NFL for Beginners: Why this weekend is a perfect time to get into Gridiron

The regular season might be over, and there are only a few games left, but if you’re looking to get into American Football this is actually an ideal time to get stuck in. With only the Conference Championship games to play before the hoopla of the Super Bowl, there is no fat left to trim and every one of these games is an excellent matchup. Whatever you end up watching, we can guarantee it’ll be good. Here’s a few things to get excited about for the end of the 2013 season.

Championship weekend is always memorable. But without exaggeration there’s a strong chance that this weekend will go down in NFL history. If you’ve looked at American Football and wondered whether to get into it, there probably hasn’t ever been a better weekend to get started.

Pick a team. Any Team.

Any sport is better when you have someone to root for. While picking any one of these teams at this stage risks earning you a reputation for glory hunting, anyone who actually says so is a cad and an arse. These four teams represent the best of the best that the NFL has to offer, all have compelling histories that a UK fan can delve into and a bevy of big name stars that are brilliant to watch. Each in their own way has had to overcome significant obstacles this season to get to this stage and all are worthy of respect.

This is a critical post-season for a number of star Quarterbacks.

It’s the new breed against the old stalwarts; cementing a legacy vs beginning one. Regardless of who goes through to the Super Bowl the AFC and NFC is marked by an odd split.

NFC

Both teams vying for the NFC Championship title are two of the most highly touted young QB’s in the league, the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, and the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick. On their second and third seasons respectively, neither have won a Super Bowl, (though the 49ers narrowly lost it to the Ravens last year). Both are prime examples of a new breed of mobile QB, as likely to run the ball themselves as they are to pass or hand off to a Running Back. Both have performed exceptionally well this season; both  have the potential to some day join the all-time greats, and both are ridiculously fun to watch. But as Christopher Lambert said though, there can be only one.

AFC

Conversely the AFC Championship is a battle of two old-school veterans who are on the cusp of becoming some of the all-time greatest players of the game. Both the Patriots QB Tom Brady and Broncos QB Peyton Manning are amongst the greatest to ever play the game, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Joe Montana and John Elway or Johnny Unitas. Neither are getting any younger, and both have questions about their age and ability to perform in the post-season hanging over them. These games offer them their last best chance to take it to the next level.

Manning has set new passing and touchdown records this season and there’s little doubt there’s yet another ‘Most Valuable Player’ award in the post to him already. But only one Super Bowl win and a questionable post-season record need shaking off. Winning here would be a step closer to putting that story to bed.  For Brady, a fourth Super Bowl win would erase a decade-long fallow period and (arguably) elevate him to the greatest player of all time.

Rivalry a-go-go

The NFL is full of great rivalries. This is your chance to watch a new one solidify. The 49ers and the Seahawks rivalry isn’t a particularly historic one, spanning around a decade compared to other examples like Washington and Dallas, or the Bears and Packers which dates back to the 1920’s. But what it lacks in time, both teams make up for in intensity. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and 49ers Coach Jim Harbough were rivals when coaching their college teams, and have long been the two top contenders in the NFC West division. This weekend will be the moment where the 49ers Seahawks rivalry makes the history books; it’s the first time the teams have met in the playoffs and the Super Bowl is at stake. There will be no quarter asked or given. 

The New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos are hardly chummy either, though the real rivalry lies with Peyton, a former Colt’s QB. Most days you can argue the toss about which is the better Quarterback on paper, but this weekend it’ll be decided on the field. Expect sparks.

How do I watch it?

Broncos Patriots, AFC Championship:  Sky Sports 1, January 19, 2014 11:00pm
49ers Seahawks, NFC Championship: Not yet listed

Players to watch

San Fransisco 49ers

Colin Kaepernick, Quarterback – (7)
Michael Crabtree, Wide Reciever (15)
Anquan Boldin, Wide Receiver (81)

Seattle Seahawks

Russell Wilson, Quarterback (2)
Richard Sherman -Cornerback (25)
Marshawn Lynch, Running Back 24

Denver Broncos

Peyton Manning, Quarterback (18)
Malik Jackson, Defensive End (97)
Wes Welker, Wide Reciever (83)


New England Patriots

Tom Brady, Quarterback (12)
LeGarrette Blount, Running Back (29)
Julian Edelman, Wide Receiver (11)


While you’re at it, keep an eye out for…

Coaches

49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t backward in coming forward. Look out for tantrums. Conversely Patriots Coach Bill Belichick is notoriously stony faced, although he’s allegedly smiled seven times this season.

Noises

Big games, big crowds. Expect plenty of noise in particular from the Seattle Seahawks fans, who are amongst the loudest in the NFL.