It's January, and for probably less than a single percent of the world's population, that means gluing yourself to the television for some National Football League action. For the rest of the world, sorry but you're missing out. I'm going to bet that the average attention span for a European viewer, used to the quick action of soccer or rugby union will be something in the region of five minutes. Usually after this they will start playing absent mindedly, huff a little and then start saying things.
These things inevitably are, in no particular order:
"This is shit."
"Why do they keep stopping all the time?"
"Nothing is happening."
Or all of the above.
Usually during these times, oblivious to the chess-match played by warriors blaring from the screen in front of them they will go and make some snacks or generally mooch off to get on with their evenings. This is probably a good thing for two reasons:
a) If it is the former perhaps they can get you some snacks too. These games can go on a long time.
b) With them out of the room it leaves no room for comments like, "I could definitely take *insert name of 250ib, 4.4 forty yard dashing player*, look at all those wussy pads."
Seriously, as much as we aren't big on those damned yanks and their confuzzling hobbies, this is one to get into. My recommendation is to support a team in each game. American Football games can get hair-pullingly tense and given that every single play can go all the way for a touchdown, even teams with enormous leads can see them vanish in the last seconds of the quarter.
Although the games take a long time, the action is 'blink-and-you'll-miss-it' quick. The NFL is one of the fastest leagues in the world and the game is designed for those with lightning fast reflexes despite their size.
We are at the playoffs now, a crucial period in the year where the 4 divisional champions in the AFC and NFC conferences and two 'wild-card' teams play in a knock out tournament to crown the new AFC Champion and NFC Champion respectively. These two winning teams then play each other in the glitzy superbowl with the aim of becoming, the ambitiously titled "Champions of the World."
I've included, for anybody reading a quick list of the teams involved and why they are contenders. Pick your favourite and get watching (games are streamed on atdhe.net, and you usually grab them on sky sports).
I'll start with the AFC and move on the the NFC in a couple of days.
1. New England Patriots
The pretty much undisputed best team in the AFC right now. The AFC East champions have been consistently incredible all year and best of all are doing it with a very young team. Under the experienced eye of Tom Brady, a dizzyingly talented athlete with a trio of superbowl rings and the ballistic ability of a high-powered sniper rifle, the Patriots have aimed for nothing less than perfection in everything: running, passing, defence. For a rookie fan wanting to know how this game should be played, the Patriots are the team to watch.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
If the Patriots represent the skilled finesse of a fencer, the Steelers are the brutal power of a marauding viking. From the tough manufacturing town of Pittsburgh, the Steelers are a team you love to hate. They play nasty aggressive football, characterised by linebacker Troy Polamalu. Linebackers are the guys who try and catch opponents passes or tackle them before they get too far up the field and this is a role in which Polamalu excels. He loves to charge down quarterbacks, smashing them to the turf faster than they can blink and if he can't manage that, well, their dainty wide receivers are going to be in trouble if they even dare to get anywhere near the ball. Worse still, the Steelers have a big bastard of a quarterback. Usually these guys are quite easy to knock over. Sadly Ben "Big Ben" Roethlisberger is not. He's fucking massive and likes nothing better than to batter defenders whilst picking out that unmarked receiver to hurl the ball to. The Steelers are nasty bastards and if you're in it for the violence (let's face it, you are) then they're the men to see.
NB As number one and two seeds in the playoffs, neither the Pats or Steelers will be playing this week, they'll be playing the winners of the next lot.
3. Indianapolis Colts
Oh bloody hell I wrote a lot about the Steelers didn't I? Despite the fact that I hate them. Anyway, the Colts were snubbed for the Superbowl last year by young upstarts, the New Orleans Saints and despite having an incredible quarterback in the name of Peyton Manning, they've struggled to return to form this year. That doesn't mean that they are not formidable though: bad form for the Colts is the sort of finesse that your average Carolina Panther fan can only dream of. I wouldn't follow the Colts for two reasons though: one, they have shit uniforms and two, this is not their season. Still, if you want to be schooled in how to throw a ball or engineer a heart-attack inducing last minute comeback, Peyton Manning is your man.
They'll be playing New York Jets this Saturday.
4. New York Jets
A bit of a surprise really, these Jets. Coached by Rex Ryan, the coach of the mighty Baltimore Ravens, the Jets have played their hearts out this season. They have a really fucking irritating quarterback called Mark Sanchez, but he's also really quite good so we can probably forgive that. The Jets main feature is that they are basically a big gang of nasty bastards who like to hit people really hard. Sadly in the AFC this does not make you unique. The Jets need to prove that they really have what it takes to be playing with the Patriots and the Steelers this year and earn their stripes.
5. Baltimore Ravens
There will be no bias in this paragraph. Except this little bit where I say that the Baltimore Ravens are incredible. Actually, they've been a little bit disappointing this season. Which is strange because they finished 12-4, their best ever record and have made the playoffs. All this goes to show though is the sheer amount of potential on this team. Their quarterback Joe Flacco has a cannon of an arm. They have runners who are small and agile like Ray Rice and runners who can smash shit up like Willis McGahee. They have speedy receivers, massive lineman and of course the defence. One of the most feared in the league, the Ravens will cause problems for any quarterback. Similar to the Steelers (though never tell a Raven that), the defence relies on the ball-grabbing skills of the speedy Ed Reed and the terrifying tackles of Ray Lewis, Tyrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. On paper, the Ravens have everything: speed, aggression and power; problem is they haven't quite shown it yet. Will this year be their time to prove it?
6. Kansas City Chiefs
These guys put the "wild" in 'wild-card'. Nobody expected them to get far in fact, this is the first time they have made the playoffs since 1993. A cynic might say that they have been blessed with an easy schedule and a lackluster division. The Kansas City Chiefs should not be underestimated though. They might have gone down last week to the Oakland Raiders, but everybody expects them to have sorted whatever was wrong out in the playoffs. They have a fantastic running back in the name of Jamaal Charles. Most of all, they have a lot to prove.
So that's the AFC. An exciting clutch of the best teams in the sport, these playoffs should be fantastic.
Next up, the NFC and my picks for this weekends games.