National Football League

The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league in the United States. There are currently 32 teams in the NFL. The league was formed in 1920 under the name of the American Professional Football Association and received its current name in 1922. The NFL gained its greatest popularity in the 1960s and 1970s after merging with the rival league, the American Football League.

32 teams are divided into 2 conferences of 16 teams: American and National, each of which, in turn, is divided into 4 divisions of 4 teams: East, West, North and South. During the regular season, starting in September and lasting 18 weeks, each team plays 17 games. After the end of the season, the top 14 teams (until the 2019 season inclusive – 12) play in the playoff system. The playoff final, the Super Bowl, is the most watched sporting event in the United States.

Early years

The American Professional Football Association was formed in 1920 in Canton, Ohio, becoming the first American football league in the United States to pay players to play. Legendary athlete Jim Thorpe of the Canton Bulldogs became the league’s first president. Only four teams out of 11 who started finished the 1920 season. Akron Pros, without losing a single game, became the first winners. In 1921, the number of teams increased to 22, but throughout the 1920s the number of participants remained unstable and the league was not the main national sport, losing to baseball.

By 1934, all small town teams, with the exception of the Green Bay Packers, had moved or were replaced by big city teams. The annual championship game was introduced in 1933, and the annual draft of young players from the universities was first held in 1936. It was during this era that NFL owners, due to the influence of Boston Braves owner George Preston Marshall, did not invite black players to their clubs. This practice was eliminated in 1962.

Collegiate football was then more popular, but by the end of World War II, professional football began to compete with university football for spectator interest. Rule changes and innovations in strategies have led to spectacular and scoring games. The league also began to expand beyond the east and midwest. In 1945, the Cleveland Rams moved to Los Angeles, becoming the second professional team in North America’s four major leagues on the West Coast. In 1950, the NFL took over three teams from the defunct All-American Football Conference, expanding to 13 teams. In the 1950s, the games began to be shown on national television and football became the main national sport.

Season structure

Pre-season games

NFL preseason kicks off with a Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Week game at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Each NFL club is required to play four preseason games, two of which must be played at the club’s home stadium. Teams participating in the Hall of Fame induction game, as well as clubs that participate in the American Bowl, play five preseason games. All pre-season games are friendly and do not count towards the regular season. Because of this, teams do not strive to win at any cost, but are used by coaches to evaluate their teams, and by players to show their skills. All of this leads to criticism of pre-season games by some fans who don’t like paying full price for a pre-season ticket, and by some players and coaches who don’t like the risk of injury just before the season starts. Others believe that preseason games are an integral part of the NFL season.

Regular season

The regular season starts on the weekend after Labor Day in the US (the first Monday in September). Each team plays 17 matches over 18 game rounds called weeks. Traditionally, one of the Sunday games takes place late in the evening, at the same time, but on Monday, another one is played. Such matches are called Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football. In recent seasons, the League has moved one game of the week (until penultimate) on Thursday. Broadcasting division of the NFL broadcasts these matches. Also traditionally on Thanksgiving Day, the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions teams play matches.