If you’re a football (US, not UK) enthusiast then you’ll know your time outs from your touchdowns and your NFC (National Football Conference) from your AFC (American Football Conference).
The road to Super Bowl LIV (54 to the layperson) has begun and, for the next five-and-a-half months, American football fanatics will be going crazy following their teams, attending tailgate parties and living and dying by each game week’s fantasy team decisions.
Thinking of getting into gridiron? Luckily for you, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide – well, more like an idiot’s guide – to how the more casual NFL fan might ease themselves into their first season.
Think of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as the Lionel Messi of American football – or the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). Wide receiver Antonio Brown, meanwhile, is the bad boy Neymar figure, having instigated a litany of off-field drama this summer.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick is like Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, a revolutionary and born winner, while the Arizona Cardinals are the Huddersfield Town – the worst team in Europe’s top five leagues last season – of the 32 NFL franchises.
So if you’re a football fan looking for a team to support across the pond, here’s our ‘which team to support’ guide for the AFC.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Who they’re like: BORUSSIA DORTMUND
Great to watch going forward, but suspect defensively. Are we talking about the rising young force of the NFL or the rising young force of the Bundesliga and Europe? Well, both actually.
The Chiefs lit up the NFL last season and are tipped as future Super Bowl winners.
Young gunslinger Patrick Mahomes threw 50 touchdowns in 2018 – only Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have done likewise. And yet they also conceded the ninth most points (421).
Dortmund’s porous defence, meanwhile, cost them the Bundesliga title. With both teams happy to win every game via a shootout, watching them is rarely dull.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Who they’re like: MANCHESTER CITY
The NFL’s dominant force of the last 20 years, the Patriots’ sixth Super Bowl victory last year put them level with the Pittsburgh Steelers for most ever. Coach Bill Belichick is one of the game’s greatest ever minds, while Brady lays claim to being the best quarterback of all time.
City’s rise since investment arrived from Abu Dhabi, and Guardiola’s entrance three years ago, has been stark.
Guardiola is creating a dynasty, at least in England, where even Liverpool’s one defeat in 38 games last season could not prevent City’s march to back-to-back successes.
Who they’re like: ARSENAL
Nicolas Pepe was one of the most eye-catching summer deals in the Premier League, and a trade on the offensive side of the ball was also the talk of the NFL. The Texans got the franchise left tackle they’ve coveted in Laremy Tunsil.
And yet, for both teams, it is their defence that remains a concern. On the same day Tunsil arrived, Houston shipped out former No1 draft pick Jadeveon Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks, without replacing him – though they do still have three-time Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt.
The Gunners’ defence has needed addressing for a while. Erratic David Luiz gives them a leader back there, but whenever he is around calamity is never far away.
Who they’re like: PORTO
Porto came from nowhere to be crowned kings of Europe in 2004. Similarly, Baltimore won only a second Super Bowl in 2012.
Both were surprise champions thanks largely to mercurial figures. Iconic linebacker Ray Lewis and managerial mastermind, Jose Mourinho. The victory was the making of the divisive Portuguese who then enjoyed huge success with Chelsea.
Both Porto and the Ravens have since stagnated and dropped back into obscurity – Porto have not made it past the quarter-finals since, while Baltimore have made the playoffs just twice.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Who they’re like: RB LEIPZIG
Little history is what these two sides share, but both are exciting teams loaded with talent and considered capable of real success.
They also have things in common off the field too. The Chargers caused uproar in 2017 when they uprooted from San Diego (their home from 1961-2016) back to Los Angeles (where they first played in 1960).
Leipzig have received criticism for their corporate origins, founded only 10 years ago by Red Bull. Football in Europe has been loathe to buy too much into the commercialism that the NFL so readily embraces, yet Leipzig are indicative of where the game is heading.
Who they’re like: CHELSEA
The Colts and Chelsea find themselves in a transformation period following the loss of iconic stars, albeit for very different reasons.
Eden Hazard’s departure to Real Madrid was expected, with Frank Lampard requiring patience as a season of struggle potentially lies ahead.
Two-time Super Bowl champions Indianapolis are still coming to the terms with quarterback Andrew Luck’s shock retirement on the eve of the season at just 29.
After making the playoffs for the first time in four years last season, their prospects this season are just as indeterminate as Chelsea’s.
Who they’re like: BAYERN MUNICH
Two teams among the most successful in their respective sports, and still prominent. But both have fallen short on the big stage.
The Steelers are joint-record Super Bowl champions with six, but haven’t won a Lombardi in over a decade even though they dominate the AFC North division.
You can compare it to Bayern’s domestic dominance. Only three teams have lifted more European Cups, but Bayern fell at the round of 16 last year and it’s now seven seasons since their last title.
There are also comparisons between coaches Niko Kovac and Mike Tomlin. Croat Kovac is unwanted by his Munich paymasters, but a clear upgrade is not available. Despite ‘Big Ben’ Roethlisberger remaining a gargantuan presence time will surely be ticking on Tomlin’s tenure should Pittsburgh endure a poor season.
Who they’re like: NORWICH CITY
Two relatively unfashionable teams. Norwich are back in the Premier League for a fourth time since being relegated from the top-flight in 1994/95. Tennessee were formed as the Houston Oilers in 1959 but have made only one Super Bowl, in 1999.
New Titans coach Mike Vrabel was a titan of a player, winning three Super Bowl rings with the Patriots. Canaries coach Daniel Farke enjoyed a much more low-key playing career in the lower reaches of German football.
Both teams are also run by women, too. Celebrity chef Delia Smith is co-owner of the Canaries while Amy Adams Strunk – father Bud Adams was the original owner – is the Titans’ controlling owner.
Who they’re like: INTER MILAN
After years of mediocrity it looks as if these two sides might finally have the players that could spark an upturn in fortunes, even if expectations need to be tempered.
It’s 12 years since Cleveland last posted a winning season – memories of their 16 straight losses in 2017 remain raw. They’re one of just four teams to have never played in a Super Bowl, but Odell Beckham Jr’s summer arrival and the lofty ceiling of QB Baker Mayfield has created high hopes in the city.
For the Nerazzurri, the arrival of coach Antonio Conte has re-instilled belief. Unsettling presence Mauro Icardi is gone while Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez could torch an inferior league…if they can rediscover some fire in the belly.
Who they’re like: NOTTINGHAM FOREST
Listen to Dolphins fans and they will tell you they don’t belong in the doldrums when they’re such a big franchise. Except, it’s been 46 years since the Phins last finished top of the NFL pile.
Of previous champions, only the New York Jets (50) and Kansas City Chiefs (49) have been waiting for another title longer. They’ve had one winning season in the last decade, and it started ugly this year with a 59-10 opening loss to the Ravens.
Forest have the same amount of European Cups as Juventus (two) but the Tricky Trees have fallen on hard times since being uprooted from the Premier League 20 years ago.
Who they’re like: JUVENTUS
These two behemoths have enjoyed tons of success but are also renowned for how many finals they’ve lost.
The Bianconeri have been beaten in a stunning seven European Cup finals. They’ve only lifted ‘Ol Big Ears’ twice and their last success was in 1996. Gianluigi Buffon, the great old man of the Old Lady, has himself gone 0-3 in Champions League finals.
In that sense he is eerily similar to Broncos icon John Elway. He led Denver to back-to-back championships in 1997 and 1998 (his final season), having lost in 1986, 1987 and 1989. The Broncos have also lost more times (five) than they’ve won.
Who they’re like: BAYER LEVERKUSEN
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. The Bengals have bungled both of their Super Bowl appearances, losing 26-21 to the San Francisco 49ers in 1981. They were primed for revenge seven years later against the same opposition, but lost by just four points.
Spare a thought for Leverkusen. They have been Bundesliga runners-up five times – including four times in five seasons from 1996-2001. They also lost to one of the greatest goals the tournament has ever seen when beaten in the 2002 Champions League final by Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid.
Who they’re like: WATFORD
Two teams who fell just as sharply as they rose. The Jaguars reached the playoffs in just their second season and got to two AFC Championship games in four years.
It took 18 years of relative obscurity to get there again, losing to the Patriots in 2017. Last year they fell off a cliff, posting a dismal 5-11 record.
The Hornets have likewise felt the sting – sacking manager Javi Gracia following a poor start to the season. This despite making the FA Cup final last season, although a humiliating 6-0 humbling by Manchester City didn’t help.
NEW YORK JETS
Who they’re like: NEWCASTLE
The Patriots, Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders are universally disliked, which is only natural based on their successes. To hate the Jets seems strange considering their only Super Bowl triumph came in 1968.
But they like to think of themselves as a big team. They’ve appeared in the AFC Championship game just four times in the last 50 years, and lost by a combined margin of 91-46.
The much-maligned Magpies have unchallenged support in a big city and a raucous following which has led to the self-proclamation of being a big club. At least the Jets can back their claim up with a Super Bowl. The last relatively big prize Newcastle won was the 1969 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.
Who they’re like: EVERTON
Have a friend who supports a big team and still claims they are, even though they’ve not won anything in years? Chances are that they’re Raiders or Everton supporters.
These two massive clubs enjoyed huge success…a long time ago. Everton have been champions of England nine times. Throw in five FA Cups to boot. The Raiders have three Super Bowl titles.
Yet, despite the glory, they live in the shadow of neighbours. On Merseyside, Liverpool have six European Cup wins and 18 English top-flight titles. Not only do the Raiders dwell in the shadow of the 49ers, the Bay Area spotlight is now shone more on the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.
Who they’re like: ESPANYOL
Speaking of trying to escape the stifling grip of your neighbours, the Bills have the Giants and Jets in New York to contend with.
The duo enjoy more coverage in terms of column inches, and can also bask in success too. The Giants have lifted the Lombardi four times, the Jets once.
The Bills? They own the rather unenviable record of losing four Super Bowls….in a row, from 1990-93. A 21-20 defeat to New York neighbours the Giants in Super Bowl XXV would have particularly hurt.
You might not be aware of this but there is another team in Barcelona. They are called Espanyol and have played more La Liga seasons without winning a title than any other team (80), while they’ve also made two UEFA Cup/Europa League finals, and lost both.
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