the playoffs five times, the first two during a strike-shortened 1982 season. The next two, the 2010 Seahawks and 2014 Panthers, capitalized on the home field advantage to win their first playoff games against winning teams, adding to the call for such teams to at least lose their home field privileges. The 2020 Washington Football Team became the third team to clench a playoff spot with a losing record by winning their division; however, unlike Seattle and Carolina, Washington lost their first round playoff game.

The NFL Draft

    The NFL Draft 
As it currently stands, college football programs provide most new NFL prospects. The NFL is unique among the Big Four American professional sports leagues in that it requires players to be at least three years out of high school before they are drafted—while some of the biggest stars in basketball and baseball are drafted right out of high school, the NFL lacks a developmental league of its own to train young prospects (though NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has shown interest in establishing such a league). Due to how popular college football is in the United States, a change in that policy seems unlikely in the near future. Teams also keep an eye out for standout players in the Canadian Football League and smaller NFL competitors, but most players in those leagues either come from the college level as well or were dropouts from NFL teams.

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 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). Each team has representatives present during the draft, who are responsible for turning in their team's picks during a strictly enforced time limit, referred to as the team in question being "on the clock". Since 2008, the time limits are set at 10 minutes for a first round pick, seven minutes for a second round pick, and five minutes for all other rounds. If a team has not made their pick by the end of their allotted time (as happened to the Vikings in 2003 and Ravens in 2011, both in the first round), they may be skipped by the teams picking after them. (The Vikings were skipped by two teams before finally making their selection, while the Ravens were skipped by one.) 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. Detailed lists of specific examples can be found in three folders on the National Football League Notorious Figures page—"Cleveland Browns Busts" for those selected by the post-1998 Browns, "Quarterback Draft Busts" for non-Browns failures at that position, and "Notable Draft Busts" for other 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).note 

After the draft, players who were eligible to be drafted but who were not selected in the seven rounds may sign with any team as "undrafted free agents". Very few ever make a team's final roster right away; they 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 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

    The Pro Bowl 
Most North American leagues have All-Star games, and the NFL is no exception. However, this league is notable because of how irrelevant their All-Star game is. The NBA and NHL have All-Star Games that are big to-dos, with the league's best and brightest coming out to play with giant concerts, festivities, and fun times for all. The MLB All-Star Game, from 2004-2016, determined which league, American or National, had the home-field advantage in the World Series (few baseball fans actually liked this, and in 2017 MLB switched back to awarding home field based on regular season record). The Pro Bowl... is roughly analogous to a flag-football game.note 

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 AFC–NFC 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 AFC–NFC 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.

NFL Awards

    NFL Awards 
Like any other sports league, the National Football League offers a variety of annual awards to exceptional players and coaches. There are actually several bodies that give awards, but the ones from the Associated Press are the most widely recognized. For many years, they were awarded in press releases and conferences, but since 2012 the NFL has opted to take the Award Show route and announce all winners the night before the Super Bowl in a show called the NFL Honors. They are as follows:

  • Most Valuable Player: The award given to the player who is "considered the most valuable" during the NFL regular season. Since the award's creation in 1961, the award has almost exclusively gone to offensive playersnote , specifically quarterbacks (with the occasional, increasingly-rare running back), to the point that some have mockingly suggested renaming it the "Most Valuable Quarterback" award. Peyton Manning has a record five of them.note  Since the start of the 21st century, some have considered this award "cursed", much like the cover of Madden NFL—no MVP has gone on to win that season's Super Bowl since Kurt Warner in 1999.
    • Most Recent Winner: Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
  • 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 and was the only non-QB or RB to win one until Michael Thomas won in 2019.) 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: Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
  • 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: Stephon Gilmore, CB, New England Patriots
  • Offensive Rookie of the Year: Best rookie on offense. Shockingly enough, for many years, this one didn't go to many quarterbacksnote . There was a 34-year period between quarterbacks winning this award (Dennis Shaw in 1970 and Ben Roethlisberger in 2004), during which running backs and wide receivers tended to dominate. 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.) Only six players selected #1 overall have won the award in its history.note  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: Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year: Best defensive rookie. Most commonly goes to linebackers or defensive linemen; 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. No defensive player selected #1 overall has ever won the award, though four #2 picks have.note  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: Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers
  • 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—a comeback player could be a player who came back from a massive injury (Peyton Manning, 2012note ), came back from a non-injury absence (Michael Vick, 2010note ), came back from a couple of down years (Jon Kitna, 2003note ), or maybe just 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 often creates the most arguments among fans.
    • Most Recent Winner: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Tennessee Titansnote 
  • 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. Rather, 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. Partially because of its emphasis on improvement over dominance, this award, like the MVP, is "cursed"; no coach has won it and gone on to win the Super Bowl that year since Bill Belichick first won it in 2003. Don Shula has a record four of them.
    • Most Recent Winner: John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
  • 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: Greg Roman, Offensive Coordinator, Baltimore Ravensnote 

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: Calais Campbell, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • 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: Adrian Peterson, RB, Washington
  • 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: Eric DeCosta, GM, Baltimore Ravens

Names to Know in the NFL

There have been many, many great, terrible, inspiring, despicable, and interesting players, coaches, and staff in the NFL's century-long history—there are 346 people enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame alone, and those are only the ones who have broken records or changed how the game of football is played. Due to length, the page had to be split off into multiple pages. Information about individual players can now be found on:

Additionally, the names of players and coaches who were part of the league but are better known for their college accomplishments can be found on the Collegiate American Football page.

For some of the more notable NFL plays, go here.

For notable NFL Controversies, see here.


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