National Football League
|Upcoming season or competition:
2013 NFL season
|Formerly||American Professional Football Conference (1920)
American Professional Football Association (1920–1922)
|Founded||August 20, 1920|
|No. of teams||32|
|Most recent champion(s)||Baltimore Ravens (2nd title)|
|Most titles||Green Bay Packers (13 titles)|
The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league composed of 32 teams divided equally between the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The highest level of professional football in the world, the NFL runs a 17-week regular season from the week after Labor Day to the week after Christmas, with each team playing sixteen games and having one bye week. Out of the league's 32 teams, six (four division winners and two wild-card teams) from each conference compete in the NFL playoffs, a single-elimination tournament culminating in the Super Bowl, played between the champions of the NFC and AFC. Most games are played on Sundays, with games regularly held on Mondays and Thursdays.
The NFL was formed on August 20, 1920, as the American Professional Football Conference; the league changed its name to the American Professional Football Association (APFA) on September 17, 1920, and changed its name to the National Football League on June 24, 1922, after spending the 1920 and 1921 seasons as the APFA. In 1966, the NFL agreed to merge with the rival American Football League (AFL), effective 1970; the first Super Bowl was held at the end of that same season in January 1967. 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 among the biggest club sporting events in the world and individual Super Bowl games account for many of the most-watched programs in American history.
Out of the league's 32 current teams, only six have failed to win at least one NFL or AFL championship. Eighteen teams have won at least one Super Bowl and all but four have appeared in at least one Super Bowl. The Green Bay Packers have the most NFL championships (13), followed by the Chicago Bears (9) and the New York Giants (8). The Pittsburgh Steelers have the most Super Bowl wins (6), followed by the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers (5). The current champions are the Baltimore Ravens, who beat the 49ers 34-31 in Super Bowl XLVII to secure their second league championship.
Founding and history
On August 20, 1920, a meeting was held by representatives of the Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Indians, and Dayton Triangles at the Jordan and Hupmobile auto showroom in Canton, Ohio. This meeting resulted in the formation of the American Professional Football Conference (APFC), a group who, according to the Canton Evening Repository, intended to "raise the standard of professional football in every way possible, to eliminate bidding for players between rival clubs and to secure cooperation in the formation of schedules". Another meeting held on September 17, 1920 resulted in the renaming of the league to the American Professional Football Association (APFA). Although the league did not maintain official standings for their 1920 inaugural season and teams played schedules that included non-league opponents, the APFA awarded the Akron Pros the championship by virtue of their 8–0–3 (8 wins, 0 losses, and 3 ties) record. The following season resulted in the Chicago Staleys controversially winning the title over the Buffalo All-Americans. In 1922, the APFA changed their name to the National Football League (NFL). The Canton Bulldogs managed to win the next two titles before the Cleveland Bulldogs won the next one. In 1932, the season ended with the Chicago Bears (6-1-6) and the Portsmouth Spartans (6-1-4) tied for first in the league standings. At the time, teams were ranked on a single table and the team with the highest winning-loss record (not including ties, which were not counted towards the standings) at the end of the season was declared the champion. This method has been used since the league's creation in 1920 but the league determined that a playoff game was needed to decide the champion. The teams were originally scheduled to play the playoff game (officially a regular season game that would count towards the regular season standings) at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois, but a combination of heavy snow and extreme cold forced the game to be moved indoors to Chicago Stadium, which didn't even have a regulation-size field. Playing with altered rules to accommodate the smaller playing field, the Bears won the game 9-0 and thus won the championship. The fan interest in the de facto championship game led the NFL to, beginning in 1933, split into two divisions with a championship game to be played between the division champions.
Although the NFL was the dominant football league and faced little competition from leagues (including three separate American Football Leagues and the All-America Football Conference, none of which lasted for more than four seasons), a new professional league, the fourth American Football League (AFL), began play in 1960. The upstart AFL began to challenge the established NFL in popularity, gaining lucrative television contracts and engaging in a bidding war with the NFL for free agents and draft picks. The two leagues announced a merger on June 8, 1966, to take full effect in 1970. In the meantime, the leagues would hold a common draft and championship game. The game, the Super Bowl, was held four times before the merger, with the NFL winning the first two and the AFL winning the last two.
Season and playoff development
From 1920 to 1934, the NFL did not have a set number of games for teams to play, instead setting a minimum. The league mandated a 12-game regular season for each team beginning in 1935, later shortening this to 11 games in 1937 and 10 games in 1943. This total was again increased to 11 games in 1946 and to 12 in 1947. The NFL went to a 14-game schedule in 1961, which it retained until switching to the current 16-game schedule in 1978.
The NFL operated in a two-conference system from 1933 to 1966, where the champions of each conference would meet in the NFL Championship Game. If two teams tied for the conference lead, they would meet in a one-game playoff to determine the conference champion. In 1967, the NFL expanded from 15 teams to 16 teams. Instead of just evening out the conferences by adding the expansion New Orleans Saints to the seven-member Western Conference, the NFL realigned the conferences and split each into two four-team divisions. The four conference champions would meet in the NFL playoffs, a two-round playoff. The NFL also operated the Playoff Bowl (officially the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl) from 1960 to 1969. Effectively a third-place game, pitting the two conference runners-up against each other, the league considers Playoff Bowls to have been exhibitions rather than playoff games. The league discontinued the Playoff Bowl in 1970 due to its perception as a game for losers.
Following the addition of the former AFL teams into the NFL in 1970, the NFL split into two conferences with three divisions each. The expanded league, now with twenty-six teams, would also feature an expanded eight-team eight playoff, the participants being the three division champions from each conference as well as one 'wild card' team (the team with the best win-loss percentage) from each conference. In 1978, the league added a second wild card team from each conference, bringing the total number of playoff teams to ten, and a further two wild card teams were added in 1990 to bring the total to twelve. When the NFL expanded to 32 teams in 2002, the league realigned, changing the division structure from three divisions in each conference to four divisions in each conference. As each division champion gets a playoff bid, the number of wild card teams from each conference dropped from three to two.
The National Football League is an unincorporated nonprofit 501(c)(6) association, meaning its league office is not subject to income tax because it does not make a profit. In contrast, each individual team is subject to tax because they make a profit. The NFL considers itself a trade association made up of and financed by its 32 member teams. The league has three defined officers: the Commissioner, Secretary, and Treasurer. Each conference has one officer, the President. The Commissioner is elected by affirmative vote of two-thirds or 18 (whichever is greater) of the members of the league, while the president of each conference is elected by an affirmative vote of three-fourths or ten of the conference members. The Commissioner appoints the Secretary and Treasurer and has broad authority in disputes between clubs, players, coaches, and employees. He is the "principal executive officer" of the NFL and also has authority in hiring league employees, negotiating television contracts, disciplining individuals that own part or all of an NFL team, clubs, or employed individuals of an NFL club if they have violated league bylaws or committed "conduct detrimental to the welfare of the League or professional football". The Commissioner can, in the event of misconduct by a party associated with the league, suspend individuals, hand down a fine of up to USD $500,000, cancel contracts with the league, and/or award or strip teams of draft picks. In extremely egregious cases, the Commissioner can offer recommendations to the NFL's Executive Committee up to and including the "cancellation or forfeiture" of a club's franchise or any other action he deems necessary. The Commissioner can also issue sanctions up to and including a lifetime ban from the league if an individual connected to the NFL has bet on games or failed to notify the league of conspiracies or plans to bet on or fix games. The current Commissioner of the NFL is Roger Goodell, who was elected in 2006 after Paul Tagliabue, the previous Commissioner, retired.
The NFL preseason begins with the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, played at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Each NFL team is required to schedule four preseason games, two of which must be at their home stadium. The teams involved in the Hall of Fame game, as well as any teams in an American Bowl game, play five preseason games. Preseason games are exhibition matches and do not count towards regular-season totals.
|AFC East||AFC North||AFC South||AFC West|
|NFC East||NFC North||NFC South||NFC West|
The National Football League runs a seventeen-week, 256 game regular season. Since 2001, the season has begun the week after Labor Day and concludes the week after Christmas. The opening game of the season is a primetime home game for the league's defending champion. As of the 2012 season games are run on Sundays, with a Monday night game occurring once a week (except in week 1, where there are two, and week 17, where there are none) and Thursday night games occurring on most weeks as well. Games are not normally played on Fridays or Saturdays, as federal law prohibits professional football leagues from competing with college or high school football games, which are traditionally played on those days. The NFL can host games on either date beginning the third Friday in December and occasionally does so. NFL games are rarely scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday, and those days have only been used twice since 1948: in 2010 when a Sunday game was rescheduled to Tuesday due to a blizzard, and in 2012 when the Kickoff game was moved from Thursday to Wednesday because of the Democratic National Convention.
NFL regular season matchups are determined according to a scheduling formula. Within a division, all four teams play fourteen out of their sixteen games against common opponents - two games (home and away) against the other teams in the division and all the members of an NFC and AFC division as determined by a rotating three-year cycle. The other two games are intraconference games determined by the standings of the previous year (for example, the first-place team in a division will play two first-place teams from a different division in their conference). In total, each team plays sixteen games and has one bye week, where they do not play any games. Although the teams any given club will play are known by the end of the previous year's regular season, the exact dates, times, and home/away status for NFL games are not determined until later because the league has to account for, among other things, the Major League Baseball postseason and local events that could conflict with games. During the 2010 season, over 500,000 potential schedules were created by computers, 5,000 of which were considered "playable schedules" and thus reviewed by the NFL's scheduling team. After arriving at the best schedule out of the group, nearly 50 more potential schedules were developed to ensure that the chosen schedule would be the best possible one.
Following the conclusion of the regular season a twelve-team single elimination tournament, the NFL Playoffs, is held. Six teams are selected from each conference: the winners of each of the four divisions as well as two wild card teams (the two remaining teams with the best overall record). These teams are seeded according to overall record, with the division champions always ranking higher than either of the wild card teams. The top two teams (seeded one and two) from each conference are awarded a bye week, while the remaining four teams (seeded 3-6) from each conference compete in the first round of the playoffs, the Wild Card round, with the 3 seed competing against the 6 seed and the 4 seed competing against the 5 seed. The winners of the Wild Card round advance to the Divisional Round, which matches the lower seeded team against the 1 seed and higher seeded team matching up against the 2 seed. The winners of those games then compete in the Conference Championships, with the higher remaining seed hosting the lower remaining seed. The AFC and NFC champions then compete in the Super Bowl to determine the league champion.
The only other postseason event hosted by the NFL is the Pro Bowl, the league's all-star game pitting the AFC against the NFC. The game is held the week before the Super Bowl at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The National Football league has used three different trophies to honor their champion over their existence. The first trophy, the Brunswick-Balke Collender Cup, was donated to the NFL (then APFA) in 1920 by the Brunswick-Balke Collender Corporation. The trophy, whose appearance is only known by its description as a "silver loving cup", was intended to be a traveling trophy and not to become permanent until a team had won at least three titles. The league awarded it to the Akron Pros, champions of the inaugural 1920 season; however, it was discontinued and its current whereabouts are unknown. A second traveling trophy, the Ed Thorp Memorial Trophy, was issued by the NFL from 1934 to 1969, and each champion was also awarded a replica trophy to keep. The current location of the Ed Thorp trophy, like that of its predecessor, is unknown, the predominant theory being that the Minnesota Vikings (the last team awarded the trophy) somehow misplaced it after the 1969 season.
The current trophy of the NFL is the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Unlike the previous trophies, a Vince Lombardi Trophy is issued every year for the current champion, who maintains permanent control of it. Lombardi Trophies are made by Tiffany & Co. out of sterling silver and are worth anywhere from USD $25,000 to $300,000. Additionally, each player on the winning team is awarded a Super Bowl ring to commemorate their victory, the design of which varies each year but always features the winning team's logo, name, and their designation as world champions.
The conference champions receive trophies for their achievement. The champions of the NFC receive the George Halas Trophy while the AFC champions receive the Lamar Hunt Trophy. Players on the winning team also receive a conference championship ring.
In the United States, the National Football League has television contracts with four networks: CBS, ESPN, FOX, and NBC. CBS televises all Sunday afternoon AFC intraconference games, while FOX does likewise for the NFC. If a game is interconference, the conference affiliation of the visiting team determines which network will host the game. NBC carries the primetime Sunday Night Football package, the NFL Kickoff game, and a primetime Thanksgiving game. ESPN carries all Monday Night Football games. The NFL's own network, NFL Network, carries Thursday Night Football games. The Super Bowl television rights are rotated on a three-year basis between CBS, FOX, and NBC (in that order). In 2011, all four stations signed new nine-year contracts with the NFL to run until 2022; CBS, FOX, and NBC are each estimated by Forbes to a combined total of USD 3 billion (27 billion in total over the nine-year contract), while ESPN will pay 1.9 billion a year. The league also has deals with Spanish-language broadcasters Telemundo and ESPN Deportes, which air Sunday and Monday Night Football, respectively. The NFL has a blackout policy in which games are 'blacked out' on local television if a stadium is not sold out. Clubs can elect to set this requirement at only 85%, but they would have to give more ticket revenue to the visiting team, and they can request an exemption from the NFL for the game. The vast majority of games are not subject to the blackout rule, with only 6% of games being blacked out during the 2011 season. According to Nielsen, the 2012 NFL regular season was watched by 200 million individuals, accounting for 80% of all television households and 69% of all potential viewers. NFL regular season games accounted for 31 out of the top 32 most-watched programs in the fall season and an NFL game ranked as the most-watched television show in all 17 weeks of the regular season. At the local level, NFL games were the highest-ranked shows in NFL markets 92% of the time. Super Bowls account for 22 of the most-watched programs in total audience in US history, including a record 164.1 million people that watched the most recent Super Bowl, Super Bowl XLVII.
In addition to radio networks run by each NFL team, select NFL games are broadcast nationally by Dial Global. These games are broadcast on over 500 networks, giving all NFL markets access to each primetime game. The NFL's deal with Dial was extended in 2012 and will run through 2017.
Each April, the NFL holds a draft of college players. The draft consists of seven rounds, with each of the 32 clubs getting one pick in each round. The draft order for non-playoff teams is determined by overall record, while playoff teams are ranked the same way but are done so by the round of the playoffs they got to. Regardless of record, the Super Bowl champion drafts last and the runner-up drafts second-to-last. As all NFL players must be at least three years removed from high school, only players that are at least three years removed from high school can be drafted. Underclassmen that have met that criteria to be eligible for the draft must write an application to the NFL by January 15 renouncing their remaining college eligibility. Clubs can trade away picks for future draft picks, but cannot trade the rights to players they have selected in previous drafts.
Aside from the 32 picks each club gets, compensatory draft picks are given to teams that have lost more compensatory free agents than they have gained. These are spread out from rounds 3 to 7, and a total of 32 are given. Clubs are required to make their selection within a certain period of time, the exact time depending on which round the pick is made in. If they fail to do so on time, the clubs behind them can begin to select their players in order. This happened in the 2003 Draft, when the Minnesota Vikings failed to make their selection on time. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers were able to make their picks before the Vikings were able to use theirs. Selected players are only allowed to negotiate contracts with the team that picked them, but if they choose not to sign they become eligible for next year's draft. Under the current collective bargaining contract, all contracts to drafted players must be four-year deals with a club option for a fifth. Contracts themselves are limited to a certain amount of money, depending on the exact draft pick the player was selected with. Players who were draft eligible but not picked in the draft are free to sign with any club.
The NFL operates several other drafts in addition to the NFL Draft. The league holds a supplemental draft annually. Clubs submit emails to the league with the player they wish to select and the round they will do so, and the team with the highest bid wins the rights to that player. The exact order is determined by a lottery held before the draft, and a successful bid for a player will result in the team forfeiting the rights to their pick in the equivalent round of the next NFL Draft. Players are only eligible for the supplemental draft after being granted a petition for special eligibility. The league holds expansion drafts, the most recent happening in 2002 when the Houston Texans began play as an expansion team. Other drafts held by the league include an allocation draft in 1950 to allocate players from several teams that played in the dissolved All-America Football Conference and a Supplemental Draft in 1984 to give NFL teams the rights to players who had been eligible for the main draft but had not been drafted because they had signed contracts with the United States Football League or Canadian Football League. Like the other major sports leagues in the United States, the NFL maintains protocol for a disaster draft. In the event of a 'near disaster' (less than 15 players killed or disabled) that caused the club to lose a quarterback, they could draft one from a team with at least three quarterbacks. In the event of a 'disaster' (15 or more players killed or disabled) that results in a club's season being cancelled, a restocking draft would be held. Neither of these have protocols have ever had to be implemented.
The NFL consists of thirty-two clubs divided into two conferences of sixteen teams each. Each conference is divided into four divisions of four clubs each. During the regular season, each team is allowed a maximum of fifty-three players on their roster; only forty-six of these may be active (eligible to play) on game days. Teams can also have an eight-player practice squad separate from their main roster, but the practice squad may only be composed of players who were not active for at least nine games in any of their seasons in the league. A player can only be on a practice squad for a maximum of three seasons.
Each NFL club is granted a franchise, the league's authorization for the team to operate in their city. This franchise covers 'Home Territory' (the 75 miles surrounding the city limits, or, if the team is within 100 miles of another league city, half the distance between the two cities) and 'Home Marketing Area' (Home Territory plus the rest of the state the club operates in, as well as the area the team operates their training camp in for the duration of the camp). Each NFL member has the exclusive right to operate to host professional football games inside their Home Territory and the exclusive right to advertise, promote, and host events in their Home Marketing Area. There are several exceptions to this rule, mostly relating to teams with close proximity to each other: the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders only have exclusive rights in their cities and share rights outside of it and teams that operate in the same city (e.g. New York Giants and New York Jets) or the same state (e.g. California, Florida, and Texas) share the rights to the city's Home Territory and the state's Home Marketing Area, respectively. The Los Angeles home territory has no team, but is "owned and controlled" by the league.
Every NFL team is based in the contiguous United States. Although no team is based in a foreign country, the Buffalo Bills play one home game each year at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada as part of the Bills Toronto Series and the Jacksonville Jaguars will begin playing one home game a year from 2013-16 at Wembley Stadium in London, England as part of the NFL International Series. Mexico also has hosted an NFL regular-season game, a 2005 game between San Francisco and Arizona dubbed "Fútbol Americano", and 39 international pre-season (exhibition) games were played from 1986-2005 as part of the American Bowl series.
The Dallas Cowboys, at approximately USD $2.1 billion, are the most valuable NFL franchise according to Forbes. Two other franchises, the New England Patriots and the Washington Redskins, are worth USD $1.6 billion or greater. The Cowboys are also the most valuable sports franchise in the United States and are tied with the New York Yankees for the third-most valuable sports team in the world; only soccer clubs Manchester United and Real Madrid are valued higher than the Cowboys. All 32 NFL teams rank among the top 50 most valuable sports teams in the world.
Free agents in the National Football League are divided into restricted free agents, who have three accrued seasons and whose current contract has expired, and unrestricted free agents, who have four or more accrued seasons and whose contract has expired. An accrued season is "six or more regular-season games on a club's active/inactive, reserved/injured or reserve/physically unable to perform lists". Restricted free agents are allowed to negotiate with other clubs besides their old club, but the old club has the right to match any offer. If they choose not to, they are compensated with draft picks. Unrestricted free agents are free to sign with any club and no compensation is owed if they sign with a different club. Clubs are given one franchise tag to offer to any unrestricted free agent. The franchise tag is a one-year deal that pays the player 120% of their previous contract or no less than the average of the five highest-paid players at their position, whichever is greater. There are two types of franchise tags: exclusive tags, which do not allow the player to negotiate with other clubs, and non-exclusive tags, which allows the player to negotiate with other clubs but gives his old club the right to match any offer and two first-round draft picks if they decline to match it. Clubs also have the option to use a transition tag, which is similar to the non-exclusive franchise tag but offers no compensation if the old club refuses to match the offer. Due to that stipulation it is rarely used, even with the removal of the "poison pill" strategy (offering a contract with stipulations that the old club would be unable to match) that essentially ended the usage of the tag league-wide. Each club is subject to a salary cap, which is set at USD 123 million for the 2013 season.
Player and coach awards
The NFL recognizes a number of awards for their players and coaches. The most prestigious award is the AP Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. Other major awards include the AP Offensive Player of the Year, AP Defensive Player of the Year, AP Comeback Player of the Year, and the AP Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year awards. Another prestigious award is the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which recognizes a player's off-field work in addition to their on-field performance. The NFL Coach of the Year award is the highest coaching award. The NFL also gives out weekly awards such as the FedEx Air & Ground NFL Players of the Week and the Pepsi MAX NFL Rookie of the Week awards.
- Concussions in American football
- Health issues in American football
- Homosexuality in American football
- National Football League 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
- NFL All-Decade Teams
- NFL Europe
- NFL Films
- NFL franchise moves and mergers
- NFL Network
- National Football League records
- Steroid use in American football
- USA Football
- All teams are based in the United States, but several preseason and regular season games have been held internationally.
- The Bills play one home game a year at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada.
- The New York Jets and New York Giants share MetLife Stadium.
- The Baltimore Ravens were originally the Cleveland Browns, and moved to Baltimore in 1996. Due to an agreement with the city of Cleveland that allowed the club to move, the Browns name, colors, and team history/records were left for a new Cleveland Browns team while the team, personnel, and staff of the old Browns team were allowed to move to Baltimore. As such, the Ravens are considered to have began play in 1996 while the current Cleveland Browns are considered to have been founded in 1950, became inactive from 1996-98, and resumed play as new team in 1999.
- The Jaguars will play one home game at Wembley Stadium in London, England from 2013-16.
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