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A Look Ahead to the 2022-23 NFL Season

The NFL is the most popular league in American football and has a huge fanbase that stretches across the world. There are many highlights during an NFL season that fans look forward to, starting with the NFL Draft, during which teams can recruit new players, the NFL Preseason, which features some excellent exhibition matches, the regular season, which is the main stage of the competition, and lastly the NFL playoffs that culminate in the famed Super Bowl event.

The popularity of American football is immense, with classic franchises from all over the country as well as more recently established teams that were added to the NFL through expansions. The sport has also reached European audiences, who enjoy watching the fast paced action that each game brings.

The Structure of the NFL

The National Football League, or NFL, is a league that currently consists of 32 teams that play in two different conferences, the American Football Conference, or AFC, and the National Football Conference, or NFC. In each conference, the 16 teams are divided into four groups of four, the East Division, North Division, South Division and West Division. The conferences were both created in 1970, when the original American Football League and National Football League were merged. These two establishments were separate leagues that were organised independently, the NFL was founded in 1920 whilst the AFL was founded in 1959 by a group of expansion team owners who were refused places in the NFL. After the merger, the leagues evolved into conferences, and all teams that played in either league then were put into their respective conference.

The teams in the NFL currently play 17 games during the regular season.

The teams play 6 games in a double leg robin round against the three other teams in their division.

They also play 4 games against all teams from another division within their conference, with the division rotated every three years.

2 games are played against teams from the remaining divisions within their conference, who finished in similar positions in the final divisional standings in the previous year.

4 of the games are played against the teams from a division within the other conference, which is always predetermined before the start of the season.

There is 1 game that is played against a team from the other conference that finished in a similar place in the final divisional standings in the previous year.

At the end of the regular season, teams are ranked by their overall performance, and if there are teams that won the same number of games then their head to head games are used to break the tie. There are two rankings that teams aim to win, the divisional rankings and also the conference rankings. Teams that win the divisional rankings win the division, but the teams who came a close second may have a chance to qualify for the playoffs. The 4 division winners win entries into the playoffs and they are followed by the 3 teams who had the next best records. These 3 entries are called the wildcards.

The post season, or playoffs, starts with the wildcard playoffs, where 6 of the 7 teams that qualified for the postseason in either conference play in a knockout round. The team that wins the conference receives a bye and plays in the semi-finals. Following the semi-finals knockout round, the teams head to the Conference finals, and the winners in this round become the NFC Championship winners and the AFC Championship winners. Once the winner of either conference is determined, the two teams head into the Super Bowl, where they play each other and the winner will become the next NFL Champion.

Once the Super Bowl is finished and the season concludes, the franchises already start looking for ways to build their squad for the upcoming season. The NFL Drafts are the primary source for teams looking to recruit new players, and the drafts are made in a way to favour the teams that performed poorly during the season. The teams at the bottom end of the conference rankings will have first pick for the new players available, and that ensures that they will have the chance to compete with the top teams within their own division and conference.

NFL Champions

Franchises in the NFL can have varying levels of success during a season, they can win their divisions and be crowned champions of the division, they can make the playoffs, they can win the conference championship or they can win them all and win the Super Bowl as well to become the NFL champions. The regular season is quite compact, with teams playing their 17 games over an 18 week period with one week off. Once the regular season finishes, the playoffs are an incredibly enthralling period where each game is important and winning one or two games can already cause fans to start thinking about NFL Champion glory.

There is not much to separate the two conferences, as both have won the Super Bowl Championship since the merger in 1970. The NFC are slightly ahead of the AFC, with 27 wins to 25, but both conferences have extremely strong teams that have the potential to become champions.

In the first Super Bowl in 1970, the Baltimore Colts won the title beating the Dallas Cowboys in a close game that ended 16-13. The AFC side became the first champions in the modern era. The Dallas Cowboys returned to the finals the following year, beating the Miami Dolphins 24-3 and becoming the first ever NFC Super Bowl Champions.

The Dolphins won the following two editions of the Super Bowl, becoming the first franchise to win successive titles. This feat was replicated by the Pittsburgh Steelers, also from the AFC, who won the 1974 and 1975 Super Bowls, beating the Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys.

In 1976 The Oakland Raiders won the competition, beating the Minnesota Vikings, becoming the fourth AFC side to win the championship. The Dallas Cowboys won the following edition in 1978. The Steelers won in 1978 and 1979, to become the most successful franchise at the time with 4 championships. TThe Oakland Raiders won in 1980, beating the Philadelphia Eagles 27-10. In 1981 the San Francisco 49ers, an NFC franchise, won their first championship and the following year another NFC side, the Washington Redskins, won their first championship too. The Los Angeles Raiders beat the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl finals in 1983, winning their first championship and becoming the fifth AFC team to win the NFL.

The mid 80s through late 90s saw only NFC franchises winning the competition, with teams such as San Francisco 49ers winning in 1984, 1988, 1990, 1995, and Chicago Bears winning in 1985, New York Giants winning in 1986 and 1991, Washington Redskins winning in 1987 and 1991, Dallas Cowboys winning in 1992, 1993 and 1996, and the Green Bay Packers winning in 1996. When the Green Bay Packers won in 1996, they became the sixth NFC franchise to win the championship.

The Denver Broncos won in 1997 and 1998, marking the return of the AFC franchises, but in 1999 the St Louis Rams (now called the Los Angeles Rams) won the Super Bowl. The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots won the competition in 2000 and 2001, and in 2002 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl. The New England Patriots, an AFC franchise, won again in 2003 and 2004 and they were followed by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts. The New York Giants won in 2007, after last winning it some 27 years prior, and then the Pittsburgh Steelers won the following year.

The 2010s ended with the New Orleans Saints and Green Bay Packers both winning the Super Bowl in 2009 and 2010, respectively. The New York Giants replicated their success from 2007 and won again in 2011, and the following year the Baltimore Ravens won. In 2013, the Seattle Seahawks won their first NFL Championship, beating the Denver Broncos in a massive 43-8. The New England Patriots won the competition in 2014, beating the defending champions in the finals. The Denver Broncos won the NFL championship in 2016, and the next year the New England Patriots won the competition again. The Patriots made the finals again in 2017, but were beaten by the Philadelphia Eagles. In the following year, the Patriots made the final once again, for a third successive time, and beat the Los Angeles Rams to win their sixth NFL Championship. The Kansas City Chiefs won the NFL in 2019, beating the San Francisco 49ers, and they managed to make the finals in the following year but lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2021, at the Super Bowl LVI, the Los Angeles Rams beat the Cincinnati Bengals in a highly thrilling game that ended 23-20.

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