The NFL Playoffs Are About to Take Over Your Life, and I'm Here to Help
It's happening. The playoffs. If you hate football, there's nothing you can do to stop the rising tide. If you love football, it can still be overwhelming to keep track of who's playing and what are downs again? and obviously which players are the hottest. (Naturally.)
If you live in a house of football fanatics, I want to make the next month of weekends fun for you. Football does matter, and you might enjoy being a lazy genius about it. Ready? It's playoff crash course time. You can do this.
The Basics of Football
The offense, i.e. the team with the ball, wants to score points. How does that happen? Either a touchdown (6 points) or a field goal (3 points). If the team gets the ball into the end zone which is the brightly colored area beyond the goal line, it's a touchdown. If they kick the football through the goal posts or "uprights," it's a field goal.
If you score a touchdown, you get a little bonus. You can either kick the ball through the goal posts at close distance for an extra point or get the ball into the end zone one more time for two points. Most teams kick an extra point, i.e. most touchdowns end up being worth seven points total.
With me so far?
The defense can also score two points for getting a safety, but it's not important enough to explain. Moving on.
So what are downs?
This is what gets most newbies confused, so here's how it works.
The offense gets four chances - or downs - to move the ball ten yards forward. If they do, they get a new or "fresh" set of downs. So the first number is the down they're on, and the second number is how many yards they have left to go to get a new set of chances, or downs.
So let's practice. "1st and 10" means the team is on their first chance to move the ball and needs ten yards to stay on offense. What about "3rd and 6"? The team is on their third chance - or down - and still has to get six yards to keep possession of the football. Make sense? And "the chains" are literal chains that are ten yards long and move up and down the sidelines, measuring how far the ball has moved and needs to keep moving.
You want your team to keep getting first downs. That's how you keep the football, that's how you give yourself more chances to score, and that's how you wear out the defense by keeping them working hard on the field for longer. The closer to the end zone you are, the better your chance of scoring points, and getting another first down is the way to keep the journey going.
And how do they actually move the football?
Super simple: by passing or carrying. A pass is when the quarterback (usually the hottest one on the team for some weird reason) throws the football to a receiver, i.e. the player whose job it is to receive or catch the football, and they catch and run.
Carrying the football is when the hot quarterback hands the ball to a running back whose legs generally look like tree trunks, and that guy just runs through everybody to get the ball as far as he can.
Once the person holding the football is tackled, i.e. his knee hits the ground, the play is whistled dead. Then the guys in zebra outfits measure where the ball is, check the chains to see if the team got their ten yards, and sets the next down accordingly.
The Basics of the Playoffs
(I promise we're about to get to the hot guys.)
Different sports have different ways of doing things, but in the NFL, if you lose, you're out. So each game matters big time. That's why your husband is so insane about these things; it's football life or death.
Who gets to play in the playoffs?
The NFL is divided into two main groups or conferences - the NFC (National Football Conference) and the AFC (American Football Conference). Teams don't change conferences; it's like when you were put on teams in middle school and had classes with the same people all year. You're stuck with who you're stuck with forever and ever amen.
Not only that, each conference is divided into four divisions (NFC or AFC followed by either north, south, east, or west) made up of four teams each. So if you hate math, that's 32 total NFL teams. Your divisions don't change either. P.S. That's where rivalries come from since you play your division teams twice each season, every season.
Throughout the season, teams want to win their division, i.e. the NFC South or AFC West, by having the best record of the four teams. If you do, you automatically get into the playoffs. So each conference sends four division winners to the playoffs plus the next two teams with the best win-loss records. Those are the wild cards. So that's six teams per conference (four division winners and two wild cards) competing in their own mini conference tournament. The teams from each conference that make it through the playoffs without losing (or win their mini tournament) then play each other in the Super Bowl.
And that's where we are tomorrow. This weekend has four games, and those four winners move on. They'll play next weekend against the four teams who get this week off (or a first-round bye) because they have the best records in their conferences. I'm guessing they'll rest and watch Broadchurch or something.
Crash Course Summary
So there are 12 teams in the playoffs, six from each conference, and they got there by being the best in their divisions or by having a good enough record to make it as a wild card. They'll start playing each other this weekend, and if they lose, they're out. If they win, they advance and hope to keep winning to make it to the Super Bowl.
Teams win by scoring the most points, and they score by moving the football down the field toward the end zone, moving it far enough and fast enough before they run out of downs. Field goals are fine. Touchdowns are better.
Amen. Now it won't seem like the people around you are speaking German. Okay, onto the important things.
Who Are the Hot Guys and When Do They Play
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Houston Texans, Saturday 4:35pm ET
Alex Smith, quarterback for the Chiefs
He's not going to change your life, but he's the best one to look at. Other important Chiefs players to remember just because they're really good? Jamaal Charles (running back) and Jeremy Maclin (wide receiver).
J.J. Watt, defensive end for the Texans
He's the guy in the Papa John's commercials. He's huge. He's scary. He's also funny and like a giant teddy bear. What's a defensive end you might ask? Basically a guy who tries to knock you down as hard as he can if you're holding the football.
Jadeveon Clowney, linebacker for the Texans
When he smiles, it's like magic. P.S. A linebacker is also a defensive player who's scary and runs at you and makes you wonder if you're actually going to die because you're holding a football. It's such a weird game to play, y'all.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals, Saturday 8:15pm ET
Brandon Boykin, cornerback for Steelers
Cheekbones for days. Yes, please.
Ryan Shazier, linebacker for Steelers
Oh wait. THERE are the cheekbones for days. Also can someone set me up with his skincare regimen?
DeAngelo Williams, running back for Steelers
He used to play for my beloved Carolina Panthers, and I miss his face (and his skills) so very much. He also got in trouble with the league for wearing pink past October in continued support for his mother and breast cancer research. Way to stick it to the man, DeAngelo.
MIchael Johnson, defensive end for Bengals
OH MY WORD HE'S SO CUTE. He also wears glasses sometimes and does this Clark Kent Superman thing. I just love him.
A.J. Hawk, linebacker for Bengals
Yes, he looks like your stereotypical giant necked football player, but he's also super cute. And if you watch him live and he flicks his hair around, it makes you go a little weak in the knees. Which is better than the football players he hits who might actually break their knees.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Minnesota Vikings, Sunday 1:05pm ET
Doug Baldwin, wide receiver for Seahawks
I mean, all the cheekbones, you guys!
Kam Chancellor, safety for Seahawks
I don't like him as a player because he's scary and has made it hard for my Panthers to win, but doggone he is so fine.
Russell Wilson, quarterback for Seahawks
I mean, he's okay. Cute enough and in a lot of commercials and the quarterback, so you have to pay attention to him. He's also dating Ciara, so that's a thing.
Adrian Peterson, running back for Vikings
Adrian has had some trouble recently. He was suspended a long time because of child abuse charges, but he's been remorseful, suffered real and emotional consequences, and I want to believe in him again. Slash his smile is the best in the NFL. I'm rooting for you, Adrian.
Eric Kendricks, linebacker for Vikings
Although that smile is a close second.
Green Bay Packers vs. Washington Redskins, Sunday 4:40pm ET
Aaron Rodgers, quarterback for Packers
He's dating Olivia Munn and the one in all the All State commercials where the cheesehead redhead yells "discount double check" all the time. He's also a really good quarterback, so you know.
Clay Matthews, linebacker for Packers
SCARY. And kind of scary hot, too.
Richard Rodgers, tight end for Packers
You'll hear a lot of "Rodgers to Rodgers!" in this game since Aaron will pass to Richard often. Hopefully they'll score a touchdown together and hug so you can see both their faces at the same time. P.S. If you're ready for a little more football knowledge, a tight end is an offensive player who catches the ball on occasion but is also really big and can block for other players trying to move the ball. He's really versatile, like football baking soda.
Will Blackmon, cornerback for Redskins
A Greek god basically. I mean, imagine him holding a trident or sceptor. It totally works.
Ryan Kerrigan, linebacker for Redskins
Arms aren't supposed to look like that. He's a muscle wizard.
New England Patriots, 2nd best team in AFC and will play next weekend
Tom Brady, quarterback
Married to supermodel Giselle, spokesperson for Uggs, and general pretty boy. But he's also one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, so I'm totally scared of him.
Danny Amendola, wide receiver
He could teach classes on the five o'clock shadow. I have a thing for stubble.
Julian Edelman, wide receiver
He is fiiiiiine. Like, if he wasn't a football player, he'd be a model that I'd Google on a daily basis. You'll see him a lot. He's one of the Patriots' greatest offensive weapons, and he's been injured so they're anxious to get him back. I would be, too.
Denver Broncos, best team in AFC and will play next weekend
Brandon Marshall, wide receiver
He's one of the best receivers in the league and also one of the cutest.
Von Miller, linebacker
Oh my gosh I've had the biggest crush on Von Miller for an embarrassing length of time. I would cast him as the lead of my dream romantic comedy anytime.
Arizona Cardinals, 2nd best team in NFC and will play next weekend
Larry Fitzgerland, wide receiver
Fast, perfect hair, great smile, and super nice guy. He's so easy to root for slash he's an amazing football player. If your team plays him, be very afraid.
Carson Palmer, quarterback
He's the marginally cute dad of your friend you had an awkward crush in sixth grade.
Patrick Peterson, cornerback
Okay, so I didn't realize this guy was so hot until he was interviewed on the sideline before a game. When he moves, he's sublime. No picture does him justice. I'm sad the Cardinals are in the NFC with my Panthers because I want to see Patrick Peterson for as long as possible without having to actually play against him. Because he's stupid good and stupid hot.
Carolina Panthers, best team in NFC and will play next weekend
Cam Newton, quarterback
My team. My quarterback. I wish my dimples.
Roman Harper, safety
Oh my word, y'all. Do you see how fine he is? And that salt and pepper hair? Roman Harper forever, man.
Luke Kuechly, linebacker
He's the heart and soul of the Carolina defense, one of the best linebackers in the league (if not the best), and suuuuch a nice dude. If you love the Panthers, you're obsessed with Luke Kuechly (pronounced Kee-klee, pronounced be still my heart I love you forever).
Greg Olsen, tight end
And finally... Greg Freaking Olsen. This guy. I mean stop it. He is other-worldly in his hotness. That blond beard and the muscles and the little son who has a severe heart condition and he cries over him in interviews and he scores touchdowns all the time and he's THE BEST?!?! Yeah, he wins all the things. If you see no one else during the playoffs, seeing Greg Olsen is enough. That's why he gets two pictures.
Okay! So you know what downs are, you know what teams got in the playoffs and why, and you know what names to listen for while you're playing Candy Crush on the couch next to your football people so you can ogle and have a little of your own fun! Hooray football!