The National Football League (NFL) has provided a variety of eras, dynasties and superstars since its formation in 1920 (initially as the American Professional Football Association) and, as the league’s 100th anniversary moves ever nearer, the upcoming season has the potential to rival some of the all-time great campaigns.
With that in mind, this is as good a time as any to walk back through NFL 100 history and recap how we got to this place where the league takes over Sundays in households around the world.
What is the NFL?
The NFL is the US football (American Football) league and it has grown into one of the most popular sports leagues in North America, in addition to an ever-increasing global audience.
Today’s NFL consists of 32 teams across two conferences – the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). Within each conference, the 16 teams are split into four divisions – North, East, South and West:
NFC North: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC East: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets
AFC South: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
AFC West: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Oakland Raiders
Each team plays 16 games a year – facing the other teams in their division twice along with ten other teams. Twelve teams make the NFL playoffs – six from the AFC, six from the NFC – and the top two seeds in each conference receive a first round bye. The Super Bowl typically takes place on the first Sunday in February.
Which NFL teams have the longest histories?
Much of today’s AFC joined the league in 1970, via a merger with the American Football League (AFL). Instead, it was NFC franchises that paved the way for the league to expand. The Bears, Packers and Giants were among those formed in the 1920s and involved in the league’s earliest days. The Steelers and Detroit Lions (1930s) have lengthy histories too.
A steady trickle of new franchises in the 1990s (Ravens, Jaguars and Panthers) and the Texans in 2002 have expanded the NFL to its current structure.
Are there new franchises on deck to join the NFL?
As it stands, there are no confirmed expansion plans, though the annual set of games in the United Kingdom has sparked the possibility of an overseas franchise at some point in the future. Portland, Toronto and Mexico City are other potential spots for a new franchise somewhere down the line.
Who are the landmark players/teams who put the NFL on the map?
The Packers, despite some disappointing recent seasons, lead the way with 13 championships, but only four of those have come in the Super Bowl era, which began in 1966. The New England Patriots and the Steelers (six titles each) have been top dogs in the Super Bowl era.
There is a long list of Hall of Fame players but here are a few standouts from over the years. Jim Brown was an unstoppable running back in Cleveland, starting in the 1950s, while Bart Starr and head coach Vince Lombardi were key men in Green Bay’s sustained excellence in the 1960s.
Lawrence Taylor became perhaps the most feared defensive player in history with the Giants while Jerry Rice separated himself as the greatest receiver of all-time during the 1980s and 1990s. Joe Montana became the gold standard for quarterback play during the 49ers’ dominant years and, more recently, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have been regular fixtures in big game situations. Brady continues to defy Father Time, guiding New England to another ring back in February.
Which Super Bowls stand out from the 53 showpiece games to date?
The Patriots’ famous comeback win over the Falcons at Super Bowl LI will live long in the memory, as will their loss to the Giants as heavy favourites in Super Bowl XLII, remembered for the famous helmet catch.
Going further back, the Steelers’ rollercoaster victory over the Cowboys at Super Bowl XIII was an instant classic.
Who are the most recognisable faces in today’s game?
Brady, 42 in August, is still one of the NFL’s biggest draws, but the future looks extremely bright too, with Patrick Mahomes, Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson headlining a talented group of young quarterbacks. We should have plenty more seasons of Russell Wilson and a few more from Aaron Rodgers. Running back Saquon Barkley and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. are among the most recognisable non-quarterbacks.
The league has taken a firm grip over the Sunday TV ratings between September and February, with games kicking off throughout the day, leading up to the marquee Sunday Night Football matchup.
Which players appear in the NFL commercial?
The NFL’s Sunday Night Football commercial is typically re-created every season with an ever-changing cast of stars making cameo appearances. The 2018/19 commercial featured Wilson, Barkley, Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Dak Prescott.
Why is the 2019 season set up to be a classic? What does the NFL betting picture look like?
The NFL and the football betting feels wide open once again this year, with Brady still the man to beat but plenty of hungry teams at the front of the pack. You could make the case for at least seven or eight different Super Bowl champions – and the NFL odds reflect that. Even picking half of the division winners will be challenging.
The Patriots (7/1) and Chiefs (8/1), who put on a thrilling AFC Championship Game last season, are set to do battle again, while the NFC could go in any number of different directions. The Rams (8/1) made the Super Bowl last season but will have to survive a gauntlet to get back there, with the Saints (10/1), Eagles (16/1), and Vikings (20/1) among the contenders. The Browns (14/1) have a chance to leap back to relevance after a busy offseason and the emergence of quarterback Baker Mayfield, while the Falcons (33/1) are an intriguing dark horse if they can stay healthy.
Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo headline a large group of players returning from seasons marred by injury. Injuries, of course, are often the biggest X-factor in determining which teams make deep playoff runs, and team depth should be considered in all NFL picks (e.g. which teams could withstand an injury to their lead running back).
Check back over the coming weeks for a range of NFL previews and futures predictions, with best bets for NFL lines and NFL scores to follow each week during the season.