The NFL for Rookies

If you are new to football, the NFL can seem a little complex with a lot going on. So as briefly as I canlet us explain how the NFL works and introduce all 32 teams that compete in the league. Make sure to check out the first article in this series, American Football for Rookies, to introduce you to the sport.

The National Football League consists of 32 teams (or franchises as they are referred to when discussing the organisation rather than the squads) split into two conferences, the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference. Each conference is comprised of four divisions: North, East, South and West.

Each franchise plays 16 games across the 17-week regular season, with one bye week in which they do not play. At the end of the regular season, 12 teams progress to the playoffs. The four division winners (teams with the best record) in each conference progress, as well as the two best runners up in each conference across the four divisions, nicknamed “wildcard teams”.

The playoffs consist of the wildcard round, in which the wildcard teams face the two division winners with the worst record while the best two teams get a bye week. After this, the last four teams in each conference play two rounds of head to head knockout matches to determine the conference winners, who face off in the Super Bowl to decide the NFL champion.

Now we are familiar with the NFL as a whole, here is a quick run through of the divisions and teams of which it consists:



AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers

Stadium: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Head Coach: Mike Tomlin
Top players: Antonio Brown, WR, Le’Veon Bell, RB, Ben Roethlisberger, QB
The team: 6 Super Bowl wins make Pittsburgh the most successful franchise over the last 50 years of the NFL, although they have been less successful in recent years.

Cincinnati Bengals

Stadium: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
Head Coach: Marvin Lewis
Top players: Vontaze Burfict, LB, A.J. Green, WR, Tyler Eifert, TE
The team: Bitter rivals of the Steelers, the Bengals never won either of the Super Bowls they made it to. Recently they have been a perennial wildcard round exiter.

Baltimore Ravens

Stadium: M & T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland
Head Coach: John Harbaugh
Top players: Joe Flacco, QB, Steve Smith Sr., WR, Terrell Suggs, LB
The team: Two-time super bowl champions, very recently in 2012, the Ravens have suffered with injuries and contracts since and are a far cry from the franchise they were four year ago.

Cleveland Browns

Stadium: FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio
Head Coach: Hue Jackson
Top players: Robert Griffin III, QB, Joe Thomas, OT, Corey Coleman, WR
The team: Once a great team in the pre-Super Bowl era, recently the team has been consistently poor to mediocre, a fact blamed on bad coaching and franchise management.

AFC East

New England Patriots

Stadium: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
Head Coach: Bill Belichick
Top players: Tom Brady, QB, Rob Gronkowski, TE, Stephen Gostkowski, K
The team: Consistently one of the best teams in the AFC over the last decade and a half, the Pats won their first Super Bowl title in 2001 and their fourth in 2014. Many fans hold them in low regard over the ‘deflategate’ scandal of 2014.

Miami Dolphins

Stadium: New Miami Stadium, Miami, Florida
Head Coach: Adam Gase
Top players: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Ndamukong Suh, DT, Mario Williams, DE
The team: A powerhouse in the 1970s winning consecutive Super Bowls, in recent years Miami, along with the rest of the AFC East, have had few seasons in which they have outshone New England.

New York Jets

Stadium: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
Head coach: Todd Bowles
Top players: Darrelle Revis, CB, Brandon Marshall, WR, Muhammad Wilkerson, DE
The team: Aside from one super bowl victory, gang green has never quite managed to make a mark on the NFL. Perennially overshadowed by the Giants and the rest of the AFC East, the Jets’ 2016 season looks dire with their current quarterback situation.

Buffalo Bills

Stadium: Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, New York
Head coach: Rex Ryan
Top players: LeSean McCoy, RB, Sammy Watkins, WR, Tyrod Taylor, QB
The team: Over 15 years since Buffalo made it to the playoffs, it can sometimes be difficult to watch the Bills in a tough division, but the franchise is slowly developing under Ryan.

Jacksonville's Bortles hands off in the 2014 match against the Ravens. Credit Keith Allison.

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars

Stadium: Everbank Field, Jacksonville, Florida
Head coach: Gus Bradley
Top players: Blake Bortles, QB, Allen Robinson, WR, Allen Hurns, WR
The team: By far the greatest franchise in the NFL (full disclosure- author’s team, not necessarily factual. But American Football is a place for partisanship). A young team yet to make its mark on the NFL, but building well and 2016 could be the Jag’s year. Jax are also the only team that plays a match in the UK every season.

Houston Texans

Stadium: NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas
Head Coach: Bill O’Brien
Top players: JJ Watt, DE, Brock Osweiler, QB, Lamar Miller, RB
The team: A young franchise, Houston is considered the strongest team in a progressive AFC South this year. A scary defence featuring 3 time defensive MVP Watt will this year be backed up by a new look offence with a lot riding on young, unproven players.

Indianapolis Colts

Stadium: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana
Head Coach: Chuck Pagano
Top players: Andrew Luck, QB, T.Y. Hilton, WR, Frank Gore, RB
The team: Until Houston’s takeover last year, Indy had it easy in the AFC South and have two Super Bowls to their name. Now, unless they can improve a confused offence and protect their quarterback, they may lose last year’s second to the Jags.

Tennessee Titans

Stadium: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
Head Coach: Mike Mularkey
Top players: Marcus Mariota, QB, Demarco Murray, RB, Derrick Henry, RB
The team: The Titans look set for another fourth in the division, but with that comes draft picks and the continued chance to keep building. The pieces are coming together for Tennessee, but they need another season or two.

AFC West

Denver Broncos

Stadium: Sports Authority Field, Denver, Colorado
Head coach: Gary Kubiak
Top players: Von Miller, DE, Aqib Talib, CB, Demaryius Thomas, WR
The team: Current NFL champions and long-time tyrants in the AFC West, and yet this may not be Denver’s year. Big steps for others in the division combined with losing so many star players will make defending their titles nigh on impossible.

Kansas City Chiefs

Stadium: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
Head coach: Andy Reid
Top players: Alex Smith, QB, Jamaal Charles, RB, Travis Kelce, TE
The team: An impressive winning streak at the end of last season saw the inconsistent Chiefs make it to the playoffs. But not many have KC in their books to do too well this season due to a lack of playmakers and questions asked of Alex Smith.

Oakland Raiders

Stadium: Oakland Alameda Coliseum, Oakland, California
Head coach: Jack Del Rio
Top players: Derek Carr, QB, Reggie Nelson, S, Khalil Mack, LB
The team: The Raiders are tipped to be one of the best young squads in the NFL this season and could well steal the AFC West from Denver. Oakland will be fun to watch this year if they do breakout.

San Diego Chargers

Stadium: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California
Head coach: Mike McCoy
Top players: Philip Rivers, QB, Keenan Allen, WR, Melvin Gordon, RB
The team: With the Chargers yet to stamp their mark on the NFL and the Broncos weaker than they have been for years, this could be the year for San Diego. The franchise is improving year by year and this season could be a breakthrough. They still look to be lacking squad wide quality though.



NFC North

Minnesota Vikings

Stadium: US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Head coach: Mike Zimmer
Top players: Adrian Peterson, RB, Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Harrison Smith, S
The team: Often second best to bitter rivals Green Bay, the Vikes are looking at a season in a new stadium that is not likely to be very successful. Unfortunately for Minnesota, while Chicago and Detroit look in for a rough season, playoffs as a wild card is still likely their best case scenario.

Green Bay Packers

Stadium: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin
Head coach: Mike McCarthy
Top players: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Eddie Lacy, RB, Jordy Nelson, WR
The team: Often considered one of the best current football teams, they just missed out on the NFC championship game last season and there is not any expectation that they will fall short of that this season.

Detroit Lions

Stadium: Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan
Head coach: Jim Caldwell
Top players: Matthew Stafford, QB, Anquan Boldin, WR, Ameer Abdullah, RB
The team: Questions surround the Detroit offence as they enter the post Calvin Johnson era. The only NFC team to never make it to a Super Bowl does not look like it has much chance this year, but defences underestimating Matt Stafford could be surprised.

Chicago Bears

Stadium: Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois
Head coach: John Fox
Top players: Jay Cutler, QB, Alshon Jeffery, WR, Zach Miller, TE
The team: The Bears have been sensationally unsuccessful in recent years, outclassed by the rest of the NFC North. The team has a few years of rebuilding left before they will start competing.

NFC East

New York Giants

Stadium: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
Head Coach: Ben McAdoo
Top players: Odell Beckham Jr, WR, Eli Manning, QB, Olivier Vernon, DE
The team: Four-time Super Bowl winners, the Giants have not made the playoffs since winning the fourth title in 2011. New York are going to miss former Head Coach Tom Coughlin this year and are going to struggle.

Washington Redskins

Stadium: FedEx Field, Landover, Maryland
Head coach: Jay Gruden
Top players: Josh Norman, CB, Kirk Cousins, QB, DeSean Jackson, WR
The team: Washington are buoyant after their 2015 turnaround to make it to the playoffs. They have a happy quarterback playing for a potential big contract, the newly signed best cornerback in the NFL and a raft of receiving talent. The Redskins like that.

Philadelphia Eagles

Stadium: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Head coach: Doug Pederson
Top players: Darren Sproles, RB, Fletcher Cox, DT, Jordan Matthews, WR
The team: There is a lot riding on the three-way quarterback battle between Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel, and draft pick Carson Wentz this year in Philly. They get it right and they could take a poor NFC East.

Dallas Cowboys

Stadium: A T & T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Head coach: Jason Garrett
Top players: Tony Romo, QB, Dez Bryant, WR, Ezekiel Elliott, RB
The team: The once-dominant Cowboys (they made 17 of 19 playoffs from 1966 to 1985) have struggled to be as relevant in recent years. The team was looking competitive this year before being crippled by largely drug related suspensions.

Cam Newton and the Panthers ruled last year's NFC. Credit Wikimedia user kidbs.

NFC South

Carolina Panthers

Stadium: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
Head coach: Ron Rivera
Top players: Cam Newton, QB, Jonathan Stewart, RB, Luke Kuechly, LB
The team: The best team in the NFL last season right up until Denver flattened them in the super bowl, Carolina are either going to surpass their 17-2 record from last year or support doubters’ claims of a one season wonder team. Fans of fun football are hoping for the former; no one put smiles on faces last year like SuperCam.

New Orleans Saints

Stadium: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
Head coach: Sean Payton
Top players: Drew Brees, QB, Vonn Bell, S, Michael Thomas, WR
The team: A poor defence let one of the best passing offences in the NFL down last year. People are expecting Drew Brees to start showing his age any seasons now and if he wants another Super Bowl ring, a recoiling Carolina and not yet ready Bucs and Falcons teams could be the Saints’ best chance.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Stadium: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
Head coach: Dirk Koetter
Top players: Jameis Winston, QB, Mike Evans, WR, Doug Martin, RB
The team: Tampa are a young team and could be ones to watch over the next few years. Koetter is building a franchise squad with some playmakers starting to turn heads. Sadly, they still look to be fourth best in the division for the time being.

Atlanta Falcons

Stadium: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
Head coach: Dan Quinn
Top players: Matt Ryan, QB, Julio Jones, WR, Devonta Freeman, RB
The team: The only team besides Denver to beat Carolina last year. That game often gets mentioned more than the 38-0 hammering they received from the Panthers earlier in the season. If Atlanta cannot work on that inconsistency 2016 is going to be rough.


NFC West

Seattle Seahawks

Stadium: CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Washington
Head coach: Pete Carroll
Top players: Russell Wilson, QB, Richard Sherman, CB, Kam Chancellor, S
The team: One of the consistently best teams in the NFL over recent years, Seattle made it to two of the last three Super Bowls, winning one. Genius coach Pete Carroll and a star studded squad look as good a pick as ever to make it deep into the playoffs and terrorise opposing quarterback along the way.

Arizona Cardinals

Stadium: University of Phoenix Stadium, Arizona, Phoenix
Head coach: Bruce Arians
Top players: Carson Palmer, QB, Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Tyrann Mathieu, S
The team: Without doubt the best team in the NFL that is not an obvious choice to win their division. Last year the Cards outshone the Hawks but were steamrolled by Carolina in the NFC championship game. Bruce Arians and co. look like giving the NFL another year of wishing they did not have to go to Phoenix this season.

Los Angeles Rams

Stadium: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, LA, California
Head coach: Jeff Fisher
Top players: Jared Goff, QB, Todd Gurley, RB, Tavon Austin, WR
The team: The future looks bright for the newly relocated Rams but this is going to be a year of breaking in rookie QB Goff and further building their team. LA and the recent draft were both huge risks, but you do not make headway in the toughest division in the league without taking a chance. If it pays off sooner than expected, Seattle and Arizona are going to be taken by surprise.

San Francisco 49ers

Stadium: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Head coach: Chip Kelly
Top players: Colin Kaepernick, QB, Blaine Gabbert, QB, NaVorro Bowman, LB
The team: The big question in San Fran this year is who starts under centre, Kaepernick or Gabbert. Either way, it is hard to see the 49ers doing much damage to any divisional rivals. Kelly is just starting to rebuild, but hopefully they are not so awful he does not get a chance.