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A Beginners Guide to American Football and the NFL
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A Beginners Guide to American Football and the NFL

What is American Football, and how did the NFL begin?

American football was first created in the 19th century. There are a lot of stories connecting it back to our football (their soccer), and rugby, but let’s not start an argument here… Ultimately it involves passing, kicking, and running with an oval shaped ball, and teams play across a standard 100-yard field. 

The sport is a massive hit and has become arguably the most popular sport in America. There are a lot of people that play the game for their specific school or college before making it into a professional league like the National Football League. 

The sport of American football is wildly popular, with the first game of the 2021 NFL regular season picking up a whopping 26 million viewers! But before we get started, you have to know when games are usually played. In the NFL, we get one game on Thursday Night, which is aptly called Thursday Night Football (For us, it’s very early hours on Friday, kicking off at 1:20am). Then there are no games on Friday or Saturday, but the full slate of games comes on Sunday. 

The majority of games kick off at 6pm, with a couple more around 9:05pm and 9:25pm, then one big matchup at 1:20am. Monday night (again, very early hours Tuesday as it kicks off around 1:15am) then holds the last and final game of that specific week, holding a night-time game similar to both Sunday and Thursday. 

There is a good amount of time throughout the week without any American football whatsoever, which could end up being weird for some fans. However, everybody gets used to that at some point! Let’s now get into what a standard season is in the NFL. 

What is in a standard NFL season?

First things first, we have the preseason. The preseason used to be four exhibition matches where teams would usually rest their starters in order to get a good look at their backups. It allows teams to come to a decision easier on who will be released from their roster and who will be able to stick around for a little bit longer. 

As of this past year, the preseason has been trimmed down to just three exhibition games, with that fourth week acting as a rest period for some teams. 

Once every franchise is able to trim their rosters and make it out of those exhibition matches, they enter the regular season which we mentioned earlier. It used to be a 17-game season with one bye week. Every team has a different bye week, which means they do not have to play a game and can either rest or get extra practice in.

The regular season format also changed this past year, with it now being an 18-game season including the bye week. The regular season is one of the most important to a team, as their record in these games determines if they can make it into the postseason or not.

The playoffs take the best seven teams from each conference record wise and have them battle it out. The team with the best record in each conference gets a first round bye week, while the remaining six teams face each other in the Wild Card Round to determine who gets to play who. 

Next is the Divisional Round, which pits the final four teams of each conference against one another once more. The AFC and NFC Championship games come that following week, with just four teams left in the race for a national championship.

The winner of each conference moves into what is called the Super Bowl. This is one of the largest sporting events of the year and is the final game of that specific NFL season. The winner receives the Lombardi Trophy, and everybody gets incredibly flashy diamond rings that are personalised to the score of the game and the team that won it. 

How is the game played? 

Well, first off you have two sides, an offense and a defense. The offense consists of a quarterback, offensive line, running back, tight end and wide receivers. The quarterback throws the football, the offensive line blocks for the quarterback and running back, the running back takes handoffs and runs, and the receivers/tight ends catch passes from the quarterback. It is an entire system but the main goal for them is that they have to score points. They could either kick a field goal for three points or end up getting into the end zone for six points plus the extra point kick afterwards.

Defenses whole purpose is to stop offenses from doing their job. To have a successful defense you need at least three linebackers, a good defensive line, two deep safeties and cornerbacks. Defensive lines are supposed to line up with offensive line members, linebackers are usually right in the middle of the field, same goes for the safeties and cornerbacks line up with each receiver. 

When the offense first retains possession of the football, they have to get into the end zone like we mentioned earlier. The way to do that is to march down the field picking up first downs. Offenses start off with a first and ten situations, where they have to advance the football ten yards for a fresh set of downs. You can only run a max of four downs to advance past that position and pick up a first down.

The majority of teams around the world have grown to the standard of punting the football when they reach fourth down, though you could elect to go for it if you want too. Punting the ball allows you to give the football to the other team but launch it all the way down the field so they have further to go before they can score points. Going for it on fourth down does give you another chance, but it also gives them the football in the same spot if you aren’t able to convert.

Offenses could also lose possession of the football if they turn it over. There are numerous ways to turn the football over. The most common form of turning the football over is when a quarterback throws an interception.

An interception is when a defensive player catches a pass that the opposing teams quarterback threw. Whether they jumped in front of a receiver or caught a ball that was tipped into the air, that player can then return it and try to pick up a touchdown for his team. Wherever he ends up getting tackled is where his team’s offense will take over. Another type of turnover is the fumble. Every player has to hold onto the football, if they get it knocked away from them it becomes a live ball. Any player on the field can then land onto the football and take possession for their team. Just like an interception, wherever a player goes after grabbing the fumble is where the possession will resume or start.

Finally, we come to the safety. This is the least common form of turnover but every once in a while, it strikes a team. If an offense takes control of the football at their one-yard line, they have to do everything in their power to get out of their own end zone. If an opposing player tackles you while you are in your own end zone, the other team gets awarded two points and get the football back. You never want to be on the receiving end for one of these, they can suck the life out of a team who is battling to stay competitive in a game. 

Why should you give it a watch?

There are a ton of reasons to give American football a shot. The teams are always very competitive and bring the most out of one another. The way that the seasons are situated help make for a very intense environment the majority of the time.

It is also a sport that many people around the world love, not just in America – it’s a sport that has grown massively over here in the UK and generally across Europe too. I’ve no doubt there is a bar local to you where you can watch the games. So, if you end up having some time on a Sunday, I suggest tuning into a game and seeing how it goes! If you don’t have Sky, you can catch the highlights on the likes of the BBC during the week.

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