After the regular football season, the NFL schedule moves into the playoffs, which ultimately lead up to the Super Bowl. In regular-season games, teams compete for the best win-loss records, and those teams with the best records advance to the playoffs. The playoffs, meanwhile, decide who goes on to the Super Bowl.
The NFL schedules all those regular-season games — 256 in a typical season — to separate the good teams from the bad. On every level of sports, people want to declare a champion. In the NFL, a total of 12 teams qualify for what amounts to the road to the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl is the NFL championship game. It pits the winner of the AFC against the champion of the NFC. The game was born out of the merger agreement between the former AFL and the NFL in 1966.
Six teams from each conference qualify for the playoffs, with the four division winners qualifying automatically. These winners are joined by two teams called wildcard teams, who qualify based on the win-loss records of the remaining teams in each conference that didn’t finish first in their respective divisions.
The two division winners with the highest winning percentages host second-round games, skipping the first round of competition. The third and fourth division winners host the wildcard teams in the first round.
The winners of the two wildcard games advance to the second round of contests, called Divisional Playoff games. The lowest-rated wildcard winner plays the division winner with the best record, and the other wildcard winner plays the division winner with the second-best record. Both division winners enjoy home field advantage, meaning that they host the games.
For the Conference Championship games (the third round), any surviving division champion automatically hosts the game. If two division winners survive, the team with the better winning percentage hosts the championship game. If the two surviving teams have identical records, home field is based on how the two teams performed in head-to-head competition during the season, and then on who had the best winning percentage in conference games.
The Super Bowl is such a huge television and fan attraction that cities routinely bid for the game, offering to defray many of the league’s expenses for hotels and travel. In fact, the Super Bowl is so large that cities are selected three to four years in advance. This gives the cities the necessary time to prepare.
In the two weeks between the two conference championship games and the Super Bowl, plenty of hype and hoopla about the game arises. The two teams usually arrive in the host city on the Sunday prior to the game, along with more than 2,500 members of the media. The event has a national flavour to it.
With ticket prices from $500 to $700, and most fans paying five times that amount via ticket scalping, the Super Bowl has become more of a corporate event than a bastion for hard-core football fans. You almost must be somebody important or know somebody important to attend. The Commissioner’s Party — which owners, coaches, and NFL executives attend on the Friday night prior to the game — is an even tougher ticket to acquire.
The Dimensions of Football Fields
There’s nothing like a football field. Here’s what you see on a football field, whether you’re on the field or in the stands:
Field dimensions: The dimensions of a football field haven’t changed much through the years. The field has been 100 yards long and 53 1/3 yards wide since 1881. In 1912, the two end zones were established at 10 yards deep and have remained so ever since. Consequently, all football games are played on a rectangular field that’s 360 feet long x 160 feet wide.
The marks on the field: All over the field, you see a bunch of white lines. Every line has a special meaning:
End lines: The lines at each end of the field.
Side-lines: The lines along each side of the field.
Goal lines: The goal lines are 10 yards inside and parallel to each end line.
Field of play: The area bounded by the goal lines and side-lines.
50-yard line: The field is divided in half by the 50-yard line, which is in the middle of the field.
End zones: The two areas bounded by the goal lines, end lines, and side-lines.
Yard lines: Run parallel to the goal lines at intervals of 5 yards and are marked across the field from side-line to side-line. These lines stop 8 inches short of the 6-foot solid border in the NFL.
Hash marks: Mark each yard line 70 feet, 9 inches from the side-lines in the NFL. On high school and college football fields, the hash marks are only 60 feet from the side-lines. Two sets of hash marks (each hash is 1 yard in length) run parallel to each other down the length of the field and are approximately 18 1/2 feet apart.
Player benches: Six feet outside the border of the field, or 6 feet from the side-lines, is an additional broken white line that defines an area in which only coaches and substitute players may stand. Six feet farther behind this broken white line is where the bench area begins. The team congregates in the bench area during a game, watching teammates play or resting on the benches. Within this area, team doctors and trainers also examine injured players.
Goalposts: The goalpost serves as the guideline for the kicker, whose goal is to sail the ball high between the goalpost’s two vertical bars, an act that’s sometimes called splitting the uprights. The goalpost rises from the back of the end zone.