Founded in 1920, the league has changed greatly over the years and has had a name change, took teams from two other leagues, and has had a total of 87 different franchises throughout its history. The league really become what we know it as today after the 1970 AFL-NFL merger and has added several more expansion teams over the years to form the league we see today.
There are currently 32 NFL franchises in the NFL, spanning across the entire United States and representing 23 different states and 31 different cities. These 32 teams are spread across 2 conferences, the American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC) and 8 divisions, 4 per conference. Below is a list of every current NFL team as of 2010, grouped by division.
Kansas City Chiefs
San Diego Chargers
New England Patriots
New York Jets
San Francisco 49ers
St. Louis Rams
Green Bay Packers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New York Giants
The NFL season consists of 3 parts: the preseason, regular season, and postseason.
The NFL preseason begin in early August each and year and runs through early September. Each NFL team plays 4 exhibition games against other NFL teams, except for the 2 teams playing in the Hall of Fame game, as they have 5 total games. These games do not affect the records of any of the teams and are simply to prepare for the regular season and for the coaches to evaluate their rosters, trimming them from 80 players to 53.
Of those 4 games, 2 are home games and 2 are away.
The NFL regular season consists of 17 weeks with each team playing 16 games and having 1 bye week. Each team's schedule can be broken down as follows:
6 games - 2 games each against the 3 divisional opponents
4 games - against 1 other division from the same conference
4 games - against 1 other division from the opposite conference
2 games - against the 2 teams from the 2 other divisions in the same conference which finished in the same place in the standings last season (ex: 2nd place AFC West plays 2nd place AFC East and AFC North)
Of those 16 games, 8 are home games and 8 are away.
After the conclusion of the regular season, 12 teams qualify for the playoffs, 6 teams from each conference. The 4 division winners from each conference make it, as well as 2 wild cards - the 2 non-division-winning teams with the best records.
The top 2 division winners from each conference receive a bye, making it so 8 teams play in the first or "Wild Card" round. In each conference, the 3rd-best team plays the 6th-best team, and the 4th plays the 5th.
The winners of the Wild Card round advance to the division round, with the lower-ranked of the 2 winners facing the #1 team from that conference, and the other winner facing the #2 team.
The winners of the divisional round advance to the conference championship, and the winners of the conference championship games advance as their conference's representative in the Super Bowl.
Either the week before or week after the Super Bowl (it has been changed lately), the NFL has an All-Star game called the Pro Bowl, which is played in either Honolulu, HI or the site of the Super Bowl.
Each NFL offseason, there are several key events that change league dynamics and have an effect on the playing season. They are listed below in chronological order.
March - Free Agency
For players whose contracts have expired, they get the chance to experience free agency and sign with another NFL team. This process begins in early March and most of the activity happens during the first 1-2 weeks of free agency, with a few signings happening over the rest of the spring and summer.
April - NFL Draft
The NFL draft takes place on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of the last full weekend in the month of April. The draft is a 7 round event in which teams can acquire the rights to eligible players, primarily those leaving college. Draft order is determined by taking the order in which teams finished and inverting it, with the worst team drafting first and theoretically getting access to better players.
May, June - OTAs and Mini-Camps
In May and June, Offseason Team Activities (OTAs) and Mini-camps are held. These are smaller camps and team activities meant to get rookies up to speed and aid players in their conditioning and preparation for these season. Several of these activities are considered voluntary, but many players are expected to show up.
July - Training Camp
In mid-July training camps start around the NFL, with official practices beginning and teams preparing for the regular season.
NFL games are currently televised on 5 different channels in the United States. All Sunday afternoon games with an AFC away team are televised on CBS. All Sunday afternoon games with an NFC away team are televised on Fox. Sunday Night Football games are televised on NBC and Monday Night Football games can be found on ESPN. Certain games on Thursdays and Saturdays can also be found on the NFL Network.
Games can be seen on the local affiliates of networks, or viewers can choose to purchase special packages such as NFL Sunday Ticket from DirecTV. NFL Sunday Ticket allows viewers to watch any NFL game of their choosing every Sunday. Viewers may also have access to the Red Zone channel, which acts as an automated channel-changer, showing the best games and all of the big plays and touchdowns from every game.