Whether you’re a die-hard football fan or turn up for the hotdogs and boatloads of beer, you probably have a reason or two why you can’t miss the Super Bowl. Perhaps it’s the unpredictability of the final games, the roller coaster of emotions, or the parties that ensue.
But have you ever reflected on how the NFL season culminates into such a glorious moment? If not, see below a highlight of all the critical events that shape up the NFL season after the end of the current season.
NFL Scouting Combine
Although not a part of the season exactly, the NFL Combine is pivotal to the energy we all enjoy in the National Football League.
The NFL Scouting Combine refers to a week-long annual event where the “best” fresh college graduates showcase their athleticism with the hope of being drafted into the NFL Draft. The players undergo a suite of intense exercises, drills, interviews, and tests as coaches and team owners scrutinize their physical fitness and predict their success in the NFL.
The NFL Combine is an invitation-only event that happens towards the end of February each year. Since 1987, the event has been held in Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, but there are plans to have other cities host it starting in 2023.
Franchise/Transition Player Tagging Period
Late Feb to Early March
This is a two-week window between the last week of February and early March, where teams are allowed an opportunity to apply a franchise or transition tag on a particular player.
A franchise tag is essentially a mechanism that teams use to retain a player who is about to become an unrestricted free agent. In exchange, the player is offered a one-year deal with a salary representing the average of the five top-paid players during the prior league year at his position, or 120% of their previous salary, whichever is higher.
A transition player tag is yet another tool that the original club may use to retain an unrestricted free agent by matching what another party is offering the player. This tag provides the player a salary matching the average of 10 top-paid players in his position.
Free Agency Signing Period
After the tagging season and before the NFL Draft, the teams get an opportunity to sign in free agents. A free agent is a player whose contract has expired. Because he’s not associated with the previous club, he’s free to get into a contract with another franchise.
There are two major categories of free agents:
Restricted free agents are players with three accrued NFL seasons and an expired contract. While RFAs are free to negotiate one-year offers with other franchises, they can get offers with the right of first refusal from their previous clubs.
Non-restricted agents are players with an expired contract and have completed four or more seasons. Such players can easily hit the market and accept offers without being limited by draft pick compensation from their previous clubs.
The offseason refers to the nine weeks between the Super Bowl and the preseason. This program often starts early April and involves various activities, including welcoming the new coaches and starting the NFL Training Camps and OTAs. The teams that hired new coaches start the off-season workouts around two weeks ahead of clubs with incumbent coaches.
The off-season workouts are structured in three phases:
● Phase 1: four weeks from April 19 to around May 14.
● Phase 2: one week from mid-May around May 21.
● Phase 3: four weeks from the last week of May to mid-June.
Late April to Early May
The NFL Draft is an annual event that offers clubs an opportunity to add new talent to their rosters. The draft is officially known as the Player Selection Meeting and has two essential purposes.
First, this is an opportunity for talented college football players to join the professional NFL space. Second, the league uses this event to balance the teams.
The teams pick players in reverse order based on their performance in the recently concluded season to accomplish this. This means that the last position team chooses first while the Super Bowl champions go in last.
Hall of Fame Game
The Hall of Fame is an annual game that marks two important periods in the NFL yearly calendar. This game, played at Tom Benson Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, lifts the curtains for the annual celebrations that see the game’s heroes inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Additionally, the Hall of Fame game marks the start of the NFL preseason.
Preseason (3 Weeks)
Starts Mid August
As the name suggests, these are games just before the real season. These exhibition games are usually not for the record, but they serve multiple purposes, including getting the players back into shape and determining who should start during the actual games. They also offer coaches an opportunity to see how players who looked promising during the OTAs would perform in a game-like situation.
Up until 2021, the National Football League Preseason was a four-week event. For the 2021 NFL season, the exhibition games were shortened to three weeks to accommodate the expansion from 16 games to 17 games.
NFL Regular Season
The much-awaited NFL regular season begins in the first weekend of September and ends during the first week of January. This 18-week event sees all the 32 teams face off each other in 17 games (up from 16 games). In total, the NFL regular season consists of 272 games.
Wild Card Games
Early to Mid-January
Like in baseball, the National Football has a round of postseason playoffs called Wild Card games. These games are played between the wild card teams (the two best teams from each conference that have not won in their specific division) and the worst division champions in the conference (NFC and AFC).
The main point of having wild card games is to prolong the playoff time. This increases the revenue for the NFL because television networks are willing to spend big bucks for the right to keep the playoff games, including the wild card games on the air.
Second Weekend in January
Divisional playoffs are a series of matches that determine the two teams that will fight it out in the Super Bowl. Traditionally, the playoff system consists of 12 teams. But starting with the 2020-2021 NFL Playoffs, the league introduced a rule to increase the number to 14 teams (seven teams from each conference).
Two wild card franchises fill the additional slots- one from the AFC and the second from the NFC.
To determine the divisional playoff matchups, the division winner is awarded the top seed while the second seed goes to the second-best team, and so on. The fifth and sixth seeds are awarded to the two wild card franchises, with the best of the duo taking the fifth seed.
After seeding, the first seed plays against the wild card team with the lowest seeding. On the other hand, the second seed meets with the highest-rated wild card team. The two winners from these matches proceed to the conference championship.
Conference Championship Games
Towards the End of January
The third round of contests, officially known as the Conference Championship games, determines the champions from each conference. The games are hosted by the surviving division winner and determine the champion in each conference. The two conference champions automatically qualify for the Super Bowl, where they have a chance to win and permanently possess the coveted Vince Lombardi trophy.
Second Weekend in February
All the activities throughout the NFL calendar year culminate into the championship of the National Football League- the Super Bowl. This heart-pounding event is considered the highest level of professional football in the USA and has been held on the first Sunday in February since 2004. However, starting with the 2020-2021 NFL season, the Super Bowl has been moved to the second Sunday of February.
The venue of the Super Bowl is rotated every year, and any city can bid for a chance to host the event. But considering that it happens during the winter, the Super Bowl is often held in more southerly states, from California to Florida, where the weather is likely to be warm and dry.