How to Survive a Conversation on Football: A Cheatsheet

Don't know sports? We'll give you the play-by-play.

How to Survive a Conversation on Football

You're a person who doesn't follow sports. And you're fine with this unique wrinkle in your personality! But you have a job and a family. Colleagues and bosses. Friends and relatives. And a lot of them do follow sports. And at certain times of the year, social interaction is cranked up to 11. And one or more of these sports may be dominating any given conversation.

Suddenly, your non-interest is a conversational liability. But fear not: you're smart and capable enough to survive! You just need a crib sheet. That’s where we come in.

Use this guide and you'll be able to at least fake it in ANY social situation that requires a passing knowledge of the NFL. Print it out, transcribe it onto index cards, laminate it, hang it on your wall… however you want to learn, go ahead and learn. Just take it slow and keep your eye on the ball.

National Football League

Season dates: Labor Day through Groundhog Day (16 regular season games, four rounds of playoffs)

Team breakdown: 32 teams divided into two conferences (American and National), with four divisions in each conference

Postseason business: four division winners and two wild card teams make the playoffs in each conference (top two seeds in each conference earn first-round Bye); all games are single-elimination

Name of championship/trophy: The Super Bowl – “The Vince Lombardi Trophy”

Tortured franchises (seasons since their last AFL/NFL/Super Bowl championship):

  • Arizona Cardinals (70 seasons)
  • Detroit Lions (60 seasons)
  • Tennessee Titans (56 seasons)
  • Los Angeles Chargers (54 seasons)
  • Buffalo Bills (52 seasons)
  • Cleveland Browns (54 seasons)

Best rivalries:

  • Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers
  • Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
  • New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles
  • Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens

Best fans: Steelers, Packers, Patriots, Cowboys

Worst fans: Rams, Chargers, and Jaguars

Biggest change from when you were a kid: the word “Fantasy” will come up in broadcasts at least five times per quarter, computer tablets are constantly used on sidelines, running backs are not nearly as important, the Chargers and Rams moved to Los Angeles

Biggest problems:

  • the league is struggling to reconcile “maintaining the sport’s historical physicality” with “massive mounting evidence that the sport’s physicality is extremely dangerous for players’ brains”
  • the salary cap usually yields mediocrity rather than entertaining balance and parity
  • the league does not take care of its players once they retire

Staples of the game: tall fat guys who can run like gazelles, plays so unlikely to succeed that they are dubbed “Hail Marys,” and guys in full athletic gear getting paid a lot of money to do nothing but hold clipboards (backup quarterbacks)

Why you should watch: it's the most popular sport in the country, it never hurts to be mildly informed when making Super Bowl bets, those 10 minutes per game where players aren’t standing around or huddling can be pretty fascinating from a strategic standpoint

Most telling statistics you may not know about: DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average — measures a team's success on any given play based on points and yards gained/lost versus what statistically would have been expected to happen on that play when accounting for the down, distance, game situation & quality of the opponent) and Point Differential (basically, how many more points a team scores than its opponent — this can be helpful in determining whether a team’s win-loss record is actually indicative of their quality)

Best players: Aaron Rodgers (Packers), Tom Brady (Patriots), Von Miller (Broncos), and Antonio Brown (Steelers).

Names you need to learn how to pronounce: Luke Kuechly (keek – lee) and Calais Campbell (kuh – lay – iss)

Commissioner: Roger Goodell, since 2006 – regarded as a disciplinarian who is often out of step with fans and regularly plays favorites (but even his favorites can change depending on the week)

Team of the decade: New England Patriots — .796 winning percentage, eight division titles, four AFC Championships, and two Super Bowls since 2010

Most titles in the last 25 years: Patriots (five), Broncos (three), and Giants/Packers/Ravens/Cowboys/Steelers (two)

Where you can watch, nationally: CBS, NBC, ESPN, Fox, and NFL Network

Average player salary: $2.7 millionAverage ticket price: $172
Average length of game: 3 hoursAverage arena capacity: 68,894
Average attendance: 69,264Average player age: 26.6 years old

International influence: less than 1% — mostly from Canada, Germany, and England.

Draft information: held in April, over 220 picks made of college players; draft order determined by winning percentage.

Minor leagues: there are no official NFL-endorsed minor leagues; lower-level professional leagues like the Canadian Football League and United States Football League can sometimes be regarded as quasi-potential minor leagues.

All-Star Game info: “The Pro Bowl” is held the weekend before the Super Bowl (late January or early February), in Orlando (it was previously held in Hawaii). Players and coaches generally do not take the game seriously and very few people pay any attention, at all.

Best places to see a game:

  • Arrowhead Stadium – Kansas City
  • Heinz Field – Pittsburgh
  • AT&T Stadium – Dallas
  • Lambeau Field – Green Bay
  • Century Link Field – Seattle

Most bizarre mascots: Texans, Packers, and Browns.

Celebrity fans: Bradley Cooper (Eagles), Ice Cube (Raiders), Mark Wahlberg (Patriots)

Five fun facts:

  1. The NFL and the Chicago Bears both changed their names on the same day in 1922 (previously, they were respectively known as the American Professional Football Association and the Chicago Staleys).
  2. Six teams don’t have any players’ numbers retired — the Ravens, Texans, and Jaguars are all too young of franchises while the Falcons, Cowboys, and Raiders have simply made it a practice not to retire jersey numbers.
  3. Coaches can challenge officials' calls twice (potentially three times) per game.
  4. The 1972 Dolphins are the only team to go undefeated all season including the Super Bowl
  5. The quarterback and one defensive player, per team, are permitted to have headsets built into their helmets so that coaches and coordinators can speak to them from the sideline.

Best places to get informed: National Football Post and Football Outsiders.

Justin Brown is an artist and writer living in Virginia. He channels most of his enthusiasm into making things for his online art shop, Artness! by Justin Brown. You can keep up to date with him, his worldly adventures, and his dogs by following him on Instagram and on Facebook


  • Reply October 6, 2018


    FYI, re: Fun Fact #4: the ’72 Dolphins (

    • Reply October 7, 2018


      Thank you! Fixed!

      • Reply October 7, 2018


        You bet.

  • Reply October 7, 2018

    Adam Vicks

    Forgot one of football’s most notorious rivalries: Cowboys vs. Redskins

  • Reply October 7, 2018

    Serafin Nunez

    Random knowledge… You have eleven players, five of which are linemen and one is the quarterback. Packages are described with two numbers based on the number of backs and tightends out of the remaining five… 11 means one back, one tightend, three wide receivers. 22 is two backs, two tightends, one wide receiver, and so on. So if someone says, “They should use more eleven personnel to open up the passing game,” you will now get it.

    • Reply October 8, 2018

      Ryan N

      Similarly, a “nickel” defense, like the 5-cent piece, means there are 5 defensive backs (aka the players who are positioned the farthest away the offense). A “dime” defense is 6 defensive backs, only called so because it’s the next step up in currency from a nickel.

  • Reply October 10, 2018

    Ron Anderson

    Why would you have a picture of a college football then only talk about the NFL?

  • Reply October 11, 2018


    Decent, for somebody “trying to survive a conversation” I suppose, but some of the content demonstrates a clear East coast bias (and I’m from MA, living in the Charlotte-area now). Why are the Raiders left off of the “best fans” list? Has the author never heard of the “black hole”? And this is a group of fans who have endured some pretty bad seasons from their team over the past two decades. Sticking with the silver and black, how are the Raider/Chiefs rivalry not included, but the Steelers/Bengals is? I know you can’t please everybody, just thought they deserve more recognition than the Ice Cube being a celebrity fan . . .

    • Reply October 23, 2018

      Bob Jennings

      It is because who ever wrote this list doesn’t really know what they are talking about.

  • Reply October 12, 2018


    I like primer, but this is truly pitiful.

  • Reply October 22, 2018

    Scott Ingalls

    Don’t forget! All of this knowledge is useless if you initiate your response by saying, “Oh you mean American Football?” ASK ME HOW I KNOW.

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