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Ultimate guide to the NFL: Road to the Super Bowl explained

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04:  Tom Brady #12 and David Andrews #60 of the New England Patriots take the field prior to Super Bowl LII against the Philadel
Image: Tom Brady has won five Super Bowl championships with the New England Patriots

The 2018 NFL season gets underway on Thursday, with all 32 teams dreaming of making it to the Super Bowl in Atlanta on February 3, 2019.

It will be the 53rd Super Bowl in the history of the NFL, the game which pitches the best of the NFC conference against the top AFC side.

But what does that all mean? And how do the teams get there? Read on, as Sky Sports breaks down the basics of the NFL...

What is the NFL?

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The NFL is the United States' premier American Football competition in which 32 teams compete for the championship, which is ultimately decided by the end-of-season Super Bowl in February.

The 32 teams are divided into two conferences: the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC).

The NFC and AFC are then further divided by regions to comprise four divisions with four teams each:

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Follow all the excitement of the 2018 season by playing the NFL Challenge, with weekly prizes and the chance to win a pair of season tickets to the 2019 games in London.

How does the NFL work?

Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers
Image: Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers play on the first NFL Sunday of the season

Throughout the year, each team plays the three other teams in their division home and away, while the 10 other match-ups that make up their 16-game schedule are predetermined.

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Matches are predominately played on Sunday afternoons, with live coverage of a triple-bill of games beginning from 5.30pm on Sky Sports every week, while there's also late-night televised matches every Thursday and Monday.

Each game consists of four 15-minute quarters though, unlike in football, the clock is paused with every stoppage in play and so there is no added on time at the end. Play does, however, extend into overtime if the game is tied after four quarters, leaving an additional 15 minutes to be played in order for a winner to be found.

How do you score points?

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 15:  Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after the Packers scored a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys during the N
Image: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers celebrates another touchdown

Teams have to travel a minimum of 10 yards with the ball every time their offence has position, getting four attempts to do so, otherwise the ball automatically turns over to the opposition.

If they're successful in running or passing their way down the field to score a touchdown, they are awarded six points, with the option to extend that to seven or eight with either an 'extra point' kick through the goalposts or a 'two-point conversion', which is essentially an attempt to score another touchdown from two yards out of the endzone.

If a team fails to make it to the endzone, they can look to add three points to their score by attempting a 'field goal', which is another attempt at kicking the ball between the goalposts at the back of the endzone.

If a field goal is not possible, the team will often the punt the ball back to the opposition deep in their own half for their offence to take to the field.

What is the International Series?

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 21: Jay Ajayi #36 of the Philadelphia Eagles runs the ball against the Minnesota Vikings during the fourth quarter in the NFC Ch
Image: British-born running back Jay Ajayi will return to Wembley this year with the Philadelphia Eagles

Since the 2007 season, the NFL has hosted regular season games outside of the United States every year as part of the NFL International Series - the first match-up seeing the New York Giants triumph over the Miami Dolphins 13-10.

Wembley stadium was the exclusive host of one game a year up until 2013, when that was expanded to two and 2014, three. In 2018, Wembley again plays host to three games, while there's one in Mexico's Estadio Azteca...

Seattle Seahawks @ Oakland Raiders, Wembley, October 14
Tennessee Titans @ Los Angeles Chargers, Wembley, October 21
Philadelphia Eagles @ Jacksonville Jaguars, Wembley, October 28
Kansas City Chiefs @ Los Angeles Rams, Estadio Azteca, November 19

The road to the Super Bowl

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At the end of the season, the teams with the best record in each of the four divisions per conference, along with the two teams with the next-best records in each conference (the wild card teams), qualify for the play-offs.

This means that a total of 12 teams - six from each conference - progress from the regular season on the road to the Super Bowl, with each seeded accordingly based on their win-loss records to determine the schedule for the play-offs.

Wild card round: The wild card teams are automatically seeded 5th and 6th in each conference and are drawn to play on the road against the 4th and 3rd seeded teams, respectively, while the 1st and 2nd ranked teams all receive byes.

Divisional round: The No 1 seed in each conference then hosts the lowest-ranked team left after the wild card round, with the No 2 seed playing the other

Conference championship round: Next up the two remaining teams in each conference play against each other - the higher-ranked seed having home advantage - to determine the respective champions of the NFC and the AFC and, therefore, the two teams who will compete in the Super Bowl.

Join us for coverage of the NFL right through the regular season and play-offs, starting with the season opening Thursday Night Football, right through to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta on February 3.

Every Sunday Sky Sports is your home of the NFL in the UK with three live games and Redzone and you can join in the conversation by making sure you follow us @SkySportsNFL for behind the scenes coverage, live fixture announcements and much more

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