Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Kickoff, Part II

Since we have a little while before the regular season begins (September 8*), I thought I would start with the structure of the National Football League ("NFL"), the governing body for professional football in America.

The NFL is headed by the Commissioner, Roger Goodell.  He has a number of responsibilities, but he's the one that will bring the hammer down on players who violate League substance abuse policies, get in trouble with the law, or otherwise make the League look bad (often all of the above).  The players are organized into a labor union call the NFL Players Association, or NFLPA, which is headed by DeMaurice Smith, a lawyer.  These are the two guys you've seen on TV representing the owners and players in discussions during the labor lockout that has been going on all summer.**

Ever wonder why a team is referred to as last year's "AFC West Champions" or "NFC North Champions"?  The NFL is divided into two "conferences": the American Football Conference, or AFC, and the National Football Conference, or NFC.  Each Conference is further divided into four divisions: North, South, East and West.  The 32 NFL teams are divided among these eight Divisions as follows (the teams are listed in their standings from last year):

AFC East
New England Patriots
New York Jets
Miami Dolphins
Buffalo Bills

AFC North
Pittsburgh Steelers
Baltimore Ravens
Cleveland Browns
Cincinnati Bengals

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Houston Texans
Tennessee Titans

AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs
San Diego Chargers
Oakland Raiders
Denver Broncos

NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles
New York Giants
Dallas Cowboys
Washington Redskins

NFC North
Chicago Bears
Green Bay Packers
Detroit Lions
Minnesota Vikings

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Carolina Panthers

NFC West
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams
San Francisco 49ers
Arizona Cardinals

Over the years, there have been changes to the Divisions (called "realignments") as new teams were added to the NFL and other teams changed cities.  However, some teams stay put in these realignments to preserve old rivalries.  That is why the Dallas Cowboys are in the NFC East with the Washington (DC) Redskins, instead of, say, a South or West Division.

Each team plays 16 games each season (the season is 17 weeks long; each team gets a week off, called a "bye", at some point in the season).  There is actually a formula that determines teams' schedules each season, and it goes like this:

  • Each team plays the other teams in its own Division twice: 6 games
  • Each team plays all of the teams in another Division of its own Conference (e.g. the AFC East plays the AFC South): 4 games
  • Each team in a Division plays all of the teams in another Division in the other Conference (e.g., the NFC North plays the AFC West): 4 games
  • Each team plays the other teams in its own Conference that finished in the same place in their Divisions (e.g., the NFC West champ plays the NFC East champ), not counting the team in the Division they are already scheduled to play: 2 games.***
For example, in 2011 the Pittsburgh Steelers will play: the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals two times each; the teams of the AFC South; the teams of the NFC West; and the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots.

So, how is that for the first lesson?  Think you can say something smart at work on Monday?  You should start slow, but you should be safe with something like:  "Hey, the Steelers should have at least four W's in the bag this year...they play the NFC West!"

In the meantime, stay tuned for more football wisdom . . .

*Note that the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and related festivities are taking place this weekend.  This usually includes the Hall of Fame Game, the first preseason game.  However, this is not taking place this year because of the late lifting of the lockout.

**If I had gotten off my butt and started this blog earlier in the summer, I totally would have tried to explain the NFL lockout and the related issues.  However, as it has been resolved, and Americans in general are sick of hearing about it, I will only mention tidbits of this topic on an as-needed basis.

***This is why the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts have been playing each other every year for the past several years--they both win their divisions each year.

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