As we FALL into another September, some of us turn to the time-honored tradition of rooting for our local NFL team and having our hearts toyed with up until Super Bowl Sunday. Others find themselves stuck in the precarious situation of indifference, or perhaps, inability to find meaning in these games, and simply ignore them altogether. In situations where you find yourself stuck in front of a TV on a Sunday, plopped next to a family member, significant other, or friend, and find yourself face to face with an NFL game, we are here to help. The following will be a guide from your GateCrashers Football Friendly team of Dr. Mitchell Powers and Rick Danger, where we intend to cover the basics, and help you go from “I need to go” to “Let’s go team!” Furthermore, look for our new weekly series Fast Five Picks with Dr. Mitchell Powers & Rick Danger where we will give our predictions for the outcomes of upcoming games, making YOU look like the expert.
The NFL is the National Football League, comprised of 32 teams, which are then split into two major conferences, the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). To further complicate things, each conference has 4 divisions: North, South, East, and West. All the teams are split, with each team taking 1 of 4 spots in these divisions. Below is a handy infographic to see how everything we just said unfolds:
Dr. Mitch Tip: Most people pick their favorite team based on location, but some people pick their favorite team based on their prowess on the field. It doesn’t matter who you root for, but never buy a football jersey until that player retires.
The NFL plays 17 games (new this year!), with 6 of those games being played within the division. So, say we are the Buffalo Bills, that means we are in the AFC East and will play the Patriots twice, once at home and once away, the Dolphins twice, same deal, and the Jets twice, you get the idea. The rest of the schedule is made up from an algorithm that is really not important, as the real fun lies in these divisional games because they create rivalries and bad blood between the teams. I mean, if you’re Batman, and every night you are fighting the Joker, Two-Face, and the Riddler, but now Calendar Man shows up, I’m sure there is more interest in fighting the other 3 as there is a palpable history. These divisional games are usually circled on team calendars to create a brewing animosity, similar to an 80’s movie montage where the protagonist is training and has the match date crossed out in blood. If your team does well enough and is able to get into the playoffs, that’s when the real fun begins!
Dr. Mitch Tip: When watching the game with friends, make sure to throw in such phrases as : “C’mon!”, “Defense!”, “You got to catch that!”, “Need a stop here!”, and “This dip is really good, what’s the secret?”
The NFL playoffs select the best 14 teams, 7 from the AFC and 7 from the NFC, to determine the final two representatives, 1 from the AFC and 1 from the NFC, which will then face off in the goal of every franchise, the Super Bowl. The first 4 spots go to the division champions from each conference and are seeded 1 through 4 based on their overall record. The final 3 spots are for the 3 teams with the best overall record of all remaining teams in the conference. This process is done for both sides and after three rounds, Wild Card Round, Divisional Round, and Conference Round, the surviving two teams play for the Super Bowl. Making the playoffs for your team is a big deal, as realistically every team has a chance of winning. This has even coined the phrase “On any given Sunday,” as the so-called unbeatable teams have lost in the first rounds before. If you want to talk about Super Bowl upsets, look no further than Tom Brady and the Patriots beating one of the best offensive teams in the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, and then on the other side of the coin, Eli Manning and the New York Giants beating a ‘perfect’ Tom Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. That is what makes the game so special, the team can show up looking akin to a god-like Doctor Doom, only to be dispatched by a spunky Squirrel Girl. Now it’s time to get into the important details of the actual game itself!
Dr. Mitch Tip: Some people say “Defense wins Championships!”, while I reply, “There is no such thing as too much chili.”
Your team is made up of 55 players, but only 48 can be active and ready to play on game day. The three most important people on the sidelines are our Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, and Defensive Coordinator. Their roles are similar to their titles, the Head Coach is in charge of the full team and the final decision maker, the offense coordinator focuses on the offense and the defensive coordinator focuses on the defense. Let’s run through the Offense:
Quarterback (QB): Runs the offense on the field, can throw the ball, run the ball, or hand it off
Running Back (RB): Receives the ball from the QB and carries it up the field
Wide Receiver (WR): Catches the ball from QB and carries it up the field
Tight End (TE): Can assist in blocking the opposing team from getting to the QB, but also catches the ball from the QB and carries it up the field
Full Back (FB): Usually bigger and bulkier than a running back, receives the ball from the QB and carries it up the field
Center (C): In front of QB and ‘snaps’ it back to the QB while also protecting the QB from getting hit
Right Guard (RG): Protects the QB from getting hit and also allows the RB to move up the field
Left Guard (LG): Protects the QB from getting hit and also allows the RB to move up the field
Right Tackle (RT): Protects the ‘Blind Side’ of left-handed QBs as they cannot see someone about to hit them from behind
Left Tackle (LT): Protects the ‘Blind Side’ of right-handed QBs as they cannot see someone about to hit them from behind
Kicker (K): They attempt field goals usually from 50 yards and less. They also kick the ball off to the opposing team after touchdowns, at the beginning of the game, and at half-time.
Punter (P): If the offense does not move the ball 10 yards after 3 attempts AND they are too far away to try a field goal, on the 4th attempt the punter will punt the ball away to the opposing team.
Dr. Mitch Tip: The Offensive Line is made up of the Center, Guards, and Tackles. They tend to be some of the highest paid players as they protect the Quarterback. I’ve said an offensive line or two in my day!
Let’s run through the defense:
Linebacker (LB): They can be Middle (MLB) or Outside (OLB) depending on where they line up, but they tend to be the “QBs” of the defense. They are in charge of reading the offense and guessing what play they are trying to run. They can help the defensive lineman or they can drop into coverage and try to stop receivers from catching the ball.
Defensive Tackle (DT): Try and break through the offensive line to get to the Quarterback.
Defensive End (DE): Try and break through the offensive line to get to the Quarterback. They tend to be leaner and faster than DTs as they run around the edge to get to the QB.
Cornerback (CB): They line up with the Wide Receivers and attempt to intercept the ball or prevent the WR from catching the ball.
Safeties (S): They can be Strong (SS) or Free (FS) depending on where they line up but they are in charge of preventing long passes from being caught or can be brought up to the line to help attack the quarterback.
Dr. Mitch Tip: If you bring a piece of your own fence to the game, you can use it as a sign of support for the defense!
Are you still with us? I know it’s a lot to take in, like trying to watch the entirety of the MCU so that the things that are coming up make sense, we get it. However, you know the players, you know why they play, now we get to the important part, the Endgame if you will; the actual game. An NFL game is 60 minutes, four 15-minute quarters, with a halftime of 15 minutes in-between the 2nd and 3rd quarter. The teams meet at mid-field and flip a coin with the winning team determining who will receive the ball and the losing team picking the side they play on. The actual idea of the game is straight forward: be the team with the most points when the game is over. The offense marches down the field to score a touchdown for 6 points and then the kicker kicks an extra point for 1 point, or they march down the field and the kicker kicks a field goal for 3 points. The defenses’ sole purpose is stop any of that from happening. The offense is given 4 downs to move the ball 10 yards, once they are past that 10 yards, it repeats until they score a touchdown or field goal. If they are unable to do so, they punt the ball away to the opposing team, who then attempts the same deal.
Here are some common things you may hear:
Sack: A defensive player has tackled the quarterback behind the line of possession. So, if the ball was on the 45-yard line and the QB has the ball snapped to them, and they are now holding the ball on the 40-yard line, a defenseman tackles them to the ground they are sacked! You will hear them say they lost 5 yards (45-yard line minus 40-yard line is 5 yards) and now the ball is placed at that spot and the next down is played.
Interception: A defensive player has caught a ball thrown by the QB that was intended for another player on the offense. The opposite team’s offense now has the ball and begins their attempt to move down the field.
Holding: This is a penalty where a player has prevented another player from doing something by gripping them, players can push and shove, but cannot hold.
False Start: When a player on the offense moves before the ball is snapped.
Pass Interference: This one is a tough one, a player on offense or defense, uses their body to prevent another player from catching a ball. Most of these calls are bullshit.
Red Zone: When the offense is within 20 yards of the goal line, the plays that can be called are limited as you do not have a lot of field to work with or use.
Fair Catch: When the ball is punted and the return team is trying to catch the ball that has been kicked by the punter, they will waive their arm in the air for a fair catch to prevent themselves from getting hit. This is typically done when the punting team is about to tackle them.
End Zone: This is the part of the football field that is colored in and the ball must cross to count as a touchdown.
Safety: This does not happen too often, but when the offense is backed up to their side of the field, and the QB is sacked in their own End Zone, the opposite team gets 2 points and the offense must kick the ball away.
2-Minute Warning: Two Minutes before the end of the 2nd quarter and the end of the 4th quarter, play is stopped and this acts as an unofficial time out for both teams.
Hail Mary: When a team is losing with little to no time left, the QB sends all of his receivers downfield in am attempt to score a game winning touchdown. They have little chance at success, BUT when they do succeed, it is a lasting memory.
Dr. Mitch Tip: I used to tell my grandma she was ‘Holding’ when she hugged me longer than 10 seconds.
If you have made it this far, throw that ring into Mount Doom and wait for Eagles of Manwë to carry you home because this is Intro to Football. The rest can be learned along the way by either watching games, or perhaps playing them on a video game console. We will be the first to tell you that any die-hard fan LOVES to explain the game to beginners, it’s actually quite refreshing. So, pick your team, find your people, sit back, and enjoy the upcoming season! Don’t forget to be on the lookout for Fast Five Picks with Dr. Mitchell Powers & Rick Danger, only on GateCrashers.