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National Football League
188
National Football League
Formerly American Professional Football Conference (1920)
American Professional Football Association (1920–1921)
Sport American football
Founded September 17, 1920; 100 years ago (1920-09-17)
Inaugural season [[1920 in sports|1920]]
No. of teams 32
Country(ies) United States
Most recent champion(s) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(2nd title)
Most championships Green Bay Packers
(13 titles)
TV partner(s) CBS
Fox
NBC
ESPN
NFL Network
Telemundo Deportes

The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league consisting of 32 teams, divided equally between the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The NFL is one of the four major North American professional sports leagues, the highest professional level of American football in the world, the wealthiest professional sport league by revenue, and the sport league with the most valuable teams. The NFL's 17-week regular season runs from early September to late December, with each team playing 16 games and having one bye week. Following the conclusion of the regular season, seven teams from each conference (four division winners and three wild card teams) advance to the playoffs, a single-elimination tournament culminating in the Super Bowl, which is usually held on the first Sunday in February and is played between the champions of the NFC and AFC. The league is headquartered in New York City.

The NFL was formed in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association (APFA) before renaming itself the National Football League for the 1922 season. After initially determining champions through end-of-season standings, a playoff system was implemented in 1933 that culminated with the NFL Championship Game until 1966. Following an agreement to merge the NFL with the rival American Football League (AFL), the Super Bowl was first held in 1967 to determine a champion between the best teams from the two leagues and has remained as the final game of each NFL season since the merger was completed in 1970. Today, the NFL has the highest average attendance (67,591) of any professional sports league in the world and is the most popular sports league in the United States. The Super Bowl is also among the biggest club sporting events in the world, with the individual games accounting for many of the most watched television programs in American history and all occupying the Nielsen's Top 5 tally of the all-time most watched U.S. television broadcasts by 2015.

The Green Bay Packers hold the most combined NFL championships with 13, winning nine titles before the Super Bowl era and four Super Bowls afterwards. Since the creation of the Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots both have the most championship titles at six.

History of the NFL

Titans Texans
A NFL game between the Tennessee Titans (in blue) and the Houston Texans (in white)

In 1920, an American football league was formed. It was called the American Professional Football Association. In 1921 it changed its name to the National Football League. In 1960 another league was formed, called the American Football League. In 1970 the National Football League and the American Football League joined together so that the teams from each league could play each other. The league called the National Football League changed its name to the National Football Conference (usually called the NFC) and the league called the American Football League changed its name to the American Football Conference (usually called the AFC). The two conferences together are now called the National Football League. People can also call it by the acronym NFL for short.

Teams

Because the U.S. is a big country and it would be hard for teams to travel a long way to play other teams, the teams are separated into smaller regional divisions based on where they are in the country. The teams are separated like this:

Teams in the AFC

Teams in the east

Teams in the north

Teams in the south

Teams in the west

Teams in the NFC

Teams in the east

Teams in the north

Teams in the south

Teams in the west

Schedule

The teams in the NFL play games against each other from September to January. This time is called a season. Each team plays 16 games. This is how which games a team will play is chosen:

  • Each team plays a game against all the other teams in their regional league twice, once at their own stadium (this is called playing "at home") and once at the other team's home stadium (this is called playing "away").
  • Each team will also play all the teams in another regional league in the same conference (AFC or NFC). They will play two of those teams at home and two of the teams away. The other regional league that they play changes every year. For example, a team in the AFC North will play teams in the AFC South one year, the AFC East the next year, the AFC West the year after that, and then the AFC South again the year after that.
  • Each team will also play all the teams in one of the regional leagues from the other conference. They will play two of these teams at home and the other two teams away. The regional league from the other conference changes every year too. For example a team in the AFC North will play teams from the NFC North one year, then teams from the NFC South the next year, then teams from the NFC West the next year, then teams from the NFC East the next year, then teams from the NFC North again the next year.
  • Each team will also play two teams from the same conference in the regional league that they are not already supposed to play against. The teams that they play will be the teams that were about as good as they were last season and finished in the same position in their own regional leagues. For example if we look at a team in the AFC North that finished 3rd out of the 4 teams in the AFC North, if this team is going to play all the teams in the AFC West this year anyway, they will play the teams that finished 3rd in the AFC East and the AFC South.

Flexible-scheduling

Since the 2006 season, the NFL has used a "flexible-scheduling" system for the last seven weeks of the regular season where there is a Sunday night game. The system is designed so that the league has the flexibility in selecting games to air on Sunday night that will feature the current hottest, streaking teams.

Under the system, all Sunday games in the affected weeks will tentatively have the "early" start time of 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, except those played in the Pacific or Mountain time zones, which will have the tentative start time of 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT. On the Tuesday 12 days before the games, the league will move one game to the prime-time slot, and possibly move one or more 1 p.m. slotted games to the 4 p.m. slot. During the last week of the season, the league could re-schedule games as late as six days before the contests so that as many of the television networks as possible will be able to broadcast a game that has playoff implications.

Playoffs

At the end of every NFL season, the eight teams that finish the season at the top of their leagues and two teams from each conference that were the best teams apart from the eight league winners (these four teams are called Wild Cards) enter a competition to see who is the best team in the whole league. This is called the Playoffs. There are a total of 12 teams in the Playoffs, six from the NFC and six from the AFC. The six teams in each conference are listed in order of how well they played in the season. This is called seeding and it is done to make it easier for the better teams to win. The teams that did not win their leagues (the Wild Cards) are always the fifth and sixth seeds in the list, even if they were better than a team that won a different league.

Wild Card games

In the first part of the playoffs (called Wild Card Weekend) there are four games.

  • the team that was the sixth best in the AFC plays the team that was the third best in the AFC
  • the team that was the fifth best in the AFC plays the team that was the fourth best in the AFC
  • the team that was the sixth best in the NFC plays the team that was the third best in the NFC
  • the team that was the fifth best in the NFC plays the team that was the fourth best in the NFC

The teams that lose these games are not in the playoffs competition any more. Now there are only 8 teams left.

Division playoffs

In the second part of the playoffs (called the Divisional Playoffs) there are four games.

  • the lowest seeded team from the AFC that won in the last round plays the best team in the AFC
  • the other team from the AFC that won in the last round plays the second best team in the AFC
  • the lowest seeded team from the NFC that won in the last round plays the best team in the NFC
  • the other team from the NFC that won in the last round plays the second best team in the NFC

The teams that lose these games are not in the playoffs competition any more. Now there are only 4 teams left.

Conference championships

In the third part of the playoffs (called the Conference Championship Games) there are two games.

  • the two teams from the AFC that won in the last round play each other. The winner is the AFC Champion.
  • the two teams from the NFC that won in the last round play each other. The winner is the NFC Champion.

Super Bowl

The last part of the playoffs is called the Super Bowl. The AFC Champion and the NFC Champion teams play each other to decide who is the best team in the NFL.

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