The National Football League was first founded in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association.note The NFL 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 entire 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 eighteen 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 and into February, culminating in the Super Bowl played between the conference champions on the second 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, they now play in nearby East Rutherford, New Jersey. Plus, from 1995-2016, 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 with four divisions each, all of which have their own unique personalities. The conferences, the National and American Football Conferences, are Artifact Titles from 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.note 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 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
A note on championships: While the Super Bowl has been the NFL Championship game since the 1966 season, it is not the only championship counted by the NFL. Winners of the NFL Championship from the 1920-65 seasons are recognized as on par with the Super Bowl winners, though more attention is paid to the latter. From 1920-32, the "world" champion was crowned by division standings as there was only one division. In 1932, a tie between the Chicago Bears and Portsmouth Spartans (now known as the Detroit Lions) forced the first ever NFL playoff game, won by the Bears 9-0. The idea of a game to determine the champion was highly popular and continued ever since, including the expansion of the playoffs. The first official NFL Championship Game was the following season, with the Bears repeating by beating the New York Giants 23-21.
There are a few other quirks when it comes to what banners teams hang from the rafters. The Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and Baltimore Colts all moved from the All-America Football Conference which ran from 1946-49; in all four years of the league's existence, the Browns won the AAFC title, and their wins there are also counted as legitimate championships despite. Furthermore, the AFL title winners from the 1960-65 seasons are counted as world champions, so teams with no Super Bowl wins like the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Chargers do have legitimate championships in their histories. However, the NFL and AFL Championship winners from the 1966-69 are not considered "world" champions, as the Super Bowl supplanted it as the undisputed title game. For example, the 1969 Minnesota Vikings, the last "NFL Champions", are not World Champions because they lost in Super Bowl IV to the Kansas City Chiefs. Winners from these seasons are marked with an *.
The divisions and their teams, along with overviews of their histories, traditions, titles, and famous figures, are presently as follows:note
NFC Divisions and Teams
Overall Win Record: 573-431-6 (.570, 2nd highest)
Nicknames: America's Team, Doomsday Defense, The 'Boys
Logo: Blue five-point star
Colors: Blue and silver
Home Stadium: AT&T Stadium (80,000 capacity, can be expanded to 105,000)
Current Owner/General Manager: Jerry Jones
Current Head Coach: Mike McCarthy
Current Starting Quarterback: Dak Prescott
Notable Historic Players: Don Meredith, Eddie LeBaron, Bob Lilly, Chuck Howley, Cornell Green, George Andrie, Mel Renfro, Bob Hayes, Jethro Pugh, Roger Staubach, Cliff Harris, Robert Newhouse, Drew Pearson, Harvey Martin, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Randy White, Tony Dorsett, Danny White, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman, Daryl Johnston, Emmitt Smith, Larry Allen, Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Roy Williams, DeMarcus Ware
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Tom Landry, Tex Schramm, Gil Brandt, Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, Dave Campo, Jason Garrett
Super Bowl Championships: 5; VI (1971), XII (1977), XXVII (1992), XXVIII (1993), XXX (1995)
Super Bowl Appearances: 8 total; V (1970), X (1975), XIII (1978)
Pre-Merger Championships: 0note
The Dallas Cowboys, known as "America's Team" since at least the '70snote , are the most highly valued franchise in all professional sports. Conversely, they are likely the most hated franchise in the NFL (they edged the Patriots for that last dubious honor in an ESPN poll), for reasons that will be more clear later. 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, a key contributor to their almost immediate popularity.note
The Cowboys were long known as the team of the legendary Tom Landry, who coached them for their first 29 years of existence. Their last-minute entry into the league resulted in them missing the 1960 Draft, resulting in a winless 0-11-1 record in their first year. Despite not putting up a winning record for another five years after this, the Cowboys won the popularity contest against the Texans and drove the AFL team north to Kansas City. Starting in 1966, Landry's Cowboys put up 20 consecutive winning seasons. After several years of being known as "Next Year's Champions" following two nail-biting appearances in pre-merger NFL Championships, the Cowboys ascended to a true force in the '70s with QB Roger Staubach, appearing in five Super Bowls and winning two of them.note 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 titles and tying them for second-most Super Bowl wins and appearances 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, generally putting up decent performances but always seeming to fizzle out in the playoffs, not even reaching the NFC Championship since their last title win, something that Cowboy fans continue to pin on Jones as the memory of the dynasty increasingly fades. This failure is emphasized by their status as the league's Spotlight-Stealing Squad—enough Texans grew up watching one of the two dynasties to make them lifelong fans, so the Cowboys still draw in the most viewers in the regular season during primetime games, ensuring that they receive more of those slots (including always, always playing at home on Thanksgiving) and more media attention than any other team. In part because of this hogging of the spotlight, all three other teams in the NFC East especially hate the Cowboys; the Eagles would claim to be their biggest rival, but the distinction really goes to the Washington team, which is a much more heated and historic rivalry. Though they play in different conferences, the Cowboys are also noted rivals of the Steelers, thanks to some classic Super Bowl matchups in the '70s, and the 49ers, thanks to several NFC Championship battles in the '90s.
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.
New York Giants
Overall Win Record: 730-656-33 (.526, 13th highest)
Nicknames: G-Men, Big Blue Wrecking Crew
Logo: "NY" initials or "Giants" wordmark
Colors: Blue with red accents
Home Stadium: MetLife Stadium (82,000 capacity)
Current Owners: John Mara, Steve Tisch
Current General Manager: Joe Schoen
Current Head Coach: N/A
Current Starting Quarterback: Daniel Jones
Notable Historic Players: Benny Friedman, Red Badgro, Mel Hein, Tuffy Leemans, Charlie Conerly, Arnie Weinmester, Emlen Tunnell, Kyle Rote, Frank Gifford, Rosey Brown, Sam Huff, Rosey Grier, Y.A. Tittle, Andy Robustelli, Homer Jones, Phil Simms, Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks, Jeff Hostetler, Bart Oates, Ottis Anderson, Michael Strahan, Tiki Barber, Kerry Collins, Eli Manning, Jason Pierre-Paul, Odell Beckham Jr.
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Tim Mara, Steve Owen, Wellington Mara, Tim J. Mara, Bill Parcells, Bob Tisch, Ernie Accorsi, Jim Fassel, Tom Coughlin
Super Bowl Championships: 4; XXI (1986), XXV (1990), XLII (2007), XLVI (2011)
Super Bowl Appearances: 5 total; XXXV (2000)
Pre-Merger Championships: 4; 1927, 1934, 1938, 1956note
The New York Giants, nicknamed "the G-Men", are historically the better of the two teams that play in New Jerseynote and thus the one that receives the greater share of 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 have a storied history, having appeared in more championship games than any other franchise. They won four NFL Championships before the Super Bowl era and reaching the final game eleven other times. Coaching legend Steve Owen coached the team for 23 seasons through the '30s and '40s. 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 Days were followed up with a 17-year playoff drought before the constantly-feuding Mara family finally hired a general manager to manage operations, with one branch eventually selling their share outright. The "Big Blue Wrecking Crew" defense of the '80s, led by coach Bill Parcells and the legendary LB Lawrence Taylor, turned the team around and led them to two Super Bowl victories.
The Giants remained fairly competitive in the following years, continuing their '80s reputation as a defensive power and 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. Coach Tom Coughlin and QB Eli Manning repeated this upset over the dominant Patriots again four years later in XLVI, becoming the only 9-7 team to win the Super Bowl and further building their strong cross-conference 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 slid into mediocrity and worse, earning only a single playoff berth in that span.
The football Giants started out playing in the Polo Grounds (aka "the Bathtub") in Manhattan, which they shared with the baseball Giants. They moved to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx 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.
Overall Win Record: 622-650-27 (.489, 14th lowest)
Prior Names/Locations: Phil-Pitt Combine/"Steagles" (1943 only)
Nicknames: The Iggles, the Birds
Logo: Eagle headnote
Colors: Midnight green and black
Home Stadium: Lincoln Financial Field (69,796 capacity)
Current Owner: Jeffrey Lurie
Current General Manager: Howie Roseman
Current Head Coach: Nick Sirianni
Current Starting Quarterback: Jalen Hurts
Notable Historic Players: Tommy Thompson, Steve Van Buren, Pete Pihos, Chuck Bednarik, Norm Van Brocklin, Harold Carmichael, Vince Papale, Ron Jaworski, Randall Cunningham, Reggie White, Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb, David Akers, Terrell Owens, LeSean McCoy, Jason Kelce, Nick Foles, Carson Wentz
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Bert Bell, Greasy Neale, Buck Shaw, Leonard Tose, Dick Vermeil, Susan Tose Fletcher, Buddy Ryan, Andy Reid, Chip Kelly, Doug Pederson
Super Bowl Championships: 1; LII (2017)
Super Bowl Appearances: 3 total; XV (1980), XXXIX (2004)
Pre-Merger Championships: 3; 1948-49, 1960note
Supplanting the bankrupt and defunct Frankford Yellow Jackets, the Philadelphia Eagles (known as dee Iggles to locals, especially when reading about them in da 'Quirer) 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, 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. Reid protégé Doug Pederson later took the reins of the team, and after their promising 2017 season was widely written off as done after an injury to starting QB Carson Wentz, Philly being... well, Philly, fully embraced their underdog label all the way to their first title under backup QB Nick Foles. Unfortunately, that roster and coaching staff likewise fell apart due to locker room drama and a disastrous 2020 season, leaving the team once again in rebuild mode.
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 even while he was leading them on deep playoff runs. However, it should be noted that they have never killed or maimed fans of opposing teams (unlike certain other sports fans). 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). Outside their fierce division rivalries, they have a (slightly) more respectful one outside of their conference with the Steelers—during World War II, the two Pennsylvania teams briefly merged into the "Steagles" due to the wartime player shortage (see below).
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.
Washington Football Team
Overall Win Record: 640-642-28 (.499, 16th lowest)
Prior Names/Locations: Boston Braves (1932), Boston Redskins (1933-36), Washington Redskins (1937-2019)
Nicknames: The Hogs
Logo: Stylized 'W'note
Colors: Burgundy and gold
Home Stadium: FedEx Field (82,000 capacity)
Current Owner: Dan Snyder
Current General Manager: Martin Mayhew
Current Head Coach: Ron Rivera
Current Starting Quarterback: Taylor Heinicke
Notable Historic Players: Cliff Battles, Turk Edwards, Sammy Baugh, Frank Filchock, Al Lolotai, Eddie LeBaron, Bobby Mitchell, Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor, Chris Hanburger, Jerry Smith, Billy Kilmer, Larry Brown, Ken Houston, Dave Butz, John Riggins, Joe Theismann, Art Monk, Russ Grimm, Darrell Green, Mark Moseley, Doug Williams, Mark Rypien, Brian Mitchell, Chris Samuels, Clinton Portis, Sean Taylor, London Fletcher, Robert Griffin III, Alex Smith
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: George Preston Marshall, Jack Kent Cooke, George Allen, Bobby Beathard, Charley Casserly, Joe Gibbs, Bruce Allen
Super Bowl Championships: 3; XVII (1982), XXII (1987), XXVI (1991)
Super Bowl Appearances: 5 total; VII (1972), XVIII (1983)
Pre-Merger Championships: 2; 1937, 1942note
The Washington Football Team (formerly known as the "Redskins") has an extensive and decorated 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 25-year playoff drought. The franchise finally broke this streak in the '70s under new owner Jack Kent Cooke and head coach George Allen, who took the team to an appearance in Super Bowl VII; Allen's team became known as the "Over the Hill Gang" for his dependence on veteran players. In the '80s and early '90s, Washington dominated the league under HC Joe Gibbs, who brought the team their first three Super Bowl victories with three different starting quarterbacks: 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 strongest offensive lines in league history, nicknamed "The Hogs". Fans frequently dress up as pigs to this day in their honor, and the name has even been suggested as a possible replacement mascot (more on that later).
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 frequently picks up 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. More significantly, the franchise under Snyder developed a workplace culture that became so toxic and generated so many instances of bullying and sexual harassment that the NFL fined the team $10 million and removed him from day-to-day operations (though with a net worth of $2.6 billion and his wife as CEO, whether this will have any effect is questionable). Since Snyder purchased the team in 1999, it has only made the postseason six times and only won one playoff game, a far fall from it's former glory.
Snyder's ownership was hardly the only source of controversy in the team's long history. Infamously, the franchise long held likely the most politically incorrect team name in all of sports, especially given that Native American-derived team names and mascots have been falling out of favor for years and "Redskin" was once just about the most offensive thing you could call a Native American. The team's association with racial prejudice was further strengthened by original owner Marshall being infamously racist even by 1930s standards.note Until the early '60s, 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, under pressure from the workplace culture investigation and public pressure and threatened boycotts from social justice advocates and team sponsors in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, Washington retired their team name, Unperson-ed Marshall from their Ring of Fame, and played as the mascot-less "Washington Football Team" for the 2020 and 2021 seasons; the team's new name will be announced in February 2022.Reasoning
Ironically, the name "Washington Football Team" isn't even accurate—they have played in FedExField in nearby Landover, Maryland, since 1997. Despite not being anywhere close to the oldest stadium in the league, the venue's suboptimal location and the comparably poor maintenance of both the playing surface and the structure itself have earned ownership even more widespread criticism. The team are the bitter rivals of the Cowboys, dating at least back to the early 1970s, intentionally invoking the imagery of Cowboys and Indians prior to the name change. 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
Overall Win Record: 800-630-42 (.558, 5th highest)
Prior Names/Locations: Decatur Staleys (1920), Chicago Staleys (1921)
Nicknames: Da Bears, The Monsters of the Midway
Logo: Wishbone 'C'note
Colors: Navy blue, burnt orange
Home Stadium: Soldier Field (61,500 capacity)
Current Owner: Virginia Halas McCaskey
Current General Manager: Ryan Poles
Current Head Coach: Matt Eberflus
Current Starting Quarterback: Justin Fields
Notable Historic Players: George Halas, Dutch Sternaman, George Trafton, Ed Healey, Red Grange, Link Lyman, Bronko Nagurski, Bill Hewitt, Beattie Feathers, Dan Fortmann, Joe Stydahar, Sid Luckman, George McAfee, Clyde "Bulldog" Turner, Johnny Lujack, Bill George, Doug Atkins, Mike Ditka, Bill Wade, Gale Sayers, Brian Piccolo, Dick Butkus, Walter Payton, Doug Plank, Jim McMahon, Richard Dent, Jim Covert, Steve "Mongo" McMichael, Mike Singletary, William "The Refrigerator" Perry, Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Devin Hester, Jay Cutler, Khalil Mack, Mitch Trubisky
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: George Halas, Dutch Sternaman, Abe Gibron, Mike Ditka, Lovie Smith
Super Bowl Championships: 1; XX (1985)
Super Bowl Appearances: 2 total; XLI (2006)
Pre-Merger Championships: 8; 1921, 1932-33, 1940-41, 1943, 1946, 1963note
The Chicago Bears are one of the original NFL franchises, formed as the Decatur Staleys in 1920. What's a Staley, you ask? Why, it's the name of the food starch company that sponsored them! Staley Co. dumped the team after a year, and 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 season 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 and left a big impact on the team and the city; his daughter Virginia Halas McCaskey is the current owner, and the team uniforms bear his initials on the sleeves.
The franchise is one of the most storied in the NFL, having played more games and produced more Hall of Famers than any other NFL team.note For much of the NFL's history, the Bears were the most decorated and winningest team in the league. They won eight pre-Super Bowl championships: highlights include 1921 (the first title for a still-running team, earned through standings rather than a postseason victorynote ), 1932 (the first true postseason championship, won in the first ever indoor NFL game, which was played in Chicago Stadium due to subzero conditions), and 1940 (a record-setting 73-0 Curb-Stomp Battle against Washington that launched the "Monsters of the Midway" era of dominance; the Bears brought home three more championships that decade). They also put up "perfect" regular seasons in 1934 (13-0) and 1942 (11-0), though both ended in championship defeats.
As with most Chicago sports franchises, however, their best days are far in the past; Halas retired early in the Super Bowl era, and the team were mediocre to bad for a better part of a decade and developed an infamous recurring issue with the quarterback position they still have yet to shake.note The late '70s and '80s saw the team rebound thanks to some of the most famous characters from NFL lore, including Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers from Brian's Song, tough guy linebacker Dick Butkus, Nice Guy Walter "Sweetness" Payton, and The Big Guy William "Refrigerator" Perry. The Bears won their only Super Bowl in 1985 under the beloved coach Mike Ditka (who also played on the Bears' 1963 Championship team). That team is generally considered to be in the running for "best of all time", especially on the defensive side of the ball; they went 15-1 in the regular season, completely shut out both their playoff opponents, and capped it off with an epic 46-10 dismantling of the New England Patriots in one of the most statistically lopsided Super Bowls ever (though non-football fans probably know that team more for their ill-advised "Super Bowl Shuffle" music video). The team has mostly regressed to 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 and their 2010 squad was right on the cusp before being bested by the Bears' oldest rival, the Packers, in the NFC Championship.
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. In late September 2021, the Bears entered into a preliminary purchase agreement with Churchill Downs Inc. to buy Arlington Park, a racetrack in suburban Arlington Heights that had been rezoned and permanently closed days earlier, with rumors rampant that the team will build a new stadium there. The SNL "Superfans" sketches ("Da Bears!") are based on stereotypical Bears fans and their blind love for Coach Ditka; they are only a slight exaggeration on the real thing. While Chicago is the most suitable remaining market in the U.S. that potentially could host two teams, no one would be foolish enough to try: even with their mixed record in recent years, the Windy City is firmly Bears country (just ask the Cardinals, who the Bears already ran out of town decades ago).
Overall Win Record: 577-707-34 (.451, 8th lowest)
Prior Names/Locations: Portsmouth Spartans (1930-33)
Logo: Blue lion
Colors: Honolulu blue, silver
Home Stadium: Ford Field (65,000 capacity, expandable to 70,000)
Current Owner: Sheila Ford Hamp
Current General Manager: Brad Holmes
Current Head Coach: Dan Campbell
Current Starting Quarterback: Jared Goff
Notable Historic Players: Dutch Clark, Alex Wojciechowicz, Frank Sinkwich, Bobby Layne, Doak Walker, Leon Hart, Jack Christiansen, Joe Schmidt, Tobin Rote, Dick "Night Train" Lane, Alex Karras, Dick LeBeau, Lem Barney, Al "Bubba" Baker, Billy Sims, Lomas Brown, Chris Spielman, Barry Sanders, Jason Hanson, Robert Porcher, Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh, Matt Prater
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Buddy Parker, George Wilson, Wayne Fontes, Matt Millen, Rod Marinelli, Matt Patricia
Super Bowl Championships: 0
Super Bowl Appearances: 0
Pre-Merger Championships: 4; 1935, 1952-53, 1957note
The Detroit Lions started out in 1930 in the small town of Portsmouth, Ohio, where they were known as the Spartans. They moved to the much bigger Detroit market in 1934, taking the name "Lions" in reference to the Detroit Tigers, which loaned them their stadium for many years. Owned by the Ford family (yeah, that one) since 1963, they're the other, original team that always plays on Thanksgiving Day, having done so every year since the move to the Motor City. For a time, they were fairly respectable. 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.
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 another title game (the longest such drought in the league), making fewer playoff appearances than many teams half their age, and putting up the worst overall win record of any team during the Super Bowl era. In NFL lore, this has been attributed to "The Curse of Bobby Layne", the '50s team's superstar quarterback that they traded away after their last championship. Over the next three decades, the team only saw the playoffs thrice. They finally became playoff contenders in the '90s thanks to generational RB Barry Sanders; he brought them to a postseason victory and NFC Championship Game appearance after the 1991 season, the only one the Lions have had in over half a century and counting. This likewise means the team has the longest active playoff victory drought in the league.
Things fell apart once again after Sanders quit the NFL rather than continue carrying such an abysmal squad on his shoulders. The team got so bad in the 2000s 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; his firing wasn't enough to save the Lions from becoming the first team to go 0-16 in 2008. An early '10s rebuild seemed to have paid off with a few playoff appearances, but the team 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, and their former #1 pick "won" by the winless season, Matthew Stafford, negotiated a trade out of town after years of being unable to carry an otherwise unremarkable team. To date, the Lions 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 any.note
The Lions played most of their first four decades in Detroit in Tiger Stadium. They departed the city proper 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 old 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 another Amazon warehouse.
Green Bay Packers
Overall Win Record: 818-605-38 (.573, highest)note
Nicknames: The Pack, The Green and Gold
Logo: 'G' in a green oval
Colors: Green and gold
Home Stadium: Lambeau Field (79,704 capacity)
Current President: Mark H. Murphy
Current General Manager: Brian Gutekunst
Current Head Coach: Matt LaFleur
Current Starting Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers
Notable Historic Players: Curly Lambeau, John McNally, LaVern Dilweg, Cal Hubbard, Arnie Herber, Clarke Hinkle, Don Hutson, Cecil Isbell, Tony Canadeo, Tobin Rote, Billy Howton, Bobby Dillon, Jim Ringo, Bart Starr, Forest Gregg, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Jerry Kramer, Ray Nitschke, Willie Davis, Willie Wood, Herb Adderley, Chester Marcol, Don Majkowski, James Lofton, Brett Favre, Sterling Sharpe, Reggie White, Darren Sharper, Nick Collins, B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews III, Matt Flynn, John Kuhn
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Curly Lambeau, George Whitney Calhoun, Ray McLean, Vince Lombardi, Dan Devine, Bart Starr, Ron Wolf, Mike Holmgren, Mike McCarthy
Super Bowl Championships: 4; I (1966), II (1967), XXXI (1996), XLV (2010)
Super Bowl Appearances: 5 total; XXXII (1997)
Pre-Merger Championships: 11; 1929-31, 1936, 1939, 1944, 1961-62, 1965, 1966-67*note
The Green Bay Packers are the winningest franchise in the NFL, hold more championship titles than any other team in the league, and 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 public ownership model has helped them to not only survive but prosper. Unlike every other team that have a majority owner, the people of Wisconsin (and the rest of the US) own shares of the team's stock. This system is banned under current league rules but grandfathered in for the Packers, essentially guaranteeing that they'll never move to a larger market while allowing them to cultivate a 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 1919 by George Whitney Calhoun and legendary coach Earl "Curly" Lambeau, the Packers joined the NFL two years later. While other small market teams folded early in the NFL's history, the Pack survived by winning. In their first thirty years, the Packers had one losing season and and won six championships (three of them consecutively from 1929-31 due to having the best record in the league, the others from title game wins). In the late '40s, after a slump in performance, Lambeau was unfortunately run out of town in an effort to preserve public ownership and save the team from folding, and "The Pack" struggled mightily through the '50s in his absence. They then somehow became an even more dominant team in the '60s when they won five more championships and the first two Super Bowls with legendary head coach Vince Lombardi and a team full of Hall of Famers including QB Bart Starr. This earned the city of Green Bay the nickname of "Titletown USA" and secured the only true "threepeat" championship run in NFL history.
After Lombardi, the Packers 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; the more common nickname for the cold and relatively isolated Green Bay in this era was "NFL Siberia". However, the team has seen sustained success since the early '90s thanks to the generational quarterback talents of Brett Favre and his successor Aaron Rodgers, who have brought the small city a Super Bowl apiece and helped the Packers maintain the league lead in total championships. However, both QBs developed a reputation for coming up short in getting the Pack over the hump in NFC Championship bouts; Rodgers' teams alone have reached five conference finals and only made it to the Big Game once.
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 Lambeau is subject to some absolutely terrible weather late in the season, leading to it being nicknamed "The Frozen Tundra". Countless games have been played (and watched) in ridiculous conditions such as -15° Fahrenheit (-26° Celsius) plus wind, including the notorious 1967 "Ice Bowl" which they won to get to Super Bowl II. You might think this means the grass is absolutely terrible to play on by the time January comes around, but thanks to a highly esteemed and obsessive grounds crew, a marquee field heating system, and the team's aversion to lease out the stadium to concerts and other teams to ruin the turf, the Tundra has been termed one of the best sports surfaces in the world by the players and sports media.note 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.note
Overall Win Record: 524-451-11 (.537, 9th highest)
Nicknames: The Purple People Eaters
Logo: A blonde Vikingnote
Colors: Purple and gold
Home Stadium: U.S. Bank Stadium (66,830 capacity, expandable to 73,000)
Current Owner: Zygi Wilf
Current General Manager: Kwesi Adofo-Mensah
Current Head Coach: N/A
Current Starting Quarterback: Kirk Cousins
Notable Historic Players: Fran Tarkenton, Jim Marshall, Mick Tinglehoff, Carl Eller, Fred Cox, Alan Page, Paul Krause, Joe Kapp, Ron Yary, Ahmad Rashād, Steve Jordan, Chris Doleman, John Randle, Cris Carter, Korey Stringer, Randy Moss, Gary Anderson, Matt Birk, Daunte Culpepper, Chris Kluwe, Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Stefon Diggs
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Bud Grant, Jim Finks, Dennis Green
Super Bowl Championships: 0
Super Bowl Appearances: 4; IV (1969), VIII (1973), IX (1974), XI (1976)
Pre-Merger Championships: 1; 1969*
The Minnesota Vikingsnote were created in 1961 as an expansion team. Their owners had originally signed on to be an original AFL team before the NFL pulled them away with promises of greater stability than what the upstart league could provide. This Franchise Original Sin has been (sometimes less than) jokingly identified as the root cause of a Curse that has robbed them of winning a single true championship despite being one of the NFL's most consistently winning teams in the regular season.
After a rough early start, coach Bud Grant turned the Vikings into perennial contenders led by prototype scrambling QB Fran Tarkenton and a ferocious "Purple People Eaters" defense featuring the likes of Alan Page and Jim Marshall. This squad was the winningest team in the NFL in the first decade of the Super Bowl era and even won the final NFL Championship prior to the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. However, that title came a few weeks before the Vikings were humiliated by their AFL competitor in Super Bowl IV, the first of four appearances in the Big Game in that decade. In each, the Vikings were shut out from scoring a single point in the games' first half on the way to embarrassing blowout losses that largely obscured their prior successes and seemed to prove they had chosen the wrong league. Since 1976, the team has yet to even return to the Super Bowl, though it has come close several times by reaching (and losing) six NFC Championship games, the first coming right after the Super Bowl run and the rest listed below. This is the fourth-longest drought from a championship appearance in the entire league, behind only perennial losers like the Lions, Jets, and Browns.
In the following decades, the Vikings generally hovered around the middle of the pack, with a few moments of true excellence propelled by notable stars. DT John Randle helped lead another Purple People Eaters era in the '90s, star WRs Cris Carter and Randy Moss put up a record-setting offense in 1998 on the way to a 15-1 record, and RB Adrian Peterson dominated the league in the late '00s/early '10s. However, the Vikings' postseason story has only gotten worse thanks to more major collapses, the most notable coming in their NFCCG appearances: In 1987, an 8-7 squad took advantage of a strike-shortened season to make a deep playoff run only to be defeated by the eventual Super Bowl champs. Their miracle '98 run ended when their kicker (who hadn't missed a single kick all season) shanked an easy game-winning FG against the Falcons. Two years later, they were blown out 41-0 in the biggest Curb-Stomp Battle in NFCCG history. In 2009, despite dominating the eventual Super Bowl champion Saints in nearly every statistic, they gave up 8 turnovers in the NFCCG and painfully lost in overtime (the Vikings and Saints have had a strong rivalry ever since). The brightest postseason highlight for the team in recent years was easily the "Minneapolis Miracle", a game-winning TD against the Saints in the 2017 playoffs that launched the team to another NFCCG with a chance to win a Super Bowl appearance at home; this single week of hope was promptly quashed by the Eagles. The Vikings have gotten no closer to returning to the Big Game in the years since.
After operating for decades under a shared ownership model, the NFL pressured a sale to Clear Communications founder Red McCombs in 1998. He sold the team in 2005 to Zygi Wilf, a billionaire real estate developer and the first non-American-born owner in NFL history.note The team shared Minneapolis' Metropolitan Stadium with the Minnesota Twins for their first two decades before moving to the new 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 and even a complete collapse in the roof that got harder and more expensive to fix as fewer specialists became available to perform repairs.note 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, massive windows, a life-size Viking ship at its entrance, and a huge "Gjallarhorn" inside the stadium that is blown at the start of each game. The Vikings are another entrant in the "ridiculous fans" department; some dress in elaborate purple-and-gold Viking costumes for games and take part in loud chants of "SKOL!" throughout games.
Overall Win Record: 386-497-6 (.436, 5th lowest)
Nicknames: The Dirty Birds
Logo: A stylized falcon drawn in a vaguely "F" shape
Colors: Red and black
Home Stadium: Mercedes-Benz Stadium (71,000 capacity, can be expanded to 75,000)
Current Owner: Arthur Blank
Current General Manager: Terry Fontenot
Current Head Coach: Arthur Smith
Current Starting Quarterback: Matt Ryan
Notable Historic Players: Tommy Nobis, Claude Humphrey, Kim McQuilken, Steve Bartkowski, Deion Sanders, Jessie Tuggle, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, Morten Andersen, Warrick Dunn, Michael Vick, Julio Jones, Jake Matthews, Grady Jarrett
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Marion Campbell, Jerry Glanville, June Jones, Dan Reeves, Bobby Petrino, Mike Smith
Super Bowl Championships: 0
Super Bowl Appearances: 2; XXXIII (1998), LI (2016)
Pre-Merger Championships: 0
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, however, the team also had several bizarre breakout successes that they were unable to follow up on. In 1977, their "Grits Blitz" defense established itself as the #1 defense of the modern era in several statistical categories, though their offense was so poor they only went 7-7. After a few scattered playoff runs, the team cratered in the '80s, only to rise back to prominence as the home of Deion Sanders and the chosen team of MC Hammer in the early '90s. In 1998, a Cinderella squad comprised mostly of washouts who had relatively little success outside that year, nicknamed the "Dirty Birds" for their physical playing style, made it all the way to Super Bowl XXXIII under coach Dan Reeves only to be shut down by the Broncos.
Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank purchased the team from Rankin's son in 2002. The team soon rose to prominence and an NFC Championship appearance 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 next had a run as perennial Super Bowl contenders with QB Matt Ryan from 2008-12, reaching the NFCCG again in the final year, but came away with a reputation as a playoff choker. 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 bounced back and made their second Super Bowl appearance, only to blow a 28-3 lead against Tom Brady's Patriots by allowing the Super Bowl to go into overtime for the first time, where they ultimately lost and soon returned to total mediocrity. As Jon Bois points out in his 7-part documentary on the team, this constant losing forms a pretty good facsimile of the team's own logo when charted out; make of that what you will.
After playing their first 26 seasons in Atlanta-Fulton County 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.
Overall Win Record: 214-235-1 (.477, 10th lowest)
Logo: A roaring panther
Colors: Panther blue, black, and silver
Home Stadium: Bank of America Stadium (75,523 capacity)
Current Owner: David Tepper
Current General Manager: Scott Fitterer
Current Head Coach: Matt Rhule
Current Starting Quarterback: Cam Newton
Notable Historic Players: Sam Mills, Steve Smith Sr., Julius Peppers, Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly, Christian McCaffrey
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Jerry Richardson, Ron Rivera
Super Bowl Championships: 0
Super Bowl Appearances: 2; XXXVIII (2003), 50 (2015)
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 by winning their Wild Card matchup. 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 quickly sent the team back to mediocrity.
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). Prior to every game, the team pounds a drum, a reference to their "Keep pounding" slogan coined by Sam Mills, a Panthers player-turned-assistant coach who delivered a memorable Rousing Speech during their first Super Bowl run while battling cancer. 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.
New Orleans Saints
Overall Win Record: 406-463-5 (.467, 9th lowest)
Nicknames: The Dome Patrol ('80s/'90s defensive squad), The 'Aints
Logo: Gold fleur-de-lis
Colors: Black and gold
Home Stadium: Caesars Superdome (73,208 capacity, expandable to 76,468)
Current Owner: Gayle Benson
Current General Manager: Mickey Loomis
Current Head Coach: N/A
Current Starting Quarterback: Taysom Hill
Notable Historic Players: Billy Kilmer, Tom Dempsey, Archie Manning, Chuck Muncie, Morten Andersen, Rickey Jackson, George Rogers, Sam Mills, Pat Swilling, Willie Roaf, Joe Horn, Steve Gleason, Deuce McAllister, John Carney, Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Cam Jordan, Mark Ingram Jr., Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Tom Fears, Jim Mora, Sean Payton, Gregg Williams
Super Bowl Championships: 1; XLIV (2009)
Super Bowl Appearances: 1
Pre-Merger Championships: 0
The New Orleans Saints were historically one of the worst teams in the NFL. After being formed in 1967 as an expansion franchise sold to oil man John Mecom, the Saints were unable to put up a winning season for the first twenty years of the franchise, earning them the derisive nickname "The Ain'ts". Saints fans started the practice of wearing paper bags over one's head to protest a poorly performing team. The team infamously 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 things around somewhat. Coach Jim Mora brought the Saints their first few winning seasons with a powerful "Dome Patrol" defense, though they remained known through the '90s as "the only team that has never won a playoff game", a label they eventually shed in 2000.
The Saints finally became regular contenders in the late '00s after hiring coach Sean Payton and signing QB Drew Brees. They've been quite good ever since 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 Vikings due to a number of contentious meetings in the playoffs. After Benson's passing in 2018, ownership passed to his wife Gayle.
The team takes its 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 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 (with an eighth scheduled for the 2024 season); the most recent in 2013 featured a power outage that brought the game to a lengthy halt. Outside of football, the dome is most famous for being the largest shelter for displaced citizens after Katrina.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Overall Win Record: 301-442-1 (.405, lowest)
Nicknames: The Bucs, The Pewter Pirates
Logo: Skull-and-crossbones flag swinging from a sword
Colors: Buccaneer red, pewter, orange, and black
Home Stadium: Raymond James Stadium
Current Owners: The Glazer Brothers
Current General Manager: Jason Licht
Current Head Coach: Bruce Arians
Current Starting Quarterback: Tom Brady
Notable Historic Players: Lee Roy Selmon, Steve Spurrier, Ricky Bell, Randy Hedberg, Doug Williams, Vinny Testaverde, John Lynch, Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Mike Alstott, Warrick Dunn, Ronde Barber, Mike Evans, Jameis Winston
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Hugh Culverhouse, John McKay, Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden
Super Bowl Championships: 2; XXXVII (2002), LV (2020)
Super Bowl Appearances: 2
The Tampa Bay Buccaneersnote are the current Super Bowl champions. They 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. Just how bad was that debut season? It took the Tampa offense three games to even score a point and four to score a touchdown, and they wound up being shut out of five games.note The next year, they improved somewhat: they only lost their first 12 matchups (being shut out of six), then won their last two, ending what is still the longest winless streak in NFL history for a single team.note (Notably, after their first win, the opposing team's head coach and starting quarterback got fired).note
Incredibly, McKay managed to rally the team, taking them to the cusp of a Super Bowl with an NFC Championship appearance just over two years after the end of the losing streak. After a short period of playoff contention, however, things declined once again; the team didn't make the playoffs for 14 years after 1982 and didn't improve until after the death of 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 completely turned around the team's prospects, and though Dungy 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 first Super Bowl victory and enduring a 13-year playoff drought starting in 2008. Both droughts dramatically ended in 2020 after the hiring of the legendary Tom Brady, who led the team (assembled largely of free agents seeking to ring-chase with the GOAT) all the way to its second Super Bowl win the year Tampa hosted the Big Game.
Despite having a much better championship tally than many NFL teams, the Bucs have a long way to go to truly step out of franchise poverty. Statistically, the team holds the worst lifetime winning percentage not only within in the NFL but across all four major American sports leagues.note Glazer and his sons (who now run the team after his death) are mildly disliked in Tampa; don't ask English soccer fans about the Glazers, especially around Manchester.note
Glazer's '90s rebrand of the Bucs involved more than just changing their on-field performance. 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; it 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).
Overall Win Record: 584-786-41 (.426, 3rd lowest)
Prior Names/Locations: Morgan Athletic Club/Racine Normals (1898-1900), Racine Street Cardinals (1901-19), Racine Cardinals (1920-21), Chicago Cardinals (1922-43, 1945-59), Card-Pitt (1944 combination with Pittsburgh Steelers), St. Louis Cardinals (1960-87), Phoenix Cardinals (1988-93)
Nicknames: The Cards, The Gridbirds, Big Red
Logo: Cardinal head
Colors: Cardinal red
Home Stadium: State Farm Stadium (63,400 capacity, expandable to 78,600 with standing room)
Current Owner: Michael Bidwill
Current General Manager: Steve Keim
Current Head Coach: Kliff Kingsbury
Current Starting Quarterback: Kyler Murray
Notable Historic Players: Paddy Driscoll, Ernie Nevers, Duke Slater, Charley Trippi, Ollie Matson, Dick "Night Train" Lane, Larry Wilson, Jackie Smith, Jim Hart, Dan Dierdorf, Conrad Dobler, Larry Centers, Aeneas Williams, Eric Swann, Jake Plummer, Pat Tillman, Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Kurt Warner, Carson Palmer, Chandler Jones, DeAndre Hopkins
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Chris O'Brien, Charles Bidwill, Violet Bidwill, Jimmy Conzelman, Phil Handler, Bill Bidwill, Don Coryell, Ken Whisenhunt
Super Bowl Championships: 0
Super Bowl Appearances: 1; XLIII (2008)
Pre-Merger Championships: 2; 1925note , 1947note
The Arizona Cardinals are the NFL's oldest franchise, one of its most traveled, and, historically, one of its least successful, with the most losses of any NFL team. Additionally, as of the Chicago Cubs finally breaking their championship drought in 2016, the Cardinals now have the longest championship drought in professional 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 (1949-73), 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.note
The Cards' miserable history stretches back to 1898—14 years before their current home in Arizona was even a state. They were Chicago's original NFL team, originally forming as the amateur "Morgan Athletic Club"—the franchise that became the Bears weren't formed until two decades later and played their first season in Decatur.note However, the Cardinals were generally mediocre-to-terrible in the Windy City, always playing second fiddle to the dominant Bears, to the point that their owner openly rooted for the Bears. Said owner, Charles Bidwill, purchased the Cards in 1932 and his family 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. The team almost dissolved during the mid-'40s and had to merge with the Steelers for the '44 season to make it through WWII; if that era is counted as part of the team's history, the team lost 29 straight games across 1943-45, the worst streak in NFL history. Remarkably, they bounced back just two years later to win the franchise's sole (earned) league title, but they fell back to Earth soon after. After testing the waters in Minnesota, the Cardinals finally flew south in 1960 for St. Louis; 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 out of Missouri when low attendance caused by an aging stadium and generally terrible play (save for a brief blip in the mid-'70s) led the Bidwills to once again leave town in 1988, this time for Phoenix.
The Cardinals remained an afterthought in Arizona for years, with the most notable event on the field being a 1998 playoff win that broke the half-century victory drought and the most notable event off it being the tragic and well-publicized death of former player Pat Tillman while serving in The War on Terror. In 2008, however, the decades of disappointment finally started to turn around; the Cards won more playoff games in three weeks than they had won in the last sixty futile years and came within a minute 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 than any other part of their long history at least in part due to his steady presence. After reaching the NFC Championship Game in 2015, the Cards entered a rebuilding period, compiling a core of veteran players around their 2019 #1 pick, QB Kyler Murray.
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 outside 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.
Los Angeles Rams
Overall Win Record: 621-607-21 (.506, 16th highest)note
Prior Names/Locations: Cleveland Rams (1936-42, 1944-45), St. Louis Rams (1995-2015)
Nicknames: Fearsome Foursome ('60s defensive line), The Greatest Show on Turf ('99-'01 offense)
Logo: Stylized 'L.A.' featuring a curved ram hornnote
Colors: Royal blue and gold
Home Stadium: SoFi Stadium (70,240 capacity, expandable to 100,240)
Current Owner: Stan Kroenke
Current General Manager: Les Snead
Current Head Coach: Sean McVay
Current Starting Quarterback: Matthew Stafford
Notable Historic Players: Sid Gillman, Bob Waterfield, Tom Fears, Norm Van Brocklin, Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Rosey Grier, Roman Gabriel, Tom Mack, Jack Youngblood, Fred Dryer, James Harris, Jackie Slater, Eric Dickerson, Jim Everett, Flipper Anderson, Kevin Greene, Isaac Bruce, Kurt Warner, Orlando Pace, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, Steven Jackson, Sam Bradford, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Dan Reeves, Joe Stydahar, Chuck Knox, Georgia Frontiere, John Robinson, Dick Vermeil
Super Bowl Championships: 1; XXXIV (1999)
Super Bowl Appearances: 4 total; XIV (1979), XXXVI (2001), LIII (2018)
Pre-Merger Championships: 2; 1945, 1951note
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 obscure second incarnation of the AFL; they jumped ship to the NFL after winning that league's championship in their first seasonnote . Though the Rams struggled financially through WWII, even suspending operations in 1943, they bounced back in dramatic fashion in 1945, winning their first championship in their first winning season in the NFL with rookie QB Bob Waterfield under center. Immediately after, owner Dan Reeves moved the team to Los Angeles to capitalize on a larger market, becoming the first NFL team based on the West Coast and opening the door for the new AAFC's Browns to take their spot in Cleveland.note
The Rams put up several great years in L.A., first with the dominant three-end passing offense of the late '40s/early '50s. This iteration of the team set a still-standing single-season points-per-game record (38.8) in 1950, won another Championship the following year, and appeared in three more. After a few down years, the team reemerged as a defensive force with the "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line of the late '60s. The Rams garnered a reputation as a glamorous "Hollywood" franchise; 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 team of being more concerned with fame than on-field success, especially in the postseason. Their playoff woes were most apparent in the '70s—the Rams made it to the NFC Championship five times in six seasons and only translated it into one Super Bowl appearance, which they lost. The record-setting rushing offense of Eric Dickerson helped keep them contenders in the '80s, but their performance dipped severely in the '90s. The team struggled to attract fans in the crowded L.A. market, competing not only with the Super Bowl-champion Raiders but also two teams from 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. (The same year, the Raiders sorted out a deal to return to Oakland, which left the second-largest American media market without a football team for nearly two decades.)
The Rams dramatically 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 in one of the NFL's greatest Cinderella stories. 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' seemingly assured dynasty evaporated just as quickly as it had appeared, and the team declined to near-insignificance for a full decade until new owner Stan Kroenke moved the team back to Los Angeles in 2016. The next year, under young wunderkind HC Sean McVay and generational DT Aaron Donald, they posted their first winning record and playoff berth in over a decade. The very next season, they made it to Super Bowl LIII before again losing to the Patriots. They have remained consistent contenders ever since, reaching the 2021 NFCCG after going all-in on free agency for veteran talent.
The Rams' helmets have sported a distinctive design of curved ram horns since the '40s, being the first team in the NFL to not 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. This tenure also contributed to the racial reintegration of the NFL—due to the Coliseum being partially funded by state and local taxes, the Rams were pressured to desegregate their football team as part of their lease agreement, leading the team to hire the league's first Black players in over a decade. The team 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 growing Orange County suburbs. After their stay in St. Louis, the Rams returned to the Coliseum while their current home was completed in Inglewood. 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, a 6,000-seat performing arts theater sponsored by YouTube, and a sweeping translucent roof. While said roof covers the field and seating bowl, SoFi Stadium is not a true indoor stadium, as its sides are open and exposed to the elements. Thus, the stadium is subject to severe weather delays the same as other outdoor stadiums.
San Francisco 49ers
Overall Win Record: 593-512-14 (.536, 10th highest)note
Nicknames: The Niners
Logo: Initials 'SF' in a red oval
Colors: Red and gold
Home Stadium: Levi's Stadium (68,500 capacity)
Current Owners: Denise DeBartolo York and John Yorknote
Current General Manager: John Lynch
Current Head Coach: Kyle Shanahan
Current Starting Quarterback: Jimmy Garoppolo
Notable Historic Players: Y.A. Tittle, Joe "The Jet" Perry, Hugh McElhenny, Bob St. Clair, John Brodie, Joe Montana, Fred Dean, Dwight Clark, Roger Craig, Jesse Sapolu, Jerry Rice, Bill Romanowski, Steve Young, Dana Stubblefield, Garrison Hearst, Terrell Owens, Alex Smith, Frank Gore, Colin Kaepernick, Aldon Smith, George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk, Nick Bosa
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Buck Shaw, Edward DeBartolo Jr., Bill Walsh, George Seifert, Steve Mariucci, Jim Harbaugh
Super Bowl Championships: 5; XVI (1981), XIX (1984), XXIII (1988), XXIV (1989), XXIX (1994)
Super Bowl Appearances: 7 total; XLVII (2012), LIV (2019)
Pre-Merger Championships: 0note
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 (though two of those in the early '70s ended with NFC Championship losses to the Cowboys).
That unremarkable record all changed in the '80s, soon after the Niners' purchase by the billionaire DeBartolo family, who hired coach Bill Walsh to lead and manage the team. Walsh's innovative "West Coast Offense" transformed the team into the most dominant force in the NFL that persisted even after his retirement and replacement George Seifert. Led by back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young, legendary defensive back Ronnie Lott, and all-time leading wide receiver Jerry Rice, they notched fifteen playoff appearances and five Super Bowl wins from 1981-98 in one of the most successful dynasties in NFL history, briefly giving the franchise the record for most Super Bowl victories. These iconic characters, championships, and memorable moments like "The Catch" in the 1981 NFCCG made the 49ers one of America's most popular teams in an era when greats like the Steelers and Cowboys had started to slump.
At the end of that extended run, however, a corruption scandal led owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. to cede ownership to his sister; Steve Young retired soon after, and the team faded from relevance for most of the '00s while their title records were all tied or surpassed. Though the once-legendary team still has yet to secure a championship in the 21st century, they have not dropped out of contention to the degree of some other former greats. The 2011 hiring of Jim Harbaugh as head coach, paired with a powerful running game and implacable defense, took the new-look 49ers to three straight NFC Championship games and an appearance in Super Bowl XLVII. When Harbaugh was ousted from the team due to clashes with management, the Niners again struggled to find an identity, becoming better known for a time as the host team in the Colin Kaepernick controversy. Eventually, new head coach Kyle Shanahan turned the team back around, leading them to an appearance in Super Bowl LIV and the 2021 NFCCG.
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 home field, Levi's Stadium, next to their corporate headquarters in Santa Clara, forty miles from the city itself but closer to the suburbs from which they draw most of their fans. Levi's was completed and opened in 2014; it is located right next the Cedar Fair theme park California's Great America and features an organic farm on its roof that produces crops used in the stadium's concessions. Outside of their division, they once had a strong rivalry with the Cowboys that peaked with three straight NFCCG battles in the early '90s that decided the eventual Super Bowl winner, though that has mostly faded in the decades since.
Overall Win Record: 391-368-1 (.515, 15th highest)
Nicknames: The Hawks, The Legion of Boom (defensive secondary of the early '10s)
Logo: Osprey head influenced by indigenous art design
Colors: College navy, "action" (bright neon) green, wolf grey
Home Stadium: Lumen Field (68,740 capacity, expandable to 72,000)
Current Owner: Jody Allen
Current General Manager: John Schneider
Current Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Current Starting Quarterback: Russell Wilson
Notable Historic Players: Steve Largent, Dave Brown, Kenny Easley, Dave Krieg, Brian Bosworth, Cortez Kennedy, Shaun Alexander, Matt Hasselbeck, Steve Hutchinson, Walter Jones, Marshawn Lynch, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Chuck Knox, Paul Allen, Mike Holmgren
Super Bowl Championships: 1; XLVIII (2013)
Super Bowl Appearances: 3 total; XL (2005), XLIX (2014)
The Seattle Seahawks are a historically not-very-good team that rose to dominance in the 2010s. An expansion team in 1976 originally playing in the AFC West, tragedy struck before they even played their first game when founding owner Lloyd Nordstrom (of the Nordstrom department store family) passed away suddenly. They managed to be a decent competitor in the early '80s, making an AFC Championship in 1983. However, after a division round loss the following year, the Hawks went over twenty years without a single playoff win. 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 in 1997 before Microsoft exec Paul Allen swooped in and purchased them to keep them in the Pacific Northwest.
Now with the wealthiest owner in the league, the Hawks eventually turned their fortunes around. They switched conferences to the NFC after the 2002 realignment. In 2005, they not only broke their playoff win drought but made it all the way 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 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 Broncos in XLVIII, 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 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 understandably 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 for their away games, regularly ranking as the most traveled team.
The team logo has always been a side view of an osprey head designed in homage to the traditional art of the Puget Sound region's Native population. The original version, while more true to said art, often provoked comments about how the bird looked stoned. In 2002, it was finally updated to have a more aggressive and focused expression shortly before the team evolved into consistent winners.
AFC Divisions and Teams
Overall Win Record: 465-510-8 (.477, 11th lowest)
Logo: Charging buffalo
Colors: Red, white, and blue
Home Stadium: Highmark Stadium (71,608 capacity)
Current Owners: Kim and Terry Pegula
Current General Manager: Brandon Beane
Current Head Coach: Sean McDermott
Current Starting Quarterback: Josh Allen
Notable Historic Players: Billy Shaw, Jack Kemp, O. J. Simpson, Joe DeLamielleure, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, Frank Reich, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Steve Tasker, Scott Norwood, Ted Washington, Doug Flutie, Willis McGahee, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Stefon Diggs
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Ralph Wilson, Lou Saban, Jim Ringo, Marv Levy
Super Bowl Championships: 0
Super Bowl Appearances: 4; XXV (1990), XXVI (1991), XXVII (1992), XXVIII (1993)
AFL Championships: 2; 1964-65note
The Buffalo Bills, one of the AFL's original teams, brought the long-struggling city of Buffalo two championships in the early days of that league. These remain the only professional titles claimed by a Buffalo sports team, as the Bills have largely struggled through most of their franchise history; even the legendary talents of O. J. Simpson in the '70s weren't enough to elevate the team to regular playoff contention. After years of middling performances with relatively few bright spots, the franchise's brightest era by far came in the late '80s and early '90s, when coach Marv Levy and quarterback Jim Kelly brought the team to the Super Bowl four years in a row for the Bills' only appearances in the Big Game. This was the only such streak in NFL history and would be seen as an incredible run of dominance... had the Bills not lost all four contests, the first by a missed kick and the next three by fairly sizable margins. This ultimately doomed one of the league's greatest dynasties to trivia status due to their inability to seal the deal, and though the team stayed competitive into the late '90s, they receded to mediocrity in the new millennium.
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. 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, ending the Toronto home games early as part of his commitment. At the time of the purchase, the Bills held the dubious distinction of not only having the longest standing postseason drought in North American sports but also being the last "Big Four" team founded prior to 2000 that 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 After many years as a Butt-Monkey franchise, the Bills are currently 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 on the way to their first AFC Championship game since the '90s Glory Days.
By playing in Buffalo, the Bills are 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 has likely the worst weather of any market in the entire NFL, with nearby Lake Erie generating plenty of harsh storms over the aging Highmark Stadium (nicknamed "the Ralph" after the late owner, who at one time was the stadium's namesake), an open-air venue built in the early '70s next to a cemetery.note From 2008-14, the team played one regular season game annually at Toronto's Rogers Centre in an agreement between Ralph Wilson, Ted Rogers (then-owner of MLB's Toronto Blue Jays), and Larry Tanenbaum (chairman of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment); the agreement was terminated early in 2014 by mutual agreement due to declining attendance in Toronto and Pegula seeking to show his committment to keeping the Bills in Western New York long term. Despite (or perhaps because of) 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 (such as elbow dropping a flaming table). Their logo and mascot is not a "Bill" but a charging buffalo—their team name is in reference to the American entertainer Buffalo Bill.note
Overall Win Record: 496-406-4 (.550, 6th highest)
Nicknames: The Fins/Phins
Logo: Leaping dolphin encircled in a sun
Colors: Aqua and orange
Home Stadium: Hard Rock Stadium (64,767 capacity)
Current Owner: Stephen M. Ross
Current General Manager: Chris Grier
Current Head Coach: N/A
Current Starting Quarterback: Tua Tagovailoa
Notable Historic Players: Bob Griese, Earl Morrall, Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, Mercury Morris, Larry Little, Paul Warfield, Garo Yepremian, Dwight Stephenson, David Woodley, Dan Marino, Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor, Ricky Williams, Chad Pennington, Richie Incognito, Ryan Fitzpatrick
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Joe Robbie, George Wilson, Don Shula, Wayne Huizenga
Super Bowl Championships: 2; VII (1972), VIII (1973)
Super Bowl Appearances: 5 total; VI (1971), XVII (1982), XIX (1984)
AFL Championships: 0
The Miami Dolphins were an AFL expansion team founded in 1966 by lawyer/politician Joe Robbie as the first professional sports team in Florida. After a shaky early start, they broke out as one of the strongest teams in the league after the merger thanks in no small part to the great Don Shula, who coached the team from 1970 to 1995. The Dolphins had only two losing seasons under Shula's leadership and appeared in five different Super Bowls, including three consecutive appearances from 1971-3, the only such streak in the NFL for another two decades—they also won two of those matchups back-to-back. The franchise remains best known for having 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. Nearly half a century later, aging alumni from this team still meet every year for a champagne toast whenever the last undefeated team falls short of their record.note NFL Films named the '72 Dolphins the #1 Greatest Team of the league's first century.
Right after a fourth Super Bowl appearance in 1982, the Fins managed to scoop up quarterback Dan Marino in the Draft, who immediately broke out as the greatest pure passer of his generation. However, Marino only appeared in one Super Bowl at the end of his record-shattering second season, which the Dolphins lost. Though the team remained very competitive with him under center, they never returned to the Big Game... and they still haven't.note Ever since the retirements of Shula and Marino in the late '90s, the Dolphins have pretty much had a revolving door at both coach and quarterback and have sadly floundered, usually hovering around a .500 regular season record and only putting up three playoff appearances and zero playoff wins since 2000—the fact that their all-time win record still remains so high compared to other teams is a testament to just how consistently excellent they were in the Shula era. However, the Dolphins have at least 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 played in the Orange Bowl for their first two decades and, for a few seasons, 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 later 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. For many years, the Dolphins logo was a very stern cartoon dolphin wearing a football helmet over its blowhole, though that was admittedly part of the charm and the team continues to bring the old logo back out a few times a season.
New England Patriots
Overall Win Record: 566-432-9 (.567, 3rd highest)
Prior Names/Locations: Boston Patriots (1960-70)
Nicknames: The Pats
Logo: "Flying Elvis" head (see below)
Colors: Red, white, and blue (and silver)
Home Stadium: Gillette Stadium (65,878 capacity)
Current Owner: Robert Kraft
Current Head Coach/de facto General Manager: Bill Belichick
Current Starting Quarterback: Mac Jones
Notable Historic Players: Gino Cappelletti, John Hannah, Sam Cunningham, Steve Grogan, Mike Haynes, Tony Eason, Ben Coates, Drew Bledsoe, Troy Brown, Adam Vinatieri, Tom Brady, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, Vince Wilfork, Stephen Gostkowski, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Clive Rush, Chuck Fairbanks, Raymond Berry, Bill Parcells, Charlie Weis, Scott Pioli
Super Bowl Championships: 6; XXXVI (2001), XXXVIII (2003), XXXIX (2004), XLIX (2014), LI (2016), LIII (2018)
Super Bowl Appearances: 11 total; XX (1985), XXXI (1996), XLII (2007), XLVI (2011), LII (2017)
AFL Championships: 0note
The New England Patriots have been the strongest team of the 21st century following a nearly two-decade dynasty that elevated them to one of the greatest franchises in NFL history. However, the Pats first spent decades as one of the NFL's perennial whipping boys. After a few competitive years in the early AFL, the Patriots visited the playoffs only five times in a thirty year span and only notched postseason victories in 1985, when they went on an unexpected Super Bowl run before getting completely obliterated by the vaunted Chicago Bears by a score of 46-10. Just a few years later, team founder Billy Sullivan was forced to sell the team to avoid bankruptcy after an ill-advised investment in a Jacksons tour right before Michael Jackson's departure. Ownership of the team passed through multiple hands and the franchise very nearly was moved to St. Louis. However, the owner of their stadium's land, Robert Kraft, kept the team from moving to another market long enough to buy them out entirely in 1994, and started to turn its operations around.
After losing to Brett Favre's 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. They remained very competitive for the rest of the decade and 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 Giants. Remarkably, the Brady-Belichick Pats then proceeded to launch an even more dominant dynasty in the '10s, appearing in eight straight AFCCGs, making four Super Bowls, and winning three of them, making them the second team to win six after the 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. Brady's departure from the team in 2020 marked the end of the most successful coach-QB pairing in NFL history. However, while the team put up its first losing record since he started playing the following season, they quickly bounced back to winning the following year.
The Pats' status as the league's Invincible Hero (and the attitudes of some of their fans) haven't won them many supporters outside their home market—they have often been called "The Empire" of the NFL, 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 draft picks.
The team was called the Boston Patriots prior to the building of Foxboro Stadium, but since that venue was actually closer to Providence, Rhode Island than to Boston, it was decided that the team should represent 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 Stadium, built right next to Foxboro the year after their first Super Bowl win and nicknamed "The Razor" after its corporate sponsor, is much nicer; it prominently features a lighthouse behind the end zone that blows a horn during visiting teams' third downs (and the toilets work). The Patriots' 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.
New York Jets
Overall Win Record: 426-540-8 (.441, 7th lowest)
Prior Names/Locations: New York Titans (1960-62)
Nicknames: Gang Green, New York Sack Exchange ('80s defense)
Logo: Team name and a football on a green... football
Colors: Gotham green and black
Home Stadium: MetLife Stadium (82,000 capacity)
Current Owner: Woody Johnson
Current General Manager: Joe Douglas
Current Head Coach: Robert Saleh
Current Starting Quarterback: Zach Wilson
Notable Historic Players: Don Maynard, Joe Namath, Winston Hill, Joe Klecko, Mark Gastineau, Ken O'Brien, Curtis Martin, Mo Lewis, Kevin Mawae, Chad Pennington, Darrelle Revis, Mark Sanchez, Sam Darnold
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Weeb Ewbank, Rich Kotite, Bill Parcells, Herm Edwards, Rex Ryan
Super Bowl Championships: 1; III (1968)
Super Bowl Appearances: 1
AFL Championships: 1; 1968*
The New York Jets are the New York market's other, more forgettable team. Originally, they were named the New York Titans before changing their name in 1963, 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. The high point of the franchise came in 1968, when quarterback Joe Namath "guaranteed" victory over the heavily favored Colts and won Super Bowl III. Besides popularizing 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 its merger with the NFL.
After the Super Bowl win, however, the Jets have yet to even revisit the Super Bowl. 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 and were one game away from a return to the Super Bowl in the strike-shortened 1982 season. They made another AFC Championship appearance with coach Bill Parcells in the late '90s and were fairly competitive in the 2000s with Herm Edwards. This culminated with a brief but noteworthy boom period in 2009-10 when new outspoken HC Rex Ryan declared war on the Patriots and, with rookie QB Mark Sanchez and a stout defense, eliminated the Pats from the 2010 playoffs and made two consecutive AFCC games. However, that era's promise soon evaporated, encapsulated best by Sanchez's Thanksgiving Eve "Butt Fumble", one of the most infamous blunders in NFL history. The Jets have slid back into mediocrity and failed to return to the postseason ever since, giving them the longest active playoff drought in the NFL at eleven seasons and counting.
Traditionally Long Island and New Jersey's football team, the Jets have been based in the Giants' home stadium since 1984, though they are co-owners of their current home in MetLife Stadium. Before sharing a home venue with the Giants, the Jets shared their home venue with the MLB's Mets, first at Polo Grounds, then at Shea Stadium. Jets 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, like fellow "green team" the Eagles, have a rather tough and rowdy fanbase?note
Overall Win Record: 249-194-1 (.562, 4th highest)
Logo: Purple raven head with a gold letter 'B'
Colors: Purple, black, and gold
Home Stadium: M&T Bank Stadium (71,008 capacity)
Current Owner: Steve Bisciotti
Current General Manager: Eric DeCosta
Current Head Coach: John Harbaugh
Current Starting Quarterback: Lamar Jackson
Notable Historic Players: Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Trent Dilfer, Jamal Lewis, Ed Reed, Sam Koch, Marshal Yanda, Ray Rice, Joe Flacco, Michael Oher, Jacoby Jones, Justin Tucker
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Art Modell, Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick
Super Bowl Championships: 2; XXXV (2000), XLVII (2012)
Super Bowl Appearances: 2
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 sought to leave Cleveland with the Browns, but their 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.
Despite their early hurdles, the Ravens have developed a strong following in Baltimore by... well, winning. In sharp contrast to most of the NFL's other "true" expansion franchises, the Ravens have been extremely and consistently successful, having made the playoffs in precisely half of their overall seasons, won two Super Bowls, and not put up consecutive losing seasons since 1998. The Ravens have been known mostly for their stifling defense, and the face of the team for their first 17 years was star linebacker Ray Lewis (though non-Baltimore fans prefer to focus on how he was accused of and indicted for murder in 2000). After a brief rebuilding period in the mid-'10s that followed a series of post-Super Bowl retirements from the old guard, 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 also turned into an offensive ground-game 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 that team's former marching band, most former Baltimore Colts players, most notably Johnny Unitas, considered the Ravens to be "their" team—a statue of Unitas sits outside the Ravens' current home at M&T Bank Stadium in Camden Yards. Their mascot, nicknamed "Poe", is a reference to Baltimore's most famous poet (as is the team name).
The Ravens' complicated history is one reason why their division rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers is among the most bitter in the NFL. Besides carrying on the old Steelers-Browns rivalry, Baltimore is also still home to many former Colts fans who grudgingly switched allegiance to Pittsburgh after their original team left and dislike the Ravens for abandoning Cleveland in the same way. Steelers' ownership was also outspokenly against Modell's decision to relocate the team to Baltimore—owner Dan Rooney was one of only two team owners to vote against the move, and many Pittsburgh fans wore orange armbands to the final Browns/Steelers game as a sign of respect to Cleveland. The Ravens therefore picked up the animosity of the old rivalry but none of the mutual admiration, and their battles remain some of the grittiest in the NFL to this day.
Overall Win Record: 378-473-5 (.445, 6th lowest)
Nicknames: The Bungles
Logo: Tiger-striped 'B'note
Colors: Orange and black
Home Stadium: Paul Brown Stadium (65,515)
Current Owner/General Manager: Mike Brown
Current Head Coach: Zac Taylor
Current Starting Quarterback: Joe Burrow
Notable Historic Players: Greg Cook, Virgil Carter, Ken Riley, Lemar Parrish, Ken Anderson, Cris Collinsworth, Anthony Muñoz, Boomer Esiason, Ickey Woods, Corey Dillon, Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson(/Ochocinco), Andy Dalton, Adam "Pacman" Jones, Vontaze Burfict
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Paul Brown, Forrest Gregg, Sam Wyche, Dave Shula, Katie Blackburn, Marvin Lewis
Super Bowl Championships: 0
Super Bowl Appearances: 2; XVI (1981), XXIII (1988)
AFL Championships: 0
The Cincinnati Bengals joined the AFL as an expansion team in 1968. They were founded by former Cleveland Browns legend Paul Brown pretty much solely as a Take That! effort to allow him to come back to coaching after he was fired from his namesake team; the Bengals even used the same helmets as the Browns for their first several seasons. Brown's team got off to a slow start and were inconsistent for the rest of his tenure. After he stepped down from coaching, they went to two Super Bowls in the '80s and lost both in close contests to the 49ers, but they were hardly a league power even then—they only made the playoffs one other time that decade. Their biggest talent from this era, offensive lineman Anthony Muñoz, is the only Bengal enshrined in the Hall of Fame, the fewest of any franchise as old as the team. Though other players like QB Ken Anderson and CB Ken Riley also put up dominating individual performances in Cincinnati, their stay with the small-market underachiever likely cost them a spot up the road in Canton.
Since their time as Super Bowl contenders, the team endured a massive 31-year playoff drought after 1990, earning them the nickname "the Bungles". Though they boasted a five-year streak of playoff appearances in the early '10s, they were knocked out of the first round every time. Their owner throughout this entire era, Paul Brown's son Mike, is well known as one of the cheapest and most conservative in the league, which likely contributes to the team's struggles; he kept Marvin Lewis as the team's head coach for 16 seasons despite an 0-7 playoff record rather than sign another HC and has invested far less in his team's practice facilities than any other owner. In fairness to Brown, he is also (likely) the poorest NFL owner, having not come from another business background and inheriting a franchise that has never been the most highly valued. This streak of mediocrity was finally broken in 2021, when QB Joe Burrow helped lead the team through the playoffs to the AFC Championship.
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. The team's logo is not featured on the helmet, which has resulted in a bit of a confusion for team merchandise—their 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' current home, Paul Brown Stadium (a.k.a. "the Jungle"), is the only venue besides Lambeau Field 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. They inherited the Browns' rivalry with the Steelers and, in some respects, have greatly expanded on it. 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.
Overall Win Record: 506-534-11 (.487, 12th lowest)note
Nicknames: The Dawgs, The Brownies
Logo: Orange helmet
Colors: Brown and orange
Home Stadium: FirstEnergy Stadium (67,452 capacity, can be expanded to 73,718)
Current Owner: Jimmy Haslam
Current General Manager: Andrew Berry
Current Head Coach: Keven Stefanski
Current Starting Quarterback: Baker Mayfield
Notable Historic Players: Otto Graham, Marion Motley, Bill Willis, Lou Groza, Mac Speedie, Dante Lavelli, Lou Rymkus, Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Frank Ryan, Leroy Kelly, Brian Sipe, Hanford Dixon, Frank Minnifield, Bernie Kosar, Ozzie Newsome, Eric Metcalf, Phil Dawson, Joe Thomas, Josh Cribbs, Peyton Hillis, Johnny Manziel, Myles Garrett
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Paul Brown, Art Modell, Blanton Collier, Marty Schottenheimer, Hue Jackson
Super Bowl Championships: 0
Super Bowl Appearances: 0
Pre-Merger Championships: 8; 1946-49 (AAFC Championships); 1950, 1954-55, 1964note
The Cleveland Browns are a former powerhouse that has appeared in more championship games than any other professional football team save the Packers (though four of them came from outside the NFL) but has also not appeared in one since the NFL-AFL merger. Their history is messy and complicated. Named after their coach, the legendary Paul Brown, they originally started out in 1946 as the dominant team of the short-lived All-America Football Conference, winning the league's title in each of its four seasons with QB Otto Graham and color-barrier-breaking RB Marion Motley at the helm. To the shock of much of the football world, they then continued to dominate when they joined the NFL in 1950; they won the championship in their first year, appeared in six of the next seven championship games, and won another two of those back-to-back.
The Browns remained successful even after Graham and the other stars retired and owner Art Modell fired the team's namesake coach. The team won one more league title with superstar fullback Jim Brown in 1964 but lost the final NFL Championship before the introduction of the Super Bowl and fell just short of appearing in Super Bowls III and IV by losing in the last two NFL Championships. These losses seemed to leave a Curse on the franchise: once the Super Bowl became the NFL's true championship game, the team truly became known for always choking in the clutch, especially against the 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. Modell still took the players and staff and was awarded an "expansion team", the Ravens.note The Browns then technically returned as an expansion team in 1999. These "new Browns" have generally been a laughingstock, only making the playoffs twice and never winning a postseason match until 2020. 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.note The team was purchased by truck stop mogul Jimmy Haslam in 2012, who seemed serious about reforming them, 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 team 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 was already the team's sixth coach in the past ten years, which brought further questions about Haslam's competence as owner. The next year, though, Jackson was fired and rookie QB Baker Mayfield led the Browns to more wins than they had in the three previous seasons combined. The coaching roulette and losing records finally ended in 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 in the process.
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 often referred to by the derisive nickname "The Factory of Sadness", though some exchanged that for the less dismal moniker "The Bakery" after Mayfield helped turn things around for the team. Its location off the shore of Lake Erie often invites harsh weather, and its lakefront neighbors are mostly museums, including the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Their colors, as you might expect, are brown... and also orange. Players wear orange helmets without a logo; an image of one of these helmets itself serves as the Browns official icon. 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 most angry, 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.
Overall Win Record: 688-589-22 (.538, 7th highest)
Prior Names/Locations: Pittsburgh Pirates (1933-9), Phil-Pitt "Steagles" (1943), Card-Pitt (1944)
Nicknames: Steel Curtain ('70s defense), Stillers, the Black and Gold Brigade
Logo: U.S. Steel logo (see below)
Colors: Black and yellow
Home Stadium: Heinz Field (68,400 capacity, can extend to 75,000)
Current Owner: Art Rooney II
Current General Manager: Kevin Colbert
Current Head Coach: Mike Tomlin
Current Starting Quarterback: N/A
Notable Historic Players: Mose Kelsch, Walt Kiesling, Bill Dudley, John Henry Johnson, Jack Butler, Ernie Stautner, Andy Russell, Joe Greene, Rocky Bleier, L.C. Greenwood, John "Frenchy" Fuqua, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount, Dwight White, Franco Harris, Joe Gilliam, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, Jack Ham, Ernie Holmes, Jack Lambert, Donnie Shell, Tunch Ilkin, Gary Anderson, Rod Woodson, Neil O'Donnell, Kordell Stewart, Jerome Bettis, Alan Faneca, Hines Ward, James Harrison, Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Antonio Brown, Cam Heyward, Le'Veon Bell, Alejandro Villanueva, Ryan Shazier, T.J. Watt
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Art Rooney, Bert Bell, Bill Austin, Chuck Noll, Bill Nunn, Dan Rooney, Bill Cowher, Dick LeBeau
Super Bowl Championships: 6; IX (1974), X (1975), XIII (1978), XIV (1979), XL (2005), XLIII (2008)
Super Bowl Appearances: 8 total; XXX (1995), XLV (2010)
Pre-Merger Championships: 0
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been the most consistently successful team of the Super Bowl era in terms of regular season win record. 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 even made the postseason once (a 1947 divisional tie-breaker, which they lost). 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 the tenure of coach Chuck Noll, which began in 1969. Under Noll, the team ran the '70s NFL with superstar QB Terry Bradshaw, an absolutely stacked passing and rushing offense, and an implacable "Steel Curtain" defense. This team contained more Hall of Famers and colorful characters than practically any single era of any franchise and won four Super Bowls in six years (still the most dominating stretch in NFL history). The success of the '70s Steelers dynasty essentially erased the team's reputation as the league's Butt-Monkey from memory. More importantly, it 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 era of the team is still so revered in Pittsburgh that they got a massive roller coaster named after them at the local Kennywood amusement park, the main attraction of a whole land themed to the franchise.
The Steelers are still owned by the Rooney familynote . Since hiring Noll over half a century ago, the Rooneys have never had to fire a head coach and have hired just two (Bill Cowher and current HC Mike Tomlin) to replace their predecessors upon retirement. This lack of turnover has given them one of the most stable identities in the league, still 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 round,note enables them to run a gunslinging high-passing offense as needed. Outside of a fairly brief rebuild period in the late '80s, the Black and Gold never go more than two or three seasons between (usually lengthy) playoff runs. After a Super Bowl appearance in the '90s, Cowher and Tomlin each brought Pittsburgh another Super Bowl victory apiece with QB Ben Roethlisberger in the '00s. The Steelers have won a total of six Super Bowls and have played in eight, tied with the Patriots for the former and tied with the Cowboys and the Broncos for second in the latter. 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.
Their success earned the team one of the league's most die-hard local fanbases, the Steeler Nation, who can be found whipping their Terrible Towels and jumping around to Styx's "Renegade" 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 Field,note 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 Non-football fans may recognize the venue as the field Bane attacks in The Dark Knight Rises; the movie was filmed in Pittsburgh and features many Steeler cameos. 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 only on the right side of their helmet.
Overall Win Record: 143-188 (.432, 4th lowest)
Logo: Outline of a bull's head filled with a Texas flag
Colors: Deep steel blue and battle red
Home Stadium: NRG Stadium (72,220 capacity)
Current Owner: Janice McNairnote
Current General Manager: Nick Caserio
Current Head Coach: N/A
Current Starting Quarterback: Davis Mills
Notable Historic Players: David Carr, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster, J.J. Watt, Brock Osweiler, DeAndre Hopkins, Deshaun Watson
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Bill O'Brien
Super Bowl Championships: 0
Super Bowl Appearances: 0
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 name.note
After falling short of a winning record through their first eight seasons, the Texans broke through in 2011 with the franchise's first playoff berth and division win, fueled mostly by a revitalized defense led by J.J. Watt. They were a regular playoff contender through most of the '10s but have still yet to make it to the Big Game or even a conference championship, the only franchise to never make it that far. The Texans have since fallen back to the bottom of the league due to widely criticized front office decisions after the passing of the elder McNair in 2018 that led franchise QB Deshaun Watson to refuse to play for the team shortly before his career was derailed by sexual assault allegations in 2021.
The Texans' 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.
Overall Win Record: 566-506-7 (.528, 11th highest)
Prior Names/Locations: Baltimore Colts (1953-83)
Logo: Blue horseshoe
Colors: Blue and white
Home Stadium: Lucas Oil Stadium (67,000 capacity, expandable to 70,000)
Current Owner: Jim Irsay
Current General Manager: Chris Ballard
Current Head Coach: Frank Reich
Current Starting Quarterback: Carson Wentz
Notable Historic Players: Gino Marchetti, Art Donovan, Buddy Young, Alan Ameche, Raymond Berry, Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Jim Parker, Gene Lipscomb, John Mackey, Bubba Smith, Earl Morrall, Bert Jones, Rohn Stark, Jim Harbaugh, Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, Jeff Saturday, Marcus Pollard, Marvin Harrison, Mike Vanderjagt, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Bob Sanders, Pat McAfee, Andrew Luck
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Carroll Rosenbloom, Don Shula, Don McCafferty, Robert Irsay, Joe Thomas, Ted Marchibroda, Jim Mora, Tony Dungy, Ryan Grigson
Super Bowl Championships: 2; V (1970), XLI (2006)
Super Bowl Appearances: 4 total; III (1968), XLIV (2009)
Pre-Merger Championships: 3; 1958, 1959, 1968*note
The Indianapolis Colts are a long-running franchise that dates back, in some form, to multiple different franchises stretching all the way to 1913, though the connection is convoluted and tenuous.note The NFL and the Colts don't officially recognize any of the history prior to 1953, when founder Carroll Rosenbloom set up shop in Baltimore. After struggling for their 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 Giants, was the first NFL game to be decided 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 Jets before coming back for a messy victory against the Cowboys in Super Bowl V. However, they struggled through the '70s after Unitas' departure and the purchase of the team by Robert Irsay. With poor performance (including a winless 0-8-1 1982 season) affecting attendance and a lack of public funding for a new stadium, Irsay snuck the team out of town in 1983, departing in moving vans in the middle of the night to keep the city of Baltimore from claiming the franchise rights with eminent domain.
The Colts remained mediocre in Indy, only making one playoff appearance in its first ten years there, but made a surprisingly deep postseason run to the AFC Championship in Year 11. They almost immediately fell back to the bottom of the league but soon became truly dominant after drafting star quarterback Peyton Manning in 1998 with the #1 pick. Paired with Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, Manning's Colts 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. The Colts recovered somewhat thanks to their #1 draft pick of Andrew Luck as Manning's replacement, reaching the AFC Championship in 2014, but Luck's injury problems and early retirement has left the team still struggling to find its long-term identity.
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 1950) 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 (not even the pilot) 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 stadiums, 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. 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).
Overall Win Record: 187-260 (.418, 2nd lowest)
Nicknames: The Jags
Logo: Roaring jaguar head with a teal tongue
Colors: Teal, black, and gold
Home Stadium: TIAA Bank Field (67,814 capacity, can expand to 82,000)
Current Owner: Shahid Khan
Current General Manager: Trent Baalke
Current Head Coach: Darrell Bevell (interim)
Current Starting Quarterback: Trevor Lawrence
Notable Historic Players: Mark Brunell, Tony Boselli, Jimmy Smith, Fred Taylor, Marcus Stroud, John Henderson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles, Jalen Ramsey
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Tom Coughlin, Gene Smith, Gus Bradley, Urban Meyer
Super Bowl Championships: 0
Super Bowl Appearances: 0
The Jacksonville Jaguars are an expansion franchise that began play in 1995. The Jags started out very promising, making it to the AFC Championship in 1996 and 1999. However, they 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 team 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, the team made it back to the AFC Championship game in 2017 with a dominant "Sacksonville" defense, only to immediately slide back to the bottom of the league amidst various on- and off-field controversies. From 2020-21, the Jaguars posted the longest losing streak in the NFL since the Bucs joined the league (20 straight losses).
Because of Jacksonville's inherent disadvantages for financial growth,note 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 to keep all the revenue from the international games, but the COVID-19 Pandemic caused these games to be moved back to North Florida for the immediate future. The Jags are technically geographical rivals of Miami and Tampa Bay, though none of the teams in Florida take their rivalries seriously.note
The Jaguars' uniforms feature a very distinctive teal color which extends to their logo, which has a teal tongue, and 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 team has a degree of crossover with professional wrestling promotion All Elite Wrestling, of which Shahid is the lead investor and his son Tony Khan is the founder, president, and CEO. Two cinematic matches called "Stadium Stampedes" have been contested in their home stadium, with two teams of wrestlers fighting all throughout the grounds, stands, and club area. During the first event, the Jaguars cheerleaders performed for the start, and Jaxson de Ville got knocked out by a Judas Effect after he taunted Chris Jericho, while during the second the Inner Circle entered by ziplining down the video board and their fight with The Pinnacle entered coach Urban Meyer's office, with Meyer handing Jericho a laptop that he proceeded to smash over MJF's head.
Overall Win Record: 480-502-6 (.489, 13th lowest)
Prior Names/Locations: Houston Oilers (1960-96), Tennessee Oilers (1997-98)
Logo: Comet with elements of the Tennessee flag
Colors: Navy, Titans blue, red, silver
Home Stadium: Nissan Stadium (69,143 capacity)
Current Owner: Amy Adams Strunk
Current General Manager: Jon Robinson
Current Head Coach: Mike Vrabel
Current Starting Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill
Notable Historic Players: George Blanda, Billy Cannon, Charlie Hennigan, Ken Houston, Elvin Bethea, Dan Pastorini, Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, Robert Brazile, Earl Campbell, Mike Munchak, Warren Moon, Bruce Matthews, Steve McNair, Eddie George, Javon Kearse, Albert Haynesworth, Rob Bironas, Vince Young, Chris Johnson, Marcus Mariota, Derrick Henry
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Bud Adams, Lou Rymkus, Bum Phillips, Ed Biles, Hugh Campbell, Jerry Glanville, Jeff Fisher, Mike Munchak
Super Bowl Championships: 0
Super Bowl Appearances: 1; XXXIV (1999)
AFL Championships: 2; 1960-61note
The Tennessee Titans were first known as the Houston Oilers, one of the original AFL teams created by actual Texas oilman Bud Adams and holder of that league's first two championship titles with the gunslinging George Blanda under center. However, Adams developed a habit of rotating very quickly through head coaches at the first sign of trouble, and the team soon descended into mediocrity.note The franchise has had a sub-.500 record since the merger and hasn't won a league title since those first two seasons, though they've had a few good runs at one and have become known as a magnet for generational running back talents.
The Oilers had one of the rudest awakenings of any of the AFL teams after the merger, with some historically bad performances and back-to-back one-win seasons in 1972-73 that resulted in a then-record 18-game losing streak. Literal cowboy coach Bum Phillips and powerful star RB Earl Campbell helped to redeem the team by the end of the decade, visiting two AFC Championship games in the short-but-sweet "Luv Ya Blue" era; Adams' firing of Phillips for not bringing them to the Super Bowl, paired with the regression of Campbell, led to another collapse. In the '80s and early '90s, led by QB Warren Moon, the Oilers adopted an aggressive "Run and Shoot" offense in which two extra wide receivers replace the tight end and fullback. They put together good records in this era but never even made it to a conference championship, once blowing a 32-point lead in the second half of a 1992 Wild Card game to Buffalo (the largest surrendered margin in NFL history). Their 1993 season became an infamous media circus that marked the end of the Moon era and the team's success in Houston; Adams dismantled the whole roster after another early playoff exit, resulting in the steepest season-to-season collapse in league history.
Adams moved the team to Tennessee in 1997 after a dispute over funding for a new stadium, naming the team the "Tennessee Oilers" after the state rather than a specific city so they could play in Memphis while their stadium in Nashville was finishednote . The year the team dropped the "Run and Shoot" and the "Oilers" name (after two years of folks pointing out that Tennessee is not particularly famous for oil production), they got their revenge on Buffalo in the 1999 Wild Card game thanks to an absolutely ridiculous last-play kickoff return dubbed the "Music City Miracle". This helped bring them to the franchise's sole Super Bowl appearance, which they lost when the game's final play ended just inches short of the goal line. Jeff Fisher and Jeff Fisher's mustache, one of the great underrated coaching duos in the league, successfully capitalized on this single championship appearance to remain the team's HC for another decade. The team struggled after the departure of star QB Steve McNair, often thanks to drafting players with high prospects (QB Vince Young, RB Chris Johnson) that ended up disappointing in high-profile ways. Fisher was eventually let go, and after an eight-year playoff drought, the Titans returned to regular playoff contention thanks to yet another generational RB talent in Derrick Henry. 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 the outdoor Nissan Stadium. 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 an H-shaped oil rig as their icon for several decades, their current logo is a comet emblazoned with elements of the Tennessee flag. They also draw a lot from mythical Greek iconography: they 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 armor.note However, their mascot... is a raccoon.
Overall Win Record: 518-463-10 (.528, 12th highest)
Nicknames: Orange Crush (General term for defense, particularly late '70s/early '80s), No Fly Zone ('10s defense)
Logo: Profile of a white bronco head with orange mane
Colors: Orange and blue
Home Stadium: Empower Field at Mile High (76,125 capacity)
Current Owner: Estate of Pat Bowlennote
Current General Manager: George Paton
Current Head Coach: Nathaniel Hackett
Current Starting Quarterback: Teddy Bridgewater
Notable Historic Players: Frank Tripucka, Floyd Little, Marlin Briscoe, Jim Turner, Tom Jackson, Randy Gradishar, Craig Morton, John Elway, Steve Atwater, Shannon Sharpe, Jason Elam, Terrell Davis, Ed McCaffrey, Mark Schlereth, Brandon Marshall, Tim Tebow, Matt Prater, Peyton Manning, Von Miller
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Frank Filchock, Lou Saban, Red Miller, Dan Reeves, Mike Shanahan
Super Bowl Championships: 3; XXXII (1997), XXXIII (1998), 50 (2015)
Super Bowl Appearances: 8 total; XII (1977), XXI (1986), XXII (1987), XXIV (1989), XLVIII (2013)
AFL Championships: 0
The Denver Broncos were an original AFL team and the league's weakest franchise prior to the NFL merger, being the only charter AFL team to not appear in a single championship game; in fact, they didn't even post a winning record until 1973. After not making a single postseason appearance for their first 17 seasons, the team unexpectedly surged to a Cinderella Super Bowl appearance in XII, where their "Orange Crush" defense suffered a humiliating loss (which became a trend for the Broncos in the Super Bowl).
In the '80s, under the new 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 and losing each one by wide margins. Elway eventually bounced back at the tail end of his career, thanks in part to new head coach Mike Shanahan and his ability to consistently find and develop stud anonymous 1,000-yard rushers. Elway and Shanahan brought the team back-to-back Super Bowl victories (one of them against Reeves, now with the Falcons) prior to Elway's retirement after 1998.
After Elway's departure, Shanahan kept the team competitive for another decade before the team let him go in 2009 after a number of late-season collapses. His successor, 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). Before leaving Denver, McDaniels drafted Tim Tebow, who led the Broncos through a nail-biting 2011 to a stunning playoff spot that introduced "Tebow Time" and "Tebowing" to the world. However, Tebow was traded away 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 putting up another Big Game loss to the Seahawks (who had one of the best defenses in NFL history), becoming the first franchise 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 dominant defense of his own to victory in Super Bowl 50 in what proved to be his final game. The Broncos regressed after Manning's retirement and have yet to return to the playoffs, giving them the second longest active drought in the league.
The Broncos' stadium, Empower Field at Mile Highnote , 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 bright orange and blue uniforms boast one of the more distinctive color combos in the league and are 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 team publicly burnt these uniforms before swapping to a much classier orange and royal blue combo they used until just before the late '90s Super Bowl run, when they adopted the modern uniform.
Kansas City Chiefs
Overall Win Record: 522-449-12 (.534, 8th highest)
Prior Names/Locations: Dallas Texans (1960-62)
Logo: White arrowhead with 'KC' initials
Colors: Red and gold
Home Stadium: Arrowhead Stadium (76,416 capacity)
Current Owner: Clark Hunt
Current General Manager: Brett Veach
Current Head Coach: Andy Reid
Current Starting Quarterback: Patrick Mahomes
Notable Historic Players: Len Dawson, Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier, Emmitt Thomas, Jan Stenerud, Curley Culp, Nick Lowery, Joe Delaney, Christian Okoye, Derrick Thomas, Marcus Allen, Will Shields, Tony Gonzalez, Dante Hall, Priest Holmes, Alex Smith, Eric Berry, Dontari Poe, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Tyrann Mathieu
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Lamar Hunt, Hank Stram, Marty Schottenheimer
Super Bowl Championships: 2; IV (1969), LIV (2019)
Super Bowl Appearances: 4 total; I (1966), LV (2020)
AFL Championships: 3; 1962, 1966*, 1969*
The Kansas City Chiefs started life as an original AFL team called the Dallas Texans, created by that league's founder, Lamar Hunt. The Cowboys started at the same time and played in the same stadium, and while the Texans won the AFL Championship in 1962, the not-very-good-at-the-time Cowboys were in the more established NFL and became the more popular team. They moved to Kansas City after three seasons once it became obvious that Dallas wouldn't support two teams; they kept their pre-Chiefs years in the team history but changed their name, because the "Kansas City Texans" is clearly ridiculous (although there is word Hunt did consider keeping it). Under original coach Hank Stram, the Chiefs won two more AFL championships 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 to mediocrity and worse in the mid-'70s, experiencing a 14-year playoff drought and not securing a postseason win for over two decades after their Super Bowl victory. This streak was broken in the '90s by coach Marty Schottenheimer, who finally turned them back into playoff contenders and made it to an AFC Championship appearance with an aging Joe Montana under center. After that high, however, the Chiefs again went another twenty years without a win in the playoffs. Following Marty's departure, the team became far less consistent, wavering between fairly impressive highs (such as a scorched-earth 2003 campaign that ended with a first round playoff loss) and devastating lows (most notably a two-win season in 2012 where the terrible play was overshadowed by a player murdering his girlfriend before killing himself at the team practice facility in front of the coaching and office staff).
Fortunately for Kansas City, the hiring of Andy Reid as head coach in 2013 finally turned the Chiefs back into consistent winners, and the emergence of Patrick Mahomes as arguably the game's best young QB in 2018 took them to a whole new level of success. The Chiefs have at least reached the AFCCG every year since Mahomes became starter, being narrowly defeated by the Patriots in the first season, winning their first post-merger Super Bowl the next, and returning to another Big Game appearance the year after.
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). Now that Washington has gotten rid of its mascot, Kansas City's 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 stereotypical Native American regalia and used the "tomahawk chop" ever since the move to Missouri, earning the organization a fair amount of criticism from indigenous groups.
Las Vegas Raiders
Overall Win Record: 516-466-11 (.525, 14th highest)
Prior Names/Locations: Oakland Raiders (1960-81, 1995-2019), Los Angeles Raiders (1982-1994)
Logo: Black crest featuring an old-timey football player with an Eyepatch of Power in front of two crossed cutlasses
Colors: Silver and black
Home Stadium: Allegiant Stadium (65,000 capacity, expandable to 72,000)
Current Owner: Mark Davisnote
Current General Manager: N/A
Current Head Coach: Rich Bisaccia (interim)
Current Starting Quarterback: Derek Carr
Notable Historic Players: Tom Flores, Jim Otto, Fred Biletnikoff, Gene Upshaw, Daryle Lamonica, Willie Brown, George Blanda, Ted Hendricks, Art Shell, Ken Stabler, Ray Guy, Jack Tatum, David Casper, Todd Christensen, Jim Plunkett, Lester Hayes, John Matuszak, Marcus Allen, Lyle Alzado, Howie Long, Bo Jackson, Tim Brown, Charles Woodson, Sebastian Janikowski, Shane Lechler, Rich Gannon, JaMarcus Russell
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Al Davis, John Rauch, John Madden, Tom Flores, Art Shell, Amy Trask, Jon Gruden, Bill Callahan
Super Bowl Championships: 3; XI (1976), XV (1980), XVIII (1983)
Super Bowl Appearances: 5 total; II (1967), XXXVII (2002)
AFL Championships: 1; 1967*note
The Las Vegas Raiders started life in Oakland as an original AFL team. After a rough few early years, the franchise rose to a dominant force in pro football when maverick coach Al Davis became a permanent part of the team's ownership. From that point on, "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; from 1966-85, the Raiders won twelve division titles, won the AFL Championship in 1967 on the way to an appearance in Super Bowl II, played in ten more AFL/AFC Championships (though they lost seven of them), and claimed three Super Bowl wins under coaches John Madden and Tom Flores. During this time, they served as the biggest rival to the Steel Curtain Pittsburgh Steelers' dominance of the AFC and the entire league; 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, bringing the city its only Super Bowl win, 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 due to their attitude, most notably the gangsta rap group N.W.A. The team struggled to sell out games in the venue, resulting in regular TV blackouts. After failing to get a new stadium, Davis moved the team back to Oakland in 1995, where they struggled for a few years before coach Jon Gruden helped to briefly revive the team's fortunes in the early 2000s. Off the field, the team also became known as a pioneer for representation, being the first team in the NFL to hire a black head coach (Art Shell) and a female CEO (Amy Trask).
Unfortunately, Gruden was traded to the Buccaneers in 2002, where he used his knowledge of Raiders' playbook to deliver his old team a 48-21 Super Bowl loss in 2002. Since then, the once-dominant team entered a sharp decline it still hasn't recovered from. Since their Super Bowl defeat, they have made the playoffs only twice (in 2016 and 2021) and have yet to make it past the wild card. The Raiders are now known mostly for a revolving-door coaching staff, picking up players that no one else will touch due to either age or character issues, drafting/signing speedy players who couldn't do much else to outrageous contracts, and Davis massively interfering with the coaches' jobs prior to his death in 2011. Since Al's son Mark took over, the team has improved somewhat but has yet to return to its former glory. Due to their nationwide popularity and outdated stadium, they were long considered the team most likely to move, presumably 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 appropriately 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 now-cash-strapped team sought to attract. Raider fans are known for being among the most loyal in professional sports despite the team's recent record and tendency to move; Raiders merchandise is a perennial bestseller. Fans 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.
Los Angeles Chargers
Overall Win Record: 480-488-11 (.496, 15th lowest)
Prior Names/Locations: San Diego Chargers (1961-2016)
Nicknames: The Bolts
Logo: Curved lightning bolt
Colors: Blue and gold
Home Stadium: SoFi Stadium (70,240 capacity, expandable to 100,240)
Current Owner: Dean Spanos
Current General Manager: Tom Telesco
Current Head Coach: Brandon Staley
Current Starting Quarterback: Justin Herbert
Notable Historic Players: Lance Alworth, John Hadl, Tobin Rote, Fred Dean, Charlie Joiner, Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Chuck Muncie, Junior Seau, John Carney, Rodney Harrison, Darren Bennett, Ryan Leaf, Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, Philip Rivers, Nate Kaeding, Joey Bosa
Notable Historic Coaches and Personnel: Barron Hilton, Sid Gillman, Don Coryell, A.J. Smith, Marty Schottenheimer, Norv Turner
Super Bowl Championships: 0
Super Bowl Appearances: 1; XXIX (1994)
AFL Championships: 1; 1963note
The Los Angeles Chargers were an original AFL franchise first based in Los Angeles, where they played for only one season before moving south 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). The Chargers immediately established an identity that persisted throughout the franchise's history of putting up excellent, even revolutionary offenses that never had enough juice in the postseason. Under head coach Sid Gillman's game-changing passing offense that moved through generational receiver Lance Alworth, the Chargers appeared in five of the first six AFL Championships and lost all but one, which remains the team's sole league title to this day and the only one ever claimed by a San Diego sports franchise.
The Chargers' spark dimmed greatly after the merger, with the team languishing until the late '70s after the arrival of another passing game innovator, Don Coryell. QB Dan Fouts set records with the "Air Coryell" offense, only to suffer two heartbreaking AFC Championship losses in the early '80s. The Chargers again regressed soon after but made it to a Super Bowl after an unexpected 1994 Cinderella season, only to suffer a humiliating blowout at the hands of the 49ers. The team was best known in this era for having a very nasty rivalry with the Raiders that traced back to them snubbing Raiders' owner Al Davis for a head coaching job; when Raiders fans only had to drive two hours from L.A. to games, this sometimes resulted in violence in the stands, leading the San Diego Police Department to have a standing tactical alert for all their matchups.
The Chargers' GM 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 San Diego. Sure enough, even with big talents like Drew Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, and Philip Rivers throughout the decade, the Chargers found often spectacular ways to fizzle out, never getting further than a sole AFCCG appearance after 2007. 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, leading the entire league in both categories for the season, but their special teams committed so many game-losing gaffes that the team missed the playoffs.
The Chargers made noise about moving back to Los Angeles for years, largely as a bargaining chip to get the city of San Diego to pay for renovations to their aging stadium, but didn't follow through on it for years because the absence of any other teams in L.A. essentially gave that massive market to them by default. In 2017, a year after the Rams returned to L.A., the Bolts' ownership exercised their option to join them, earning the Spanos family the eternal enmity of San Diego fans. While their new home at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood was 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 (especially the division rival Raiders), and Spanos' abandonment of San Diego fans ensured few old fans would make the long drive north for games. As a result, the tiny 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 previously approving the move, reportedly want the Chargers to go back to San Diego, even though the demolition of their former home seems to have shut off any chance of a return and SoFi's massive price tag will likely incentivize keeping the second team in town for years to come no matter how much they struggle to establish a home crowd.
- 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 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 was 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 1926.
- 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 start 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 Buffalo All-Americans, as they were known in their first season in the league, were a founding member of the APFA and an early power, though they never secured a championship despite arguably deserving the title in both of the league's first two seasons. Originally a semi-pro team coached by Tommy Hughitt that had played in local and state leagues since 1915 as the "All-Stars", "Niagaras", and "Prospects", the All-Americans secured a 9-1-1 record in the inaugural season that would have tied them with the Akron Pros for the best record in the league under current rules for counting ties as half-wins but resigned them to third behind Akron and the Chicago Staleys under the old method of discounting them entirely. The next year, Buffalo went undefeated and claimed the title, only for owner Frank McNeil to agree to two "postseason exhibition matches" against Akron and Chicago. After the All-Americans lost their last match against the Staleys, the league decided to count both those games. With their records now tied, the APFA awarded the title to Chicago, arguing that the last match mattered more, inadvertently creating the first NFL championship game. "The Staley Swindle" is believed by many to have left a Curse on Buffalo sports to this day. The Buffalo team changed its name a few times in subsequent years to the "Bisons" and "Rangers" before finally folding after 1929 thanks to the Great Depression; if one counts the Dayton Triangles as still surviving in some form, Buffalo was the last of the original NFL teams to fold.
- 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, becoming the first team ever to win multiple titles. 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 1926 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, theyre 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 didnt 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 (the Cowboys; see entry under NFC East) to Dallas when the AFL emerged with their own Dallas team, also named the Texans.note
- 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, when they were dissolved after losing 17 straight games. However, 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 both the New York Giants and 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 turned out to be a curse, as the far more popular baseball team largely dictated their schedule and forced them to mainly play away games to preserve their turf. This took away the Yanks' revenue and chance to build a local fanbase, and the team folded after 1951, having lasted twice as long in Boston than in Collins' initial 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 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 Phil-Pitt Combine, unofficially known as the Steagles, was the temporary merger between the Eagles and Steelers in 1943 after both teams lost a significant amount of players to military service during World War II. Some owners were opposed to the merger because they felt the combined roster would have an unfair advantage, never mind that the Eagles and Steelers were two of the worst teams in the league at the time. Eagles tackle Al Wistert put it best when he said "...all it meant was that we had twice as many lousy players." Most of the players on the Steagles (and most NFL teams during the war) were classified IV-F by the military, deeming them "unfit" to fight, with the reasons for deferment including blindness, deafness, ulcers, bad knees, and even flat feet. Additionally, all players were required to work full-time jobs off the field to help support the war effort.note The team was co-coached by the Eagles' Greasy Neale and the Steelers' Walt Kiesling, but the two famously didn't get along. They wound up splitting coaching duties for the season, with Neale handling the offense and Kiesling the defense, inadvertently creating the idea of having dedicated coordinators call plays for offense and defense. Despite these setbacks, the Steagles managed a 5-4-1 record, a game away from first place in the East Division.note The merger ended following the conclusion of the regular season, with the Eagles having enough players to go back on being their own team again. The Steelers, however, still didn't have enough players, and they merged with the Chicago Cardinals the following season to create Card-Pitt for that season only. This merger didn't go as well; they went 0-10 and were nicknamed the "Carpets" due to their opponents walking all over them. Neither team were ever officially considered their own teams for obvious reasons, but we figured their interesting histories should be mentioned anyway.
- 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 1928 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
The 17 games 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)
- 1 game against one cross-conference team that finished in the same position in their division (alternating home/away)
Basically, let's say we have the 2021 Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas City was first in their division, the AFC West, in 2020. In 2021, the AFC West is playing the AFC North and NFC East. 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 North teams (Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers), 4 games will be against all 4 NFC East teams (Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Football Team), 2 will be against the teams that came in first place of the AFC East (Buffalo Bills) and AFC South (Indianapolis Colts), and the last one will come against the first place team in the NFC North (Green Bay Packers). That's how a 17-game schedule is generated.
The 17-game schedule is brand new for the 2021 season; the league had previously played 16-game regular seasons with 4 preseason games since 1978. For years, owners have been pushing to extend the regular season to up to 18 games and reduce the preseason to two. 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 they would require that starters play more, thus increasing the risk of injuries in an already risky game. These changes have to be agreed upon during the labor contract talks the league has with the NFLPA; the most recent collective bargaining agreement was a compromise between the two camps, hence the odd number of games.
As of 2020, postseason qualification 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 six "wild-card" spots (three per conference) that are up for grabs. These go to the remaining teams with the best win percentages in the conference. 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 seven seeds. Seeds #1-4 go to the division champions in order of win percentage, while seeds #5-7 go to the wild cards in the same order. 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, (#2 playing #7, #3 playing #6, and #4 playing #5). The lower-ranking of the teams that win 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 their entire time in the playoffs.
There have also been calls to modify the playoff format, usually by changing qualification/seeding to be based purely on record. This usually gets called for when a division winner with a mediocre or even losing record makes it to the playoffs and ends up hosting a wild card team with a much stronger record; this 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 clinch a playoff spot with a losing record by winning their division; however, they lost their first-round playoff game.
The NFL Draft
As it currently stands, college football programs provide almost all 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 other sports 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.
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 Legacy 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 every February in Indianapolis since 1987 (save for 2021, when it was canceled due to the COVID-19 Pandemic). 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 classic Combine activity was the (in)famous Wonderlic Test, a basic intelligence test taken by the participants. The test contained 50 questions which had to be be answered within 12 minutes. While the results were supposed to be confidential, they were almost always leaked. Offensive Linemen and Quarterbacks performed the best on average, while Wide Receivers and Running Backs generally performed the worst. Defensive players tended to be scattered in between. A perfect 50 was 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 later scored 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.) In 2022, the NFL announced that it would no longer administer the controversial test.
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 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 and the order resets for the next round. (Ties are broken via strength of schedule and then, if needed, a coin flip.) This system frequently leads to middling teams attempting to "tank", a sort of "race to the bottom" scenario in which teams with no shot of making the Super Bowl sell off or bench good/decent players in order to lose more games and ensure a better chance to improve in the future. This is a controversial practice that can make the back half of the season tough for fans to watch and hard for players to swallow, since their livelihoods and futures are dependent on them playing well, not helping a team that will probably cut them prep for the future. Some have suggested that the NFL get around this problem by reconfiguring the draft to have a lottery system like the NBA and NHL, where the worst team is not guaranteed the best pick, but that seems unlikely to happen anytime soon.note
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, but the number of total picks adds up to slightly more than eight rounds. Most of the extra picks are 32 "compensatory picks", introduced in that same 1994 draft and distributed at the ends of rounds 3 through 7. These picks are awarded to teams that suffer a net loss of high-caliber free agents during the lead-in to each draft. A second and much smaller group of picks, known as "Resolution JC-2A picks", was introduced in 2021. The name refers to a league resolution that rewards teams for developing minority candidates for head coaching and general manager positions. JC-2A picks are awarded after the third-round compensatory picks. If a team has a qualifying candidate hired as either a head coach or general manager by any different NFL team, it receives one JC-2A pick in each of the next two drafts. Should a team have qualifying candidates hired away for both positions, it receives one such pick in each of the next three drafts.More details The draft had additional rounds in the past back when there were fewer teams (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, a quarterback drafted #2 overall in 1998 by the San Diego Chargers who was 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 five folders on the National Football League Notorious Figures page.
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 re-signed 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
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 two 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); and second, 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 and the sixth alternate at quarterback) to play in the game. Huge honor, indeed.
From 2014-16, the AFCNFC matchup was dropped in favor of a draft format, in an attempt to prevent one team having a massive skill advantage due to drop-outs. Only the team captains were assigned, and each was assisted in the selection process by a retired Hall of Fame player (for 2016, Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice) and the winner of either of two Fantasy Football competitions. The AFCNFC format returned in 2017, with the game moving to Orlando through the 2019 edition. The 2020 edition was canceled entirely due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and replaced with a Madden NFL tournament.
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. 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 discontinued after the AFL-NFL merger.
- Most Valuable Player: The award given to the player who is "considered the most valuable" during the NFL regular season since 1961.note It has almost exclusively gone to offensive players, specifically quarterbacks (with the occasional, increasingly-rare running back), to the point that some have mockingly suggested renaming it the "Most Valuable Quarterback" award.note Peyton Manning has a record five of themnote . 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: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packersnote
- Offensive Player of the Year: Given to the best offensive player of the year... kinda. Many view the award as the unofficial runner-up to MVP, given that those who fill out the ballots typically give their vote to someone not expected to win the top award in order to spread the love around (though sometimes it will just go to the MVP anyway). Again, quarterbacks and running backs are almost universally favored here, with the total tally leaning towards running backs. Marshall Faulk and Earl Campbell are tied for the most, with three each. (Each won all three in consecutive seasons.) WR 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?
- Most Recent Winner: Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titansnote
- 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, J.J. Watt, and Aaron Donald are tied for the most, with three each.
- Most Recent Winner: Aaron Donald, DT, Los Angeles Ramsnote
- Offensive Rookie of the Year: Best rookie on offense. Shockingly, for many years, this one didn't go to many quarterbacks. There was a 34-year period between QBs 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.note (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.note
- Most Recent Winner: Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargersnote
- Defensive Rookie of the Year: Best defensive rookie. Most commonly goes to linebackers or defensive linemen, though 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 six #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.note
- Most Recent Winner: Chase Young, DE, Washington Football Team
- Comeback Player of the Year: The redheaded stepchild of the awards. The AP issued it for a few seasons (1963-66), ditched it for decades, and brought it back in 1998 after CFL legend Doug Flutie returned to the States to great success. (Most publications recognize the Pro Football Weekly version of the award as the most "official" one issued during this hiatus.) "Comeback" has many definitions in sports—a comeback player could be one who came back from a massive injury (Peyton Manning, 2012note ), a non-injury absence (Michael Vick, 2010note ), 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 ). Due to these different interpretations, this one often creates the most arguments among fans. In the past decade, 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.
- Most Recent Winner: Alex Smith, QB, Washington Football Teamnote
- Coach of the Year: Surprisingly, 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 one who was just hired to a new team and turns them from losers to playoff contenders. 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. The late Don Shula, coach of the league's only "perfect" season (the 1972 Dolphins), has a record four of them.note
- Most Recent Winner: Kevin Stefanski, Cleveland Brownsnote
- 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, typically an offensive or defensive coordinator.
- Most Recent Winner: Brian Daboll, Buffalo Bills, OC
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: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawksnote
- Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award: Named for the founding owner of the Steelers, this award goes to the player viewed as "most sportsmanlike", typically someone known as a Nice Guy on and off the field. 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: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Carolina Panthersnote
- Deacon Jones Player of the Year: Named for the legendary defensive lineman, this award automatically goes to the player who records the most sacks in an NFL season.
- Most Recent Winner: T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers, LB
- Play of the Year: Presented at the NFL Honors since 2011, honoring the most exciting play of the year.
- Most Recent Winner: "Hail Murray"note
- 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: Brandon Beane, GM, Buffalo Bills
- NFL Top 100: Not a formal "award" but still an honor held in high regard among players as it's actually selected by them. Since 2011, NFL Network tallies active players for their rankings of their peers every year and unveils the list over multiple specials in the weeks before the season starts back up. This methodology means that defensive and position players are a little more likely to get their shine and even reach the very top spot (J.J. Watt in 2015, Aaron Donald in 2019). Like any ranked list, its criteria inevitably get questioned by fans. Since the lists are meant to rank the players for the upcoming season, those who retire are not eligible regardless of their performance the year prior. Additionally, popularity does play a great influence in the order, and since the list begins accepting ballots before the end of the postseason, rankings can often seem somewhat outdated by the time they're finally revealed.
- Most Recent #1: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
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; over 25,000 players have taken the field in the league's 100+ year history, and many of them have playing careers and life stories that are even more fascinating than those in the Hall. All of these players were well-known stars in their day; many spun that stardom off into roles in other works, and even those that were more camera-shy are still likely to be referenced in works released during and after their playing careers, so it's worth knowing why they were famous to begin with.
Due to length, the National Football League Names to Know page had to be split off into multiple pages (though it still contains an entry on Jim Thorpe, a legendary founding player whose life and career defy categorization). Information about other individual NFL figures can now be found on:
- National Football League Quarterbacks: Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- NFL Offensive Players: Running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and offensive linemen.
- NFL Defensive and Special Teams Players: Defensive linemen, linebackers, defensive backs, kickers, punters, return specialists, and gunners.
- National Football League Non-Player Figures: Notable coaches, commissioners, owners, and broadcasters.
- National Football League Notorious Figures: Draft busts, on-field or front-office failures, and controversial figures.
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.