The 2016 NFL campaign kicks off in the early hours of Friday as American Football fans gear up for another bone-crunching season.
All 32 teams will be aiming to make it to Superbowl LI in Houston on February 7th, with Denver Broncos looking to retain their crown.
Popularity of the sport has grown massively in the UK and British fans have been rewarded with three international series matches to be held in London – two at Wembley and one at Twickenham.
The NFL will also break new ground by holding the first-ever Monday Night Football (MNF) game outside of the US when Houston Texans take on Oakland Raiders in Mexico City during Week 11.
So, whether you’ve been following NFL for years, are a rookie or only just realising what a great sport American Football is, let’s run through the basics.
How the game works
Each team has an offensive and defensive unit. The defence will aim to sack, or tackle, the quarterback of the opposition or intercept his pass.
Teams in offensive plays are given a 10-yard target and must cross that 10-yard line in four plays or less, eventually working their way down to the end zone where they can score a touchdown, earning six points.
Kickers can then add an extra point to the score with a conversion, or instead may opt for a two-point conversion where they must run the ball over the line in the same manner as a touchdown.
The two-point tactic is often used if the scores are tied or to put the defending team eight points behind with little time remaining.
Field goals, worth three points, are often used at the fourth play, or fourth down, when scoring a touchdown is deemed unlikely.
NFL matches are split into 15-minute quarters and if there is a tie at the end of an hour’s play the match goes into overtime.
Overtime can be ended immediately if a touchdown is scored in the first possession, but if not it can only be ended by an unanswered score.
How the conferences work
The 32 franchises are split evenly into two conferences – the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC).
Each team plays 16 games over the 17-week regular season, which includes a bye weekend for each franchise.
At the end of the regular season, the top teams in each of the eight divisions – North, South, East and West in the AFC and NFC, qualify for the play-offs alongside the two next best in each conference.
In a knockout format the teams contest each round until they reach the conference final. The winners of the AFC and NFC conference finals go through to the Superbowl.
Off-season player moves and contracts
Superbowl 50 Most Valuable Player (MVP) Von Miller was rewarded for his display against the Carolina Panthers with a six-year $114.5m contract, remaining at the Denver Broncos.
The money for his deal was freed up by the retirement of legendary quarterback Peyton Manning, who was earning $21.5m per year.
Denver also lost another high-profile quarterback as Brock Osweiler rejected a $64m contract in favour of joining Houston Texans on a four-year $72m contract, with a guaranteed $37m in the first two years.
Those figures are eclipsed by the renewal of quarterback Andrew Luck’s contract at Indianapolis Colts, where he will earn a record $140m over six seasons.
Luck enjoyed a stellar 2014 season with 40 touchdown passes but his 2015 form, where he threw 12 interceptions against just 15 touchdowns, was not enough to deter Colts owner John Irsay from offering the deal.
Who are the favourites?
It’s nearly impossible to predict the winner of the Superbowl in five months’ time and the bookermakers are finding it equally hard to do so.
There is little to choose between the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers with the majority of bookies offering 8/1 for each franchise.
Fan favourites the Pittsburgh Steelers are placed at 11/1 while Kansas City Chiefs have assembled their most talented roster in recent years and are rated at 22/1 as dark horses.
Reigning NFL champions Denver Broncos cannot be written off either and are also placed at a tantalising 22/1 to retain their crown.
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