It is that time of the year, sure the regular season is over but this is the really season, when favorite football teams are heading into the playoffs and the “Big” game is looming and taking over the news and TV. If you are a fan of the sport it is like Christmas and you can’t get enough football. If you are not a fan but you have been pulled into the all consuming gravitational pull of the sport by friends or relatives, I am offering a little primer so that you can attend the parties and enjoy actually watching the game.
First lets talk about the NFL and how it is structured and what all this playoff mess means. The NFL as we know it has been around since 1966 when the legacy NFL merged with an upstart league(AFL). Now we have a single league (ignore what is happening in Canada) that is broken into two conferences, each conference is broken into 4 divisions and each division has 4 teams. Which means that there are 32 teams in total (for now) and each year the play games to determine who will represent their conference in the Championship game at the end of the season.
How all that works can be messy and I will have to write something else to cover that. For now lets look at the game itself.
A game is played between two teams. A the beginning of the game the captains flip a coin to determine who will get the ball first. The team with the ball is on the offensive and the team without the ball is on the defensive. There are 11 players allowed on the field for each side of the ball, if one side has more than 11 then they will get in trouble.
The goal: score more points that your opponent by:
Scoring a touchdown by bringing the ball into the opposing team’s end zone. (6pts)
Kicking the ball through the upright posts in the opposing team’s end zone. (3pts)
Kicking the ball through the upright posts in the opposing team’s end zone after you have scored a touchdown (1pt)
Bring the ball (catch or carry) into the opposing team’s end zone after you have scored a touchdown (2pt)
Tackling a ball carrier in the their own end zone — called a safety — (2pts)
The offense moves the ball down the field and given 4 plays to move the ball in 10 yard increments, each play is called a “DOWN”. The Offense can throw the ball (pass) or run the ball (rush).
Each player has a specific role or position that they are filling. Here are some of the important offensive positions:
Quarterback – The Field General to typically hands the ball to a runner or throws the ball to a receiver. The call the play on the field and can change the play if they think the defense is doing something that will prevent the original play from working.
Receiver — runs down the field and catches the ball
Running Back — takes the ball and runs down the field.
(group) Offensive Line — Protects the Quarterback or clears the defense out of the way for Running Backs.
Here are some of the important defensive positions:
(group) Defensive Line — Get through the Offensive line to tackle Quarterback before he throws the ball – and prevent runners from carrying the ball. (Term: Pass Rush — get to quarterback before he throws the ball).
Line Backers — Covers the middle of the field making sure no one catches a ball there or runs through the Defensive line.
Corner Backs — Runs with receivers to prevent the catching of the ball (if they catch it, then their team gets to keep the ball).
Saftey — Typically the last line of defense.
Keeping up so far? Good because from a basics perspective that is all there really is, sure you can go deep and learn about the different types of offenses (beware the Wild Cat — a popular college formation that coaches in the NFL keep trying with usually bad outcomes). If you are really feeling energetic you can hunt down more info on defenses (my favorite part of the game).
At the end as a football newbie remember this one bit of advice and you will fine. The zebras (referees) are always wrong and the commentators are always idiots and the puppy bowl is more entertaining than a Coldplay halftime show.