Football Basics – The Combine

Football Basics: NFL Combine

What is the NFL scouting combine?

Short answer: Large athletic men running around in tight clothes.

Longer answer: An annual event held by the NFL to evaluate top league prospects. Affectionately referred to as the “Underwear Olympics,” the NFL combine is an opportunity for college athletes to impress NFL personnel through a series of physical and mental tests.

Today we’re answering some of your basic questions about the combine so that when you see pictures of large men in tight clothes, you know what just went down.

 

Where is the combine held?

Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. Eventually it will be moved to Los Angeles.

 

Who goes to the NFL combine?

Typically about 335 of college football’s best athletes. The combine is invite-only and participants are determined by a selection committee that votes on each player. Some players with injury concerns choose not to attend.

 

What kind of physical tests do the players go through?

The 40-yard dash, the bench press, the vertical jump, the broad jump, 3 cone drill, the shuttle run, and position-specific drills. The players are also physically measured and undergo drug screenings and physical evaluations.

 

What else do the combine participants go through?

Team interviews – Each team gets 15 minutes with up to 60 participants. Each participant can have up to 15 interviews. Coaches and team management put participants through the ringer, asking questions about everything from their performances in college games to their personal lives. (Jenny Vrentas of MMQB gives us an insider’s view of one of these interviews in this post.) Players also take the Wonderlic test, which is an intelligence test used to test their aptitude for problem-solving.

 

What is it like to participate in the combine?

Obviously, I don’t have a personal experience to share here, but here’s a really great first-hand account from The Players’ Tribune.

 

Does participating in the combine guarantee a player will be drafted?

No. In fact, sometimes a poor combine performance can hurt a player’s chances of being drafted. About 250 players are drafted each year, so if you do the math, there will definitely not be enough draft spots to go around for all the combine participants.

 

What’s the future of the combine?

Lots of people question how well combine activities predict a player’s future success in the NFL. For instance, the 40-yard dash probably means less for an offensive lineman than it does for a running back due to the nature of the position. Many teams place more weight on college performance and interviews than the combine’s physical tests.

 

What else goes on at the combine?

There are lots of press conferences by coaches/GMs/team personnel types, in addition to behind-the-scenes schmoozing and talks with agents of players.

 

What’s The Snap’s take on the combine?

Eh, take it or leave it. The meat market feel is a bit of a turnoff and no one really wants to see some of those linemen in tiny tight UnderArmour. Sports media hypes it up too much because their news cycle is pretty slow this time of year for the NFL. We understand how aspects of the combine would be really helpful for teams in their decision-making, especially the interview time, but we’re not seeing any of that stuff on camera.

 

For more info about the combine, check out this site and this site, both of which I used to help write this post. 

– Michelle

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Football Basics – The Schedule

Football Basics - The Schedule

A few days ago the NFL released the schedule for the 2015 NFL season. A schedule release probably sounds like a pretty boring event, but I assure you that it is anything but in the world of The Snap.

I equate the release of the NFL schedule to the successful completion of signing up for classes in high school or college. There was something weirdly satisfying about seeing the final listing of classes – you got excited seeing the names of certain teachers/professors, you dreaded having two classes in a row that were on the opposite side of campus, and after comparing schedules, you could start planning a social life based on when you would see your friends.

There are a lot of quotes out there from players and coaches saying that the order of their games doesn’t really matter. Maybe they feel like they have to say this because every game in the NFL is important.

Personally, I think this blasé attitude is all for show.

You can’t tell me that players aren’t disappointed upon learning they will be playing outside in frigid Green Bay, Wisconsin, in December. (By the end of the month, the average high temperature in Green Bay in December is 26 degrees. Hell to the no.)

This MMQB article on the creation of the schedule is a must-read. Seriously, stop reading this post right now and click that link so you can gain a full appreciation of what goes into making the NFL schedule.

I’ll wait.

OK, you good? (I’ll know if you didn’t click – WordPress gives me statistics on things like that.)

Well then, now that you’re done reading the article, is your mind blown by how many things factor into the creation of the schedule? It should be.

Moving on, let’s talk about the important things we learn when the schedule is released.

1) Order of Opponents – It sounds obvious, but the schedule release tells teams when they will face their opponents during the season. Prior to the schedule announcement, teams only know who their opponents will be in the upcoming year.

How do they already know their opponents? Let’s get sidetracked here to discuss. Each year, a team will play the teams in their division twice during the season. So that’s 6 games. (For example, the Patriots play the Jets twice, the Bills twice and the Dolphins twice since they are all in the AFC East.) Then each division will play another division in their conference on a three-year rotating schedule. (The AFC East will play against all teams in the AFC South this year. Next year they will play against the AFC North and then the following year the AFC West.) That’s 4 more games. Another 4 games are added by a rotating schedule of divisions in the other conference. (The AFC East will play the NFC East this year, then NFC West, NFC South and finally the NFC North in the following years.) That gets us up to 14 games. The final two games are determined by win-loss records of the prior season. The purpose of this is to keep schedules competitive by forcing teams with similar win-loss records to play each other. 

OK, let’s get back to the other things we learn about when the schedule is released.

2) Challenges for Each Team – In Brian Billick’s More Than a Game, he has a quote from NFL Films COO Howard Katz. (If you read the MMQB article, you’ll know that Katz is one of the architects of the schedule.) “When just about everyone is mad at me,” he says, “I know I have done a good job.” Every team thinks the schedule makers are out to get them. Multiple games in a row on the road, a stretch of games against tough opponents, or even not starting or closing out the season at home are all reasons to be less than jazzed about your schedule.

3) Bye Weeks – The regular season is 17 weeks long. Each team plays 16 games and has one week off (the bye week). Bye weeks can occur anywhere from week 4 to week 12. If I were a player, I’d be happy with a mid-season bye week when injuries are starting to rack up and your body could use a break.

Last, but certainly not least, the schedule release is an exciting moment for fans because it helps us plan for which games we would like to attend. In our case, it’s usually all of them, but that’s besides the point.

In case you are hankering for specifics on how this year’s schedule was developed, you should check out MMQB’s 2015 edition of the article linked above. Also, here are some fun facts about the 2015 schedule and what it means for your favorite team.

The start of the season may be a few months away, but if someone were to ask me right now if I were ready for some football, the answer would be yes.

– Michelle

Football Basics – Free Agency

NFL Free Agency

If you see NFL headlines in March, more than likely they have something to do with NFL free agency.

Free agency is one of those things that sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is. Thank goodness for that.

Quite simply, free agency is the time for players who do not have contracts (“free agents”) to sign a contract somewhere. These players have come to the end of an existing contract and have yet to sign a new contract with their most recent team or a new team.

Why is free agency important?

First, free agency is the time for teams to fill roster holes from the prior year. Sure, teams will fill some of their needs through the draft in April, but most rookies aren’t going to make as immediate of an impact as a more experienced player.

Secondly, this is an opportunity for players to make big money. If negotiations with their most recent team aren’t going well or a team has flat-out told a player they won’t re-sign him, free agency is the time for that player and his agent to test the market and see what kind of deal he can make elsewhere.

Deals with other teams are largely affected by 1) the type of free agent the player is and 2) the free agency timeline. 

For the sake of our discussion and keeping things simple, free agents usually fall into one of two categories:

1. Unrestricted free agents (UFA): Players with expired contracts that have completed four or more accrued seasons of service. They are free to sign with any franchise and there is no draft choice compensation owed to his most recent team. Some of 2015’s most notable free agents (and most recent teams) include DT Ndamukong Suh (Lions), CB Darrelle Revis (Patriots), TE Julius Thomas (Broncos), and RB DeMarco Murray (Cowboys).

2. Restricted free agents (RFA): Players who have three or fewer accrued seasons of service and whose contracts have expired. Not gonna lie – these are a little more complicated than unrestricted free agents, so I won’t blame you if you skip the next paragraph.

RFAs get a “qualifying offer” from their most recent team. This is a predetermined amount of money dictated by the CBA (collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union). RFAs are free to negotiate with any team up until right before the draft (this year it’s April 24). If a new team makes an offer, the old team has the chance to match the offer of the new team and retain the player. If the old team does not match the offer, the team can get draft choices from the new team in exchange for letting the player go.

Whew, that was a lot. Let’s take a break and watch players talk about their favorite types of Girl Scout cookies. (Video will open up in a new tab because the NFL doesn’t like it when people embed their YouTube videos onto their sites.)

Just for the record, I am #TeamThinMint and #TeamTagalong. While Val has occasionally played for #TeamThinMint, she is really #TeamSamoa and #TeamTagalong. Bottom line is that we both have mad respect for Antonio Brown after he declared his love for Taglongs.

OK, back to business here…

Most of the sexy free agency headlines come from unrestricted free agents because there are a heck of a lot more of them than restricted free agents.

As I alluded to earlier, the other thing that plays a substantial role in free agency is the timeline imposed by the league.

(Let’s keep in mind that players are allowed to negotiate deals with their existing teams at any time during the year, so the deadlines imposed by the league are kind of only used to help speed negotiations along if a player or team is in a rush to get the deal done.)

Truthfully, behind-the-scenes negotiations start at the Senior Bowl and the Combine, as described in this interesting post by an NFL agent. These aren’t exactly legal, but if your agent doesn’t start talking you up right after the season ends, you risk missing out when it comes to contract negotiations.

In order to curb the amount of early unofficial deal-making, the NFL introduced a Negotiating Period in 2013. It’s also referred to as the “legal tampering” period. Per this helpful post, the following things can happen during the negotiation period:

• Agents can negotiate numbers and years, but not actually sign a deal
• Teams can talk to agents, not the player
• Players can’t visit other teams (except their own)
• Only applies to UFAs

The negotiating period started at noon EST on March 7 this year.

Three days after the Negotiating Period starts is the official start of free agency. This is the point where all hell breaks loose, or at least it will seem that way on Twitter. Once free agency starts, teams are free to host visits with and negotiate with all unrestricted free agents. Any deals that were set up during the Negotiating Period cannot be announced until the official start of free agency. This year, the start of free agency is 4 PM EST on March 10.

It’s also important to note that teams must be under the salary cap as of the start of free agency.

The whole salary cap thing is key because it often limits how aggressive teams can be with their negotiations.

Just a quick reminder definition for those that need it – the salary cap is the total amount of money a team can spend on player salaries for a given year. The 2015 salary cap is $143,280,000 per team.

If you have limited cap space, it can be difficult to offer the type of money that attracts big names.

That, my friends, is my high-level take on free agency. Hopefully this helps you navigate some of the NFL headlines you will be seeing over the next few days.

Although I didn’t even get into it on this post, the franchise tag is also important factor in the free agency discussion. Val has a special post on that topic coming your way. Oh, and in case you were wondering (I’m willing to bet you weren’t), the definition of an accrued season is “six or more regular season games on a club’s active/inactive, reserved/injured or reserve/physically unable to perform list.”

– Michelle

Football Basics – What is Black Monday?

Black Monday Football Basics NFL

Happy Black Monday, y’all!

Actually, unless you’re a coach looking for a new job, it’s not a very happy day. Unlike Black Friday or Cyber Monday, the only shopping that is involved is for new NFL coaches.

Black Monday is the nickname for the Monday after the last game of the regular season. This is the day that NFL teams choosing to fire their head coaches or general managers announce that they are doing so.

Generally speaking, these are teams that did not make the playoffs this year. As the end of the season approaches, you can make some pretty good guesses regarding which coaches and GMs will being going bye-bye, but sometimes there are surprises.

We’ll be updating this page as we receive confirmations about who is getting the boot this year. The following personnel will not be returning to their respective teams for the 2015 season:

  • Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers Head Coach (Most likely headed to University of Michigan after they gave him 48 million reasons)
  • John Idzik, New York Jets General Manager
  • Rex Ryan, New York Jets Head Coach
  • Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons Head Coach
  • Marc Trestman, Chicago Bears Head Coach
  • Phil Emery, Chicago Bears General Manager

The Oakland Raiders also have a head coaching vacancy after they fired Dennis Allen week 5 and Tony Sparano was named Interim Head Coach.

– Michelle

Football Basics – How NFL Teams Make the Playoffs

Football Making the Playoffs NFL

With only 3 weeks left in the regular season, you’ve probably heard some talk about the playoffs. If you don’t understand how teams make the playoffs, you’ve come to the right place!

Let’s take a step back and look at the NFL calendar.

Preseason: 4 games in August/early September

Regular season: 16 games from September to December over a 17-week period

Playoffs / Postseason: Up to 4 games in January through first weekend in February over a 5-week period.

(If you want a more in-depth look at the NFL calendar, check out Val’s excellent summary here.)

The preseason games essentially don’t count for anything. They are used for player evaluation purposes and for frugal people (like us) to buy cheap tickets to games.

Regular season results determine which teams make the playoffs. Of course, it isn’t as straightforward as the 12 teams with the best win-loss records making the playoffs. No, that would be too simple.

This is when we start to care about divisions and conferences.

Capture

If you aren’t familiar with how the 8 divisions within 2 conferences make up the league, you can read our post on that topic here. We’ll wait a moment while you refresh your memory…

OK, are we good now?

Excellent.

Like I said, 12 teams out of the 32 make the playoffs each year. There are 6 teams from the AFC and 6 teams from the NFC. Having 6 teams from each conference facilitates a bracket-style playoff, so that the winner of the AFC will play the winner of the NFC in the Super Bowl.

How are the 6 teams from each conference decided? Well, 4 of the teams are division winners. If you have the best win-loss record in your division (AFC/NFC North, South, East, or West), you get a spot in the playoffs.

If two teams in the same division have the same record, there are a list of tie-breakers in place. The next level of the tie-breaker is win-loss record within the division. Remember, each team plays the 3 teams in their division twice during the season, so this tie-breaker specifically looks at the win-loss record of those 6 games. If that’s still a tie, then the next level is best win-loss record in games played against the same opponents. There are 9 more levels of tie-breakers, with the last being a coin toss. Yes, a coin toss. (It’s never gotten to this level, but wouldn’t that be entertaining for us/traumatizing for the teams?)

Anyway…back to the 6 teams in each conference. Besides the 4 divisional winners, there are 2 wildcard teams. These teams did not win their division, but they have the best overall records (and win all the tie-breakers) compared to the other teams in their conference.

This means that a wildcard winner could have a better overall record than a divisional winner. (Sometimes this causes drama, which we will get into later.)

OK, so we’ve established which teams make the playoffs. What happens next?

The teams get seeded (this means ranked) within each conference based on their win-loss record and tie-breakers. Seeding is important because it determines where games are played and when a team has to play games. Teams want the highest seed possible because you get some perks which I will explain in a second.

The 4 divisional winners are always ranked 1 through 4. The wildcard winners get the 5th and 6th seeds. Higher seeded teams always get home-field advantage. It’s like the league is telling the wildcards, “Good job for making it to the playoffs, but we’re not going to make this easy for you.”

Example NFL Playoff Seeding Scenario

The first weekend of playoffs is called wildcard weekend. The wildcard teams play the 3rd and 4th seed within their conference. These games are played at the 3rd and 4th seeds’ home stadiums. (Two games are played on Saturday, two on Sunday.) The 1st and 2nd seeds in each conference get the weekend off, which is desperately needed because of injuries and it also rewards the teams with more preparation time.

Wildcard Weekend Scenario

The winners from wildcard weekend go on to play the 1st and 2nd seeds the following weekend. The 1st seed plays the lowest seeded winner from the wildcard weekend and the 2nd seed plays the other winning team from the wildcard weekend. (Two games are played on Saturday, two on Sunday).

NFL Divisional Round Playoff Example

The games during the third weekend of playoffs are the conference championships. The winners of the divisional games within each conference play each other. So using the example above, the winner of Game 1 would play the winner of Game 2, and the winner of Game 3 would play the winner of Game 4.

The winners of these games are the NFC and AFC Champions. They get hats and t-shirts proclaiming their status as conference champs and the team gets a cool trophy that’s nice to have, but not as pretty as the Lombardi trophy.

The AFC champs and the NFC champs go on to play each other in the Super Bowl to get the Lombardi trophy.

The winner of the Super Bowl goes to Disney World.

Wow, that was a lot.

Here’s a cheat sheet of important things to remember about the playoffs in general:

Things to Remember about the NFL playoffs

So what else do you need to know about the playoffs?

Well, a few years back the NFL changed the regular season schedule so that most teams end their season with divisional games. This keeps things more competitive and prevents teams from sitting their starters if they’ve already qualified for the playoffs and don’t truly need to win the game in order to advance to the playoffs.

The other thing that you need to know is that there’s always talk about how unfair the seeding system is, especially when you have wildcard teams with better records never getting home-field advantage in the playoffs. Take this year, for instance – the NFC South is not a strong division in 2014. All the teams are having a pretty sucktastic year and with 3 weeks to go, all of these teams have winning records below 0.500. One team from this division will still go to the playoffs, however, and could potentially do so after losing more games than they won. Doesn’t seem very fair, does it?

When you hear that teams are still “in the hunt” for the playoffs, it means that it is still statistically possible for them to make the playoffs, either as a divisional winner or a wildcard winner. Often, there will be multiple teams with the same win-loss record – some will make it to the playoffs and some won’t.

Have any more question about the playoffs? Let us know in the comments below.

– Michelle

How 32 Teams Make Up One League

Let’s talk about the league. The National Football League has 32 teams. That means there are 32 different cities/areas represented, 32 head coaches, and 32 different logos that you can get on adorable Victoria’s Secret PINK apparel.

Maybe all you care about is the PINK apparel, and that’s perfectly fine, but for those of you who have an interest in how to keep track of these teams, keep reading. Knowing the conference and division of a team will help a lot of things make sense, like who can play in a Super Bowl or why everyone in your town hates a certain team.

It helps to start at the beginning. As Julie Andrews said, it’s a very good place to start.

The NFL started, more or less in the early 1920s, and was composed of 10 different teams. The rules were different, the players weren’t as jacked, and the game was most definitely not generating billions in revenue.

The league became more organized, the game gained popularity, and by 1960, a second football league, the American Football League, was created. (There were other attempts to create leagues before this, but the 1960 AFL created by pissed-off people who had difficulty buying into the original NFL, was the only one that really seemed to work.)

Competition got fierce between the two leagues. We’re talking Beyonce-fierce. The leagues finally decided to stop screwing each other over (stealing players and such) and merge in 1966, completing that transition to one league in 1970. The Super Bowl was invented during that transition, with the regular season winners of the NFL playing the regular season winners of the AFL.

OK, that’s enough history for now. Let’s talk about conferences.

The original NFL teams became the National Football Conference (NFC) and the original AFC teams became the American Football Conference (AFC). The winners of each conference still play each other in the Super Bowl today.

The system for determining who makes the playoffs is an article in itself, but let’s save that for another day.

Stay with me now. We’ve established that there are 2 conferences. Each conference has 16 teams. To make scheduling a hell of a lot easier and facilitate the playoff system, each conference is divided into 4 divisions: North, East, South, and West.

That means there are 4 teams in the AFC North, 4 teams in the NFC North, 4 teams in the AFC East, 4 teams in the NFC East…yada, yada, yada.

Here’s your cheat sheet:

Capture

For the most part, teams are in the part of the country reflected in their division name. Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit are all in the northern area of the country, so it makes sense that they are in the NFC North.

AFC Teams

 

The naming-convention isn’t perfect, though. For example, the Dallas Cowboys are in the NFC East (with Philadelphia, New York and Washington DC teams) and the St. Louis Rams are in the NFC West (with Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona teams). Last time I checked, Dallas was not on the east coast…

 

NFC Teams

How do you remember if a team is AFC or NFC? Great question! My secret was to start watching more football. The AFC and NFC are usually on different networks. Different networks have different announcers. You watch enough games and you start to know that if Troy Aikman and Joe Buck are talking, they are on FOX, which means the host team is probably going to be NFC. On the other hand, if Jim Nantz and Phils Simms are chatting it up, the game is on CBS and likely a game with an AFC host team.

Probably lost some of you there throwing around the names football commentators. My bad. Let’s put it another way – If you see commercials for New Girl, American Idol, or 24, there’s a good chance the home team is NFC. If you see commercials for The Big Bang Theory, NCIS, or the Good Wife, you’ve probably got an AFC home team. This method isn’t flawless, especially if you are watching Sunday night football (NBC) or Monday night football (ESPN), but it’s a start. Zooey Deschannel = NFC. Shemar Moore = AFC. How easy is that?!

So there you have it – 32 teams split into 2 conferences, with 4 divisions in each conference.

This is important to know because it determines:

– Which teams can play each other in a Super Bowl

– The logic behind the regular season schedule and the playoff schedule

–  Why there are rivalries between certain teams (if they are in the same division, they play each other twice during the regular season and can keep one another from going to the Super Bowl)

Go forth and have confidence in your knowledge of the anatomy of the NFL!

I got some of my historical info for this post from this article, so you didn’t have to read it. I got my pictures, which I edited, from here.

– Michelle

Your NFL Schedule Guide

patsgame1a copy

When the confetti falls as the play clock hits 00:00 at the conclusion of the Super Bowl, you might think to yourself, “No more football until September!”  However, that could not be further from the truth – the NFL is a year-round business, and thanks to advances in technology and the availability of real-time media coverage, you can stay up-to-date on NFL happenings any time.

Here’s an overview of the NFL year, which begins anew after the last team standing hoists the Lombardi trophy in February:

February through March:

          Clubs may designate their franchise or transition players, as well as begin contract negotiations with the agents of players whose contracts are due to expire at the conclusion of the league calendar year (beginning of March).  However, contracts cannot be signed until the day in March in which the new league calendar year officially begins.  It is also by this date that clubs must decide if they are going to pick up additional years for players whose contracts contain clauses to extend their current deals.  Clubs must also be under the salary cap at the beginning of the new league year (only the 51 players with the highest yearly salaries count towards the cap).  

          At the start of the new league calendar year, teams may carry up to 90 players on their roster. 

          Free agency also begins when the new league calendar year does.  This is typically when you will see headlines shouting: “[Player name] signs [x # of years] contract with [team name] for [“$” followed by a number and the word “million”].”

          The NFL Scouting Combine and Regional Combines take place.  This is a chance for college and former college students hoping to be signed by a team in the coming year to perform drills for coaches and team scouts. 

          Owners meetings take place.  This is where all the rich guys that own an NFL team get together in a fancy hotel to discuss potential rule changes, legal matters, and how to make even more profits from their teams. 

April:

          Teams may begin their off-season workout programs.  Teams that have hired a new head coach may begin this work two weeks prior to the rest of the teams.

          This is typically the month in which the NFL draft takes place, although the NFL has moved this back as late as May due to scheduling conflicts and to take advantage of extending media coverage.  The draft is where team select college players to bring young talent to their rosters.  The order in which teams select players in the draft is determined by the team’s standing from the prior year (i.e. the team with the worst record gets to pick first, the team that won the Super Bowl gets to pick last). 

May through June:

          Rookies participate in rookie mini-camps.  This is their time to become acclimated with the team, learn the playbook, and for coaches to observe the new players.

July:

          Training camps open!  Rookies and first-year players may report up to seven days prior to veteran players.  Veterans cannot attend training camp no earlier than fifteen days prior to the club’s first scheduled preseason game, or July 15th, whichever is later.  Rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement dictate how often and the types of practices teams can conduct.

August:

          Training camp continues and preseason games begin.  This time is for players to continue to practice, as well as to be evaluated by coaches to determine who will make the final roster.

          Roster cuts begin.  The initial cut for team is from 90 players to 75.  The final cut is from 75 players to 53.  Each team is also allowed to keep eight players on a practice squad. 

September through January:

          Football games kick off in September.  The regular NFL season is 17 weeks long.  Each team plays 16 games, and has a bye week for rest.

January through February:

          Play-off football!  A pool of twelve play-off teams is whittled down to two that participate in the Super Bowl, where the World Champions are crowned.

 

Not familiar with some of the terms listed in the NFL schedule, such as franchise tag, salary cap or Collective Bargaining Agreement?  Check out our glossary! Not sure how it’s determined which teams make the play-offs or what the Combine involves?  No worries, we’ll be posting more about the game and all our knowledge about the league and the game will be posted under the “Football Guide” menu on the top of the page.

– Val