2016 NFL season preview

2016 NFL season preview

 

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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.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89 or WordPress: neilwalton089
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Who are the best and worst football presenters?

The pundits and commentators have had their turn and now, in the last instalment of this three-part blog, the presenters are now in the spotlight.

Arguably the most important part of any live or recorded transmission of a football match, the presenters come under the most scrutiny, so it will be interesting to see whether you agree with my top five best and worst.

As always, I’ll begin with the best:

5. Gary Lineker, BBC

Lineker is perhaps the most prominent presenter on our screens as host of the long-running Match of the Day. He has an affable demeanour on screen and is one of just a handful of ex-players to have successfully made the transition from the pitch to the studio. Lineker rarely makes errors and delivers unbiased judgements on controversial topics – unlike some of his impulsive (and repulsive) colleagues.

4. Ray Stubbs, ESPN

A veteran of football broadcasting, ‘Stubbsy’ is well-known for his calm and engaging presenting style. His on-screen manner is such that he allows the pundits to do their work – rather than cut them off with barbed and empty opinions. Stubbs is almost flawless in his delivery and maintains a time-honoured professionalism throughout his broadcasts, making him a highly-respected football presenter.

3. Mark Pougatch, BBC 5live

It’s perhaps a shame that Pougatch is largely restricted to the airwaves (with an occasional appearance on MOTD2), because he is one of the finest presenters around. At home covering either live matches or phone-ins, Pougatch has a crisp and listenable style that has earned him plaudits from many 5live fans. The BBC would do well to promote him into the MOTD2 slot on a regular basis after Colin Murray’s departure.

2. Jeff Stelling, Sky Sports

Who doesn’t like Jeff? Animated, humorous and always worth a watch, he is the star presenter of Sky’s football coverage. He’s forged a reputation of almost legendary proportions on the hugely popular ‘Gillette Soccer Saturday’, and is also responsible for presenting live league cup games. While it’s a little mysterious that he isn’t given Premier League games on Monday Night Football, he will continue to shine on a Saturday afternoon with Messrs Merson, Thompson and Kamara.

1. James Richardson, BBC & ESPN

Something of an enigma these days, Richardson can be found presenting BBC South’s Late Kick-Off show, with seamless class. Always interesting to watch and with a unique presenting style, Richardson carved his lofty status as presenter of Channel 4’s popular Gazzetta Football Italia where he often seen filming at an Italian cafe gazing at a Gazzetta Dello Sport with an ice cream sundae. These days, his presenting of Italian football extends only to ESPN’s Serie A coverage, but he would be more than capable of presenting on Match of the Day or at other high-profile jobs.

The bad:

5. Dan Walker, BBC

Like BBC commentator Steve Bower, Walker is being groomed for the top by the Beeb. Many viewers will wonder why, when Walker has barely earned praise for his plain and naive presenting style. Currently presenting Football Focus, Walker is also heard on 5live irritating listeners with an over-friendly and boyish approach. Has the potential to be a top presenter, but his sudden rise has raised a few eyebrows – perhaps he’s seen as a natural replacement for Jake Humphrey?

4. Colin Murray, BBC

Too chummy with fellow colleagues, possessor of an annoying voice and user of tumbleweed gags – just a few reasons why Colin Murray should take his rightful place on the list of bad presenters. It seems the BBC agrees, with Murray being demoted from the hot seat on Match of the Day 2 to his everyday radio commitments from the 2013/14 season onwards.

3. Matt Smith, ITV

Matt…Smith…has…a…very…distinct…style. If you hadn’t already guessed from my sarcasm, Smith has a strong and irritating fondness for the artistic pause. In fact, his pausing is so obvious you can pretty much predict what he’s going to say before he’s even said it. Despite this, his presenting is largely undramatic and mostly error-free, although many critics have pointed out that his knowledge of the game is lacking in some departments. If he were to iron out the pauses he wouldn’t be on this list.

2. Mark Chapman, BBC

There’s not much that Mark Chapman cannot do when it comes to annoying football fans. Blessed with a voice more akin to that of the Milkybar kid than a front-line football presenter, he is guilty of a series of uninspiring presenting displays. Some elements of Chapman’s presenting are fine – including his thorough knowledge of the game – but he lets himself down with some glaring errors and, like Murray, is often too chummy with pundits on-screen – notably Robbie Savage. With Chapman at the helm, it’s not difficult to see why Final Score looks amateurish in comparison to Soccer Saturday.

1. Adrian Chiles, ITV

Don’t get me wrong, I find Chiles’ sense of humour fairly inoffensive having been brought up by and spent time with several Midlanders in my life, but for the majority of football fans he infuriates rather than delights. Twitter is always a hazardous place for football presenters, but the horrific abuse Chiles gets from fans on the social networking site is sometimes unbelievable. That said, criticisms are not without justice, mainly due to his proneness to big gaffes and his dour, dead-pan style. His most recent error, and perhaps the most amusing, was when he left his backpack on the ITV sofa during the half-time break of the Brazil vs England game. When ITV came back on air, his backpack was in full view. While this is mainly his fault, the ITV producers should also be criticised for not noticing. ITV really could, and should, do better.