10 Things You Need to Know to Watch an NFL Game

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On Sunday, there will be football. There will be football…and lots of it. This causes me to rejoice in ways that are too over-the-top for words. I literally cannot contain my excitement. However, I know that there are plenty of other women in the world who do not share those sentiments, and, in fact, harbor the exact opposite sentiments to the beginning of the 2013 NFL season.

If that’s you, I’m begging you: don’t spend this Sunday or any other Sunday starring blankly at the TV, hating your life. Come join us at Football for Normal Girls! You’ll learn some new things, laugh a ton, and the prospect of in-season Sundays will no longer make you panic and/or mourn. This can be FUN. I promise!

Just test it out today. Start with this post, print or pin or save the little cheat sheet above – whatever floats your boat – and see if it makes your weekend any easier.

And then come back on Monday. Because if you can’t beat the NFL season, you might as well join us over at Football for Normal Girls!!!


10 Things You Need to Know to Watch an NFL Game

1. 3 Units: Offense, Defense, Special Teams

The offense is the unit with the ball. See the quarterback? He’s on the offensive side. The defense is the unit on the other side. See all of the burly men running towards the quarterback/ball carrier? That’s the defensive unit. Special teams is the unit that comes out for kickoffs, extra points, and field goals.

Need more? Check out the Basics of Offense, the Basics of Defense, and the Basics of Special Teams.

2. 11 men on the field for each unit

Each unit is only allowed to have 11 men on the field at all times – having more than that on the field will earn a penalty. If you see a player sprinting off the field prior to the snap, chances are a whistle and a flag will soon be following him (unless he makes it off in time).

3. The offense’s job is to score

The offense is the unit with the ball. Their job is to score points, which they can do by running the ball into the end zone for a touchdown, passing it into the end zone for a touchdown, or kicking a field goal.

4. The defense’s job is also to score

The defense, contrary to popular belief, is not just trying to stop the progress of the offense. That’s actually their second job. Their first job is to get the ball away from the offense and score points. They can do this by forcing and recovering a fumble (where the ball carrier loses the ball) or by an interception (where a defender catches a ball intended for an offensive player) and then running the ball into the end zone for a touchdown. (Don’t fry your brain, but the defense can also force a safety, which is worth 2-points.)

Just to clarify: if the defense recovers possession of the football via a fumble or an interception and they don’t score any points right then and there, their team’s offense takes over and tries to score the same as they would in any other offensive possession.

5. 2 halves // 4 quarters // 15 min each

NFL games consist of four 15-minute quarters. There are 2 quarters per half. Halftime is the break in between those halves. (I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you probably could have come up with that on your own.) Common misconception: each team doesn’t have their “own” end zone that stays the same for the entire game. Teams switch sides of the field at the end of the first and the third quarter to create fair playing conditions for both teams. Also, play continues as normal at the end of the first and the third quarter – so if a team ends the first quarter with a 1st down at the 40 yard line, they’ll start the second quarter with a 1st down at the 40 yard line (on the other side of the field, because the sides have been switched). But at the end of each half, play stops. At the start of the second half, the team that didn’t kickoff to start the game kicks off to start the third quarter after halftime and a new drive ensues. At the end of the second half…the game is over (another helpful hint! this website rocks!) – unless the score is tied, in which case it’s time for #10 (!!!).

6. Game clock + Play clock (both matter)

The game clock keeps track of how much time is left in the 15-minute quarter. The game clock stops for many reasons, including but not limited to: time outs, penalties, and change of possession. The play clock keeps track of how much time the offense has left to make a play – either 25 or 40 seconds, depending on the situation (this post all about clocks will help tremendously). Mostly, just know that the offense has a limited amount of time from the end of one play to start the next play, and the play clock accounts for that.

7. It’s all about the downs

Once the offense starts their new possession, they have four chances, called “downs,” to move the ball 10 yards from where they started (this place is called “the line of scrimmage”). Each play is then calculated by what chance (down) the offense is on and how many yards they have left until they reach 10 yards total. Once they reach or exceed the 10 yards in one set of downs, they get a new set – four more chances to move the ball 10 more yards.

Here’s an example: it’s the start of a new drive (possession) for the offense. That means the down and distance is 1st and 10 (1st down and 10 yards left to go). On the first play the quarterback passes the ball to a running back who gains 4 yards. The new down and distance is 2nd and 6 because it’s the 2nd down and there are 6 yards left to go until the offense reaches 10 yards gained total (10 needed – 4 gained = 6 left). On the next play the quarterback throws the ball to a wide receiver who catches it and gains 3 yards. Now the down and distance is 3rd and 3 (10 needed – 7 total gained = 3 left). On the next play the quarterback gets pressured and tries to run. He gains 2 yards. Down and distance: 4th and 1 (10 needed – 9 total gained = 1 left).

4th down throws everything into a ruckus. Let’s talk about that.

(If you are still unclear about this whole down situation, check out this post.)

8. 4th down options

Teams try to avoid 4th down situations, because, as aforementioned, 4th downs cause anxiety and intensity. Ideally, a team would like to earn a new set of downs before arriving at 4th down. However, at 4th down, the offense has three choices: punt, kick a field goal, or try one more time to earn a new set of downs. How do they decide what to do? It depends on where they are on the field and what the game situation is.

The offense will usually punt when on their own side of the field (the 50 yards connected to their end zone) or fairly close to it. They will usually opt for a field goal if they are within range (30-50 yards is typical for an NFL field goal attempt). They’ll usually try to get the remaining yards needed for a new set of downs (or “go for it”) when the yardage is short (4th and 1 or 4th and inches) and the team believes they can either convert (get the 1st down) or hand the ball over on downs without sacrificing too much field position – because if they don’t get the 1st down, they give the other team the ball right where they are.

None of those situations matter if it’s late in the game and the offense needs to score to win the game. In that scenario, no matter where they are on the field on 4th down, they’ll likely go for it. These are usually “Hail Mary” plays.

9. Touchdowns are not worth 7 points

True story. Touchdowns are worth 6 points; the extra point (or PAT, Point After Touchdown) is kicked from the 2-yard line and is worth…you guessed it!…1 extra point. Teams can also opt to go for 2 by running or passing it into the end zone from the 2-yard line. Also, field goals are worth 3 points. Just throwing (or kicking) that out there.

10. We live for overtime

Overtime is when all that is good in the world gets even better. Overtime is a nail-biting, heart-racing, pull-all-of-your-hair-out ode to competitive sports at it’s finest. In overtime, if the team on offense scores a touchdown on their first possession, they win. Game over. But if they either don’t score or only score a field goal, the other team has a chance to possess the ball and score. After both teams have had a chance to possess the ball (unless, of course, the team who had the ball first scored a touchdown), the next score wins – any score, not just a touchdown. If the 15-minute overtime period ends and the game is still tied…that’s it. Tie game. (This is where we all write to the NFL and petition for a rule change because if overtime is the apex of all that is good in sports, ties are the wettest wet blanket in all of sports.)


Got it?! Of course you do!!! But if you do have any questions between now and Sunday, flip through the Archives, the Glossary, follow FNG on Twitter and Facebook, or shoot me an email! I’m always happy to help.

Thanks for stopping by today! Go have a GREAT weekend!!!

Draft Week History Lesson : Bests and Busts

The draft wasn’t always the draft. It was always a selection process to procure new talent in which the worst teams selected players first, that much is true. But it hasn’t always been the media frenzy it has now become, complete with red carpet arrivals and round the clock coverage.

Future commissioner Bert Bell was the mastermind behind the NFL’s first draft in 1936. As fate would have it, the first player ever selected in the draft, Jay Berwanger, decided he didn’t want to play pro football after all.

I think it’s safe to say that tonight’s first pick will not follow suit.

In today’s NFL, it’s easy to think that all legendary talent gets drafted with the first or second pick. Last year’s draft history would tell us this is true: Andrew Luck was drafted first overall by the Colts and the Redskins moved up to take Robert Griffin III at number two. They’re both proving to be worth the high picks.

But history also tells us that Russell Wilson was chosen 73 picks later in the 3rd round of the draft. And that his Seahawks advanced farther in the playoffs than the Colts and the Redskins, whom the Seahawks beat in the first round to advance.

It’s not as cut-and-dry as it might seem in either capacity; there were extenuating circumstances throughout the year for all three teams. But it goes to show that sometimes the 75th pick can be just as valuable, and occasionally more valuable, than the first or second pick.

To test out this theory, let’s play a game. Try to match each player with their respective draft pick:

Draft day is HERE! Before the first pick is announced tonight, let's take a look back at the history of the draft.



A. (6) – Tom Brady was taken with the 199th pick in the 6th round. He was infamously drafted before 6 other QB’s, and will inevitably go down as one of the best to ever play the game.

B. (5) – Three quarterbacks were taken with the first three picks of the 1999 draft: Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, and Akili Smith. Only one survived to achieve success…and it wasn’t Couch or Smith.

C. (1) – See above.

D. (3)  – Shannon Sharpe was selected 192nd overall and spent 9 seasons with the Broncos, during which time he won two Super Bowls with the team.

E. (2) – The Bucs selected Ronde Barber 66th overall in the 1997 draft…and he’s still with the team to this day, 15 years later. And he’s still one of the best cornerbacks in the league.

F. (4) – Ryan Leaf is perhaps the most well-known of draft day busts, and also the saddest. He was taken by the Chargers with the 2nd pick in the 1st round by the Chargers and played there for only 2 years. He had all the potential in the world, but none of the drive.

Now, that list is admittedly deceiving, as there have been plenty of worthy #1 picks over the years: the Manning brothers both went with the first pick, as did Troy Aikman, John Elway, Earl Campbell, Terry Bradshaw, and plenty of other notables. It just goes to say that the draft might determine which team a player calls home for a time, but it doesn’t have anything to do with that player’s inherent talent and drive to be the best.

Who’s the diamond in the rough this year?

We’ll just have to wait and see. (That’s the best part!)

Happy draft day, everyone!

Controversy and Integrity in the NFL

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If you are here, reading this post, it might be because you are a fan of the NFL and read blogs about football. But more likely than not, you are here either because you are a) a friend who came over from the main site (thanks, guys!) or b) someone who is trying to learn more about football to make life bearable for the next 4 months.

To those of you in the latter group, let me assure you of something right from the get-go: What you have witnessed in the past 3 weeks IS NOT FOOTBALL. It’s a power struggle between the NFL owners and the NFL referees over a few million dollars – which is basically pocket change for a multi-billion dollar industry – being played out publicly and to the detriment of the players, the fans, and the game itself.

That being said, let’s try to learn something from this situation, both about the game and about life.

Before we begin, a disclaimer: I am not an objective voice to speak on this issue. The Packers are one of my greatest joys in life; I’m an unrelenting and irrational fan. As such, I am biased. I do not have a valid perspective on this issue.

But I do have eyes. And this is what my eyes saw last night:

1. M.D. Jennings, the Packers player who jumped highest, intercepted the ball in the endzone.

2. General pandemonium erupted on the field.

Let’s tackle the first issue first.

From a game-play perspective, let’s review what happened:

1. Golden Tate, 81, pushes off on Sam Shields, 37, before jumping up to try and catch the ball. That’s an Offensive Pass Interference penalty which should have rendered the play null and void. That penalty was not called. Mistake #1. (And let’s not even talk about the phantom Roughing the Passer penalty that put the Seahawks in position to take that shot at the endzone in the first place, or the also-phantom Defensive Pass Interference penalty on the other Packers interception a few plays prior.)

2. When M.D. Jennings, 43, and Golden Tate, 81, came down with the ball, one ref ruled it a touchdown and one ref made the call to stop the clock. The ref who ran to the endzone, looked at the pile, and ruled the “catch” a touchdown had the power to overrule the ref who ruled to stop the clock to review the play. Therefore, he should have taken the time to conference with the other officials before making his overarching decision. Mistake #2.

3. (This is important to know!) The play was reviewed by the replay official because all scoring plays inside the final 2 minutes of the game are reviewed. But, by rule, the ruling of a touchdown call can’t be overturned and ruled as an interception. As soon as the play was called a touchdown, the only “reviewable” action was whether or not the ball hit the ground/was controlled by the receiver. The replay official cannot determine possession. Because Golden Tate/M.D. Jennings did have control of the ball, the ruling on the field stood. The replacement ref making the touchdown call was the one who made the egregious error, not the official in the booth reviewing the play.

As we break this down from a football perspective, it’s an example of a bad call at the end of an entire game’s worth of bad calls. Clearly, I’m upset as a Packers fan. When you only play 16 games a season, every game counts. The Packers should be 2-1 right now.

However, bad calls are made in every game of every season by every referee – regular or replacement. It’s part of playing sports.

So let’s move on to the second aspect of the video: general pandemonium erupting on the field. And let’s take a life lesson from that: it’s never a good idea to make a decision in the midst of indecision.

The officials are clearly indecisive about which way the call should go. When you are in over your head, when you feel unprecedented scrutiny, when the fate of hardworking players and coaches and the sanity of diehard fans rests on your call…it’s not a good time to make a snap judgement. It would have been best to take a minute to back away from the action, talk to the other refs who had a better perspective on the play, and make a well-educated decision about the situation. That’s a lesson we can all apply to our own lives in one way or another.

But let’s go even further and step outside of this play in this game. Because even though it’s the worst error of the Replacement Ref Era of 2012, it’s far from the only error. This has been going on all season. And unfortunately, I think it speaks to the uglier side of the NFL, the side in which money and power are more important than the actual game of football.

I feel disheartened as a fan of the NFL. For an organization that has been so concerned with “player safety” and the “integrity of the game,” this screams hypocrisy. If you’ll allow untrained, inexperienced referees to officiate ineffectively – not for a game, not for a week – but for 3 whole weeks during which there have been constant and glaring deficiencies, none more glaring than last night, I don’t think you are actually concerned with player safety and integrity of the game.

To make matters worse, the NFL just issued a statement concerning last night’s outcome…supporting the outcome. They are effectively telling a bold-faced lie in an effort to save any remaining credibility. I can’t talk about it rationally right now because it makes my blood boil. It makes me feel like I’m living under a dictatorship in which I’m being fed falsehoods and expected to blindly support them for the good of the country.

But here’s the thing: you can’t establish credibility by promoting dishonesty and a lack of responsibility. To restore any semblance of validity to the organization, the NFL needed to man up and admit fault. What they did, instead, was further prove their lack of respect for the game and for the intelligence of those who participate – whether as a team member or a fan.

SI’s Peter King called last night, “one of the great disgraces in NFL history.” Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel rightly observed, “The game is a sideshow. The brilliant performances are an afterthought. The credibility is in question.” And Grantland’s Bill Barnwell hit the nail right on the head:

I recently read an argument suggesting that the replacement refs don’t really matter in the big picture. The evidence is that NFL ratings are still sky-high, which suggests that the fans who complain that poor refereeing is “ruining” the game are still watching. And it’s true, maybe they are still watching. But as the season goes along, if the games continue to produce terrifyingly false endings like Packers-Seahawks, I’m pretty sure that’s going to change. The easiest way to get people to stop watching is to make them think that the games they’re watching are illegitimate and irrelevant. With the continued employment of replacement referees, that is the exact path the NFL’s games are on. 

Sadly, that’s where we are right now. It’s hard to endorse a corrupt product. The outcomes of the games feel meaningless. The “just” nature of pure competition feels violated. It’s a tough pill to swallow for anyone who devotes time, money, energy, or enthusiasm to professional football.  And you’d be hard-pressed to find many people in this country who don’t devote some measure of time, money, energy or enthusiasm to professional football.

To close: much-needed perspective from Coach Lombardi:

After all the cheers have died down and the stadium is empty, after the headlines have been written, and after you are back in the quiet of your room and the championship ring has been placed on the dresser and after all the pomp and fanfare have faded, the enduring thing that is left is the dedication to doing with our lives the very best we can to make the world a better place in which to live.

Let’s remember what’s truly important. Let’s not allow ourselves to become cynical, but instead use this as a catalyst to lead by example and do with our lives the very best that we can. And please, let’s choose to encourage those within the organization who are exemplifying strength of character and true class rather than harshly demean those who are caught up in corruption.

There are good people who play football, even if the business behind the sport is not currently good.