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

The lowdown on BT Sport’s free weekend

As battles go, this was as one-sided as they come.

BT Sport certainly picked a good weekend to open up their channels to everyone in what they billed as their ‘free weekend’.

By comparison, their archrivals Sky Sports, the other protagonists in this war of the sport broadcasters, had a meek splattering of goods on offer for their customers – who at £60 per month are being stripped of £720 per year. That sum would be sufficient to buy a season ticket at most Premier League grounds.

Even so, for at least a decade Sky have held the throne as the Kings of all things sport in the UK, but this season the tide looks to be turning.

BT Sport have them worried, and why not?

They’re offering free viewing to all customers with BT Broadband and, for those without the broadband deal, a fee of just £12 per month to view 38 first-pick Premier League games, an array of top Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 matches, plus comprehensive coverage of the Aviva Premiership.

That’s just for starters. If you’re a self-confessed sport addict then BT Sport could prove to be the perfect place for you.

Allied to the sport mentioned above, there’s football action from the MLS, A-League and Brazilian top flight plus other bits and bobs such as tennis, UFC, Major League Baseball and a generous helping of some innovative, interactive and engaging panel shows – the best of which is fronted by Tim Lovejoy and Matt Dawson on a Saturday morning.

On Saturday, BT Sport trumped Sky with their coverage of Crystal Palace against Arsenal. They also delighted in showing Inter Milan’s entertaining 4-2 win over Verona, while there was also a very watchable 3-0 victory for Wolfsburg against Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga.

If Sky can’t match the variety of BT Sport, then they can certainly pack a big punch of their own with the most anticipated fixture in La Liga – El Clasico.

It was rather unfortunate for Sky then, that the match was under-par by El Clasico standards – a 2-1 win for Barcelona failed, judging by various social media outbursts, to get the pulse racing.

Gareth Bale was largely anonymous and Lionel Messi was overshadowed by Neymar. That said, the goals scored by Barcelona were of high quality, particularly Neymar’s opener in which he embarrassed two Real Madrid defenders before finding the net.

The fact that the match disappointed wasn’t Sky’s fault, but what is evident is that if you put all your eggs in one basket – as Sky have done with their lack of variety – then the occasional anti-climax will inevitably happen.

But Sky’s tonic to that frustration is their Formula One coverage, which this weekend encompassed Sebastian Vettel’s title-clinching victory in the Indian Grand Prix.

Sky also screened the fifth one day international between India vs. Australia – or would have done had play not been abandoned because of rain.

Aside from that, Sky had very little to offer last weekend. Various repeats were screened and events like the CIMB Classic golf tournament from Kuala Lumpur did little to wrestle the attention away from BT Sport.

Sunday was slightly better for Sky, with the Tyne and Wear derby preceding the clash between Chelsea and Manchester City – once again their ability to show the top football matches in the Premier League proved the main draw to their coverage.

The second NFL London game between the Jaguars and the 49ers was also available to Sky customers, but they lost out on millions of spectators as it was also on offer to terrestrial viewers over on Channel 4, who have maintained their growing grasp on the sport in this country.

It was, at this point on Sunday teatime, as if BT Sport had their opponents on the ropes. It wasn’t long before they delivered a final blow.

France’s two cash-rich clubs, Monaco and PSG, kicked off one after the other – enabling viewers to gorge themselves on Ligue 1 action that is quickly being elevated to a higher level thanks to players such as Monaco’s Radamel Falcao and PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

If that wasn’t enough, then a brilliant panel show featuring top football journalists from France, Italy and Germany, presented by the insuperable James Richardson, gave viewers a comprehensive and informative round-up of the best Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 action.

In critical terms, Sky’s service to sport fans has been bettered by BT Sport – and by some way.

The diehard Premier League fans will always flock to Sky, but BT Sport are slowly cranking up the pressure in that department as they bid to show more and more games per season.

Then there is the issue of costing. Would you pay £60 per month for Sky or £12 per month for BT Sport? True, Sky will have autumn international rugby Tests and the Ashes coming up soon, but when they’re all done and the viewers are sat down in February, what else is there to watch?

BT Sport will always be there with a good variety of sport, and it’s a strategy which is intrinsic to their quest to surpass Sky as the country’s leading sports broadcaster.

On the evidence of the last weekend at least, BT Sport have won the battle. Give them a few more years and they may well have won the broadcasting war.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89