The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league consisting of 32 teams, divided equally between the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The NFL is one of the four major professional sports leagues in North America, and the highest professional level of American football in the world. The NFL's 17-week regular season runs from early September to late December, with each team playing 16 games and having one bye week. Following the conclusion of the regular season, six teams from each conference (four division winners and two wild card teams) advance to the playoffs, a single-elimination tournament culminating in the Super Bowl, which is usually held in the first Sunday in February, and is played between the champions of the NFC and AFC.
The NFL was formed in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association (APFA) before renaming itself the National Football League for the 1922 season. The NFL agreed to merge with the American Football League (AFL) in 1966, and the first Super Bowl was held at the end of that season; the merger was completed in 1970. Today, the NFL has the highest average attendance (67,591) of any professional sports league in the world and is the most popular sports league in the United States. The Super Bowl is among the biggest club sporting events in the world and individual Super Bowl games account for many of the most watched television programs in American history, all occupying the Nielsen's Top 5 tally of the all-time most watched U.S. television broadcasts by 2015. The NFL's executive officer is the commissioner, who has broad authority in governing the league.
The team with the most NFL championships is the Green Bay Packers with thirteen (nine NFL titles before the Super Bowl era, and four Super Bowl championships afterwards); the team with the most Super Bowl championships is the Pittsburgh Steelers with six. The current NFL champions are the Philadelphia Eagles, who defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, their first Super Bowl championship after winning three NFL titles before the Super Bowl era.
The National Football League Draft, also called the NFL Draft or the Player Selection Meeting, is an annual event which serves as the league's most common source of player recruitment. The basic design of the draft is that each team is given a position in the drafting order in reverse order relative to its record in the previous year, which means that the last place team is positioned first. From this position, the team can either select a player or trade their position to another team for other draft positions, a player or players, or any combination thereof. The round is complete when each team has either selected a player or traded its draft position.
Certain aspects of the draft, including team positioning and the number of rounds in the draft, have seen revisions since its first creation in 1936, but the fundamental method has remained the same. Currently the draft consists of seven rounds. The original rationale in creating the draft was to increase the competitive parity between the teams as the worst team would, ideally, have chosen the best player available. In the early years of the draft, players were chosen based on hearsay, print media, or other rudimentary evidence of a player's ability. In the 1940s, some franchises began employing full-time scouts. The ensuing success of their corresponding teams eventually forced the other franchises to also hire scouts.
Colloquially, the name of the draft each year takes on the form of the NFL season in which players picked could begin playing. For example, the 2010 NFL draft was for the 2010 NFL season. However, the NFL-defined name of the process has changed since its inception. The location of the draft has continually changed over the years to accommodate more fans, as the event has gained popularity. The draft's popularity now garners prime-time television coverage. In the league's early years, from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s, the draft was held in various cities with NFL franchises until the league settled on New York City starting in 1965, where it remained for fifty years until 2015. The 2015 and 2016 NFL drafts were held in Chicago, while the 2017 version was held in Philadelphia and 2018 in Dallas. The 2019 NFL Draft will be held in Nashville. In recent years, the NFL draft has occurred in late April or early May.
The Super Bowl is the annual championship game of the National Football League (NFL). The game is the culmination of a regular season that begins in the late summer of the previous calendar year. Normally, Roman numerals are used to identify each game, rather than the year in which it is held. For example, Super Bowl I was played on January 15, 1967, following the 1966 regular season. The sole exception to this naming convention tradition occurred with Super Bowl 50, which was played on February 7, 2016, following the 2015 regular season, and the following year, the nomenclature returned to Roman numerals for Super Bowl LI, following the 2016 regular season. The most recent Super Bowl was Super Bowl LII, on February 4, 2018, following the 2017 regular season.
The game was created as part of a merger agreement between the NFL and its then-rival league, the American Football League (AFL). It was agreed that the two leagues' champion teams would play in the AFL–NFL World Championship Game until the merger was to officially begin in 1970. After the merger, each league was redesignated as a "conference", and the game has since been played between the conference champions to determine the NFL's league champion. Currently, the National Football Conference (NFC) leads the league with 27 wins to 25 wins for the American Football Conference (AFC). The Pittsburgh Steelers have the most Super Bowl championship titles, with six. The New England Patriots have the most Super Bowl appearances, with ten. Charles Haley and Tom Brady both have five Super Bowl rings, which is the record for the most rings won by a single player.
The day on which the Super Bowl is played, now considered by some as an unofficial American national holiday, is called "Super Bowl Sunday". It is the second-largest day for U.S. food consumption, after Thanksgiving Day. In addition, the Super Bowl has frequently been the most-watched American television broadcast of the year; the seven most-watched broadcasts in U.S. television history are Super Bowls. In 2015, Super Bowl XLIX became the most-watched American television program in history with an average audience of 114.4 million viewers, the fifth time in six years the game had set a record, starting with the 2010 Super Bowl, which itself had taken over the number-one spot held for 27 years by the final episode of M*A*S*H. The Super Bowl is also among the most-watched sporting events in the world, almost all audiences being North American, and is second to soccer's UEFA Champions League final as the most watched annual sporting event worldwide.The NFL restricts the use of its "Super Bowl" trademark; it is frequently called the Big Game or other generic terms by non-sponsoring corporations. Because of the high viewership, commercial airtime during the Super Bowl broadcast is the most expensive of the year, leading to companies regularly developing their most expensive advertisements for this broadcast. As a result, watching and discussing the broadcast's commercials has become a significant aspect of the event. In addition, popular singers and musicians including Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Beyoncé, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Whitney Houston, and Lady Gaga have performed during the event's pre-game and halftime ceremonies.
College football is American football played by teams of student athletes fielded by American universities, colleges, and military academies, or Canadian football played by teams of student athletes fielded by Canadian universities. It was through college football play that American football rules first gained popularity in the United States.
Unlike most other sports in North America, no minor league farm organizations exist in American or Canadian football. Therefore, college football is generally considered to be the second tier of American football in the United States and Canadian football in Canada; one step ahead of high school competition, and one step below professional competition. However, in some areas of the country, college football is more popular than professional football, and for much of the early 20th century, college football was seen as more prestigious than professional football.
It is in college football where a player's performance directly impacts his chances of playing professional football. The best collegiate players will typically declare for the professional draft after three to four years of collegiate competition, with the NFL holding its annual draft every spring in which 256 players are selected annually. Those not selected can still attempt to land an NFL roster spot as an undrafted free agent.