Hi, Jets fans,
As a cheerleader for over a decade, I've had a front-row seat to over 100 football games. Although both my undergrad and law school were considered "basketball" schools when I attended, I always looked forward to the football season. Breathing in the crisp autumn air, hearing the crunch of shoulder pads, and joining in the screams of tens of thousands of voices really make football a thrilling sport to watch.
However, a lot of my friends dismiss football because they think the rules are too complicated. In an effort to bring my love of football to those who have no clue what shape a football is in (technically, a "prolate spheroid"), below is a beginner's guide to the greatest sport ever invented.
So, what goes on at a football game?
1. Player Introductions — Stand up and "Airplane"!
With the help of pyrotechnics and a Flight Crew Cheerleaders tunnel, the Jets introduce their starting 11-player offense or 11-player defense at the beginning of each game. The game captains then get ready for the coin toss, in which the visiting team calls the toss. The winner of the coin toss can either elect to begin the game on offense (receive), begin the game on defense (kickoff), or make the other team decide (defer).
At any given time, only 11 players from each team are allowed on the field. These players will meet on a field that is 100 yards long and 53⅓ yards wide, which doesn't include the two 10-yard end zones on each end where the teams can score.
2. Kickoff — And They're Off!
The team starting the game on offense will receive the kickoff from the defending team. During the kickoff, the kicker will kick to the returner, who will attempt to run the ball back with the help of his blockers.
If the kicked ball reaches the end zone, the returner can either decide to try and run the ball back from the end zone, or elect not to run the ball back; instead his team will automatically start with the ball on the 20-yard line. When the kicker elects not to run the ball back and just start at the 20, this is called a "touchback." Both teams' special teams units will play on the kickoff, and after the initial kick and return, the respective offensive and defensive teams will enter the game for the first time.
3. — Offense – Go, Jets, Go!
When the Jets are on offense, they are trying to score a touchdown by advancing the football into the other team's end zone. The defensive team is trying to impede their progress by tackling their runners or blocking/intercepting their passes.
There are two general ways to advance the ball: (1) passing play and (2) rushing play. A passing play is where the quarterback will throw the ball down field to one of his receivers who will attempt to catch it. A rushing play is where the quarterback immediately hands the ball to one of the running backs who will attempt to run with the ball past the defenders trying to tackle him.
The offense has four attempts ("downs") to advance the ball 10 yards. If they are able to advance the ball 10 yards in four downs, they get another fresh set of downs. The team starts at "1st and 10," which means this is their first attempt and they have 10 yards to go.
If the offense advances the ball into the defense's territory but not far enough into the end zone, the offense can instead try a field goal by having their kicker kick the ball through the uprights. A field goal is worth 3 points.
However, a touchdown is really the key to a win (6 points plus 1 or 2 potential extra points). After scoring a touchdown, the offense has one opportunity to try for extra points. The scoring team can attempt an extra-point kick (worth 1 point), which is the most common action. Alternatively, they can go for a 2-point conversion by running a regular play into the end zone, almost like a second touchdown.
4. Defense — Stop That Drive!
As mentioned above, the defensive team is trying to impede the progress of the other team's offense by tackling the offense's runners or blocking/intercepting the quarterback's passes. Simply put, there are three different categories of defenders: (1) linemen; (2) linebackers; and (3) defensive backs.
The linemen stand in the front and are closest to the other team's offensive players at the start of the play. Their job is to tackle the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage (a "sack") before he throws the ball. Linemen are also the first line of defense to try and tackle a running back on a rushing play.
The linebackers are the second line of defense. Depending on the defensive play that is called, linebackers may also try and sack the quarterback, or instead wait further back to guard against balls that the quarterback passes once they are in the air.
The defensive backs are divided into cornerbacks and safeties. The cornerbacks' job is to attempt to stop the receivers from catching the quarterback's passes. The safeties are the last line of defense, and their job is to stop the offense on long-yardage plays before the offense can score. Safeties can also help cornerbacks guard against passes.
5. Special Teams — Cheers for Coach Westhoff!
The special teams units generally deal with: (1) kickoffs (discussed above); (2) punts; and (3) field goal attempts.
An offensive team will often decide to punt when they were unable to advance the ball 10 yards in four downs and are still far away from the end zone. The punter will catch the ball from the snapper and then try and kick it to the other end of the field where the other team has a kick returner waiting who will try and run the ball back before being tackled.
When an offensive team is fairly close to the end zone but is running out of downs, they can try a field goal (3 points) instead of going for a touchdown. On a field goal attempt, the snapper will snap the ball to the holder, who will hold the ball on the ground as the kicker tries to kick it through the uprights. The defensive team's players will try and block the field goal attempt by reaching the ball before the kicker has a chance to kick it past them.
6. Victory for the Jets!
To win a football game, the Jets must score more points than the other team by the end of all four quarters. If a regular-season game is still tied after four quarters, the game goes into overtime, where the first team to score wins.
The 12 best teams in the NFL make the playoffs, based mostly on which teams have the best win-loss records. The NFL is composed of two conferences, the AFC and the NFC. Within each conference, there are four divisions (North, South, East and West). The team with the best record in each division automatically make the playoffs. In addition, two other teams make the playoffs in each conference (i.e., the "wild card" teams). These are the two teams with the best records in their conference out of all the teams that did not win their division.