You see your friends swapping high-fives and smiling on Sundays as they talk about third and long, end routes, and pass interference. Now, you’re wishing you could just download all the football knowledge from their brains into yours so you could join in the fun! We’re here to help with the Guide to Becoming an NFL Fanatic. In this guide, you’ll get all the information you need to be an overnight fanatic who knows the difference between first downs and touchdowns.
The Football 411
The National Football League (NFL) features 32 teams and entertains millions of fans with every single game. These teams reside in cities throughout the United States, from Dallas to Kansas City to Buffalo to Los Angeles. Each team is either a member of the American Football Conference (AFC) or the National Football Conference (NFC), and in those conferences there are four divisions: North, South, East, and West. For example, the Seattle Seahawks play in the NFL as a member of the NFC West.
These conferences and divisions help determine schedules for which teams play each other over the course of a season.
It’s Game Time
Football games last 60 minutes, and they’re broken into 15-minute quarters and two halves. Before the teams start, the officials flip a coin and the visiting team calls either heads or tails. If they win, they can elect to either accept possession or defer receiving the ball until the second half. (They can also choose the direction the other team kicks the ball in, but that can backfire.)
After two quarters or the first half, teams (and fans!) receive a 12-minute break known as halftime. This is your chance to take a much-needed bathroom break, refill your beverage, or talk with a loved one while the teams refresh for the second half of the game.
You’ll want those breaks because football rarely stops. Once the game begins, the clock continues to run down from 15 minutes to zero in each quarter. It only stops when a player with the ball steps out of bounds, a quarterback throws an incomplete pass, a coach or player calls a timeout; or when the officials (referees) stop play to issue a penalty, review a prior ruling, or observe an on-field injury.
If at the end of the regulation the game is tied, overtime begins. If the team that receives the ball in overtime scores a touchdown, the game is over. If they score a field goal, the other team can continue play by scoring a field goal or end the game with a touchdown. If the receiving team either turns the ball over or fails to score, the other team can win with a field goal. If the game is headed to overtime, you want your team to score first.
Three Phases of the Game
During each play, both teams are engaged in either offense, defense, or special teams. What’s the difference? When a team is on offense, their objective is to score points by driving the ball down the field. Opposing them is the defense, who have the objective of stopping the other team from scoring. If one team scores, or is prevented from gaining the necessary number of yards, both teams take part in special teams. This is when a team kicks the ball to the other team, which receives the ball and begins their turn on offense.
11 Best Friends
Whether they’re on offense or defense, each team has 11 active athletes on the field for every play. The names of the positions for these 11 players are different if they’re an offensive or defensive player. There are also a few special team–specific positions on each squad’s roster.
- Offensive Position Titles: Quarterback, Running Back, Fullback, Wide Receiver, Tight End, Guard, Tackle, and Center
- Defensive Position Titles: Tackle, End, Middle or Outside Linebacker, Cornerback, Safety, and Nickel or Dimeback
- Special Team Position Titles: Kicker, Long Snapper, and Punter
What’s the Score?
The team that has the most points at the end of the game is the winner. They can score points by running or passing a touchdown into the opponent’s end zone, which results in earning six points.
Teams have the choice of electing to kick an extra point for one additional point or trying for a two-point conversion. That’s where the offense runs another play from the 2-yard line and must get the ball into the end zone on that play.
If they can’t get close enough to score a touchdown, teams may kick a field goal that is worth three points.
Defenses get in on the fun and earn points through intercepting a pass or recovering a fumble and running either into the end zone. They can also force a safety, where a quarterback or running back is tackled in the end zone while possessing the ball. Safeties are worth two points.
However the teams score, you just want the other team to have fewer points than yours when time runs out in regulation.
What Teams Should I Be Watching?
Out of the 32 teams, there are some you should be watching even if you don’t root for them. Beyond playing a great game, they have better narratives than most teams. Take the Denver Broncos, reigning Super Bowl Champions. They’re entering the season missing several key players that took them to their first title in 17 years. Then there’s the Carolina Panthers, beaten by Denver in the Super Bowl last season; they’re looking for a chance at redemption.
The Los Angeles Rams are returning football to the City of Angels, and no one is sure if their homecoming story will be a blockbuster sensation or box office bust. In the Northeast, the New England Patriots are hoping to continue their streak of postseason performances, but they’ve started the season with their franchise quarterback suspended for the first four games. And what about the Green Bay Packers? The Cheeseheads and their fans are craving another title in the state of Wisconsin.
If you were watching your first NFL game tomorrow, you’d want to remember these three things: (1) Your team needs to score points to win – either on offense or defense – and just needs one more than the opposition to win; (2) there are plenty of great teams, but look for the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, New England Patriots, and Green Bay Packers to be challenging for top honors this year; (3) fans always come prepared in their team colors to root for their player, whether at home or at the stadium. And you can find the best official apparel and merchandise for your team at Fanatics.com.