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The National Football League (NFL) is the largest Professional Football league in the United States. It is an unincorporated 501(c)(6) association controlled by its members.

It was formed by eleven teams in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association (the league changed the name to American Professional Football League in 1921 and then settled on its current name in 1922). The league currently consists of thirty-two teams from American cities and regions. The league is divided evenly into two conferences — the American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC), and each conference has four divisions that have 4 teams each.

The regular season is a seventeen-week schedule during which each team has one bye week and plays sixteen games. This schedule includes six games against a team's divisional rivals, as well as several inter-division and inter-conference games. The season currently starts on the Thursday night in the first full week of September (the Thursday after Labor Day) and runs weekly to late December or early January.

At the end of each regular season, six teams from each conference play in the NFL playoffs, a twelve-team single-elimination tournament that culminates with the championship game, known as the Super Bowl. This game is held at a pre-selected site which is usually a city that hosts an NFL team. Selected all-star players from both the AFC and NFC meet in the Pro Bowl, held in Honolulu, Hawaii; up to and including 2009, this game took place the weekend after the Super Bowl. In 2010, it will take place the week prior to the Super Bowl, in Miami, Florida.

While baseball is known as "America's national pastime", football is the most popular sport in the United States. According to the Harris Poll, Professional Football moved ahead of baseball as the fans' favorite in 1965, during the emergence of the NFL's challenger, the American Football League, as a major Professional Football league. Football has remained America's favorite sport ever since. In a Harris Poll conducted in 2008, the NFL was the favorite sport of as many people (30%) as the combined total of the next three professional sports--baseball (15%), auto racing (10%), and hockey (5%). Additionally, football's American TV viewership ratings now surpass those of other sports, although football season comprises far fewer games than the seasons of other sports. Furthermore, college football is actually the third-most popular sport in the US, with 12% of survey respondents listing it as their favorite. Therefore, fully 42% of Americans consider some level of football their favorite sport.

However, the Harris Polls only allow one unaided selection of a "favorite sport." Other studies and polls such as the ESPN Sports Poll and the studies released by the Associated Press and conducted by Sports Marketing Group from 1988 to 2004, show higher levels of popularity for NFL Football since they list from thirty to over 100 sports that each respondent must rate. According to the Associated Press, the Sports Marketing Group polls from 1988 to 2004 show NFL Football to be the most popular spectator sport in America. The AP stated that "In the most detailed survey ever of America's sports tastes" researching "114 spectator sports they might attend, follow on television or radio or read about in newspapers or magazines, the NFL topped all sports with 39 percent of Americans saying they loved it or considered it one of their favorites." The total percentage of Americans who liked or loved NFL Football exceeds 60% of the American Public.

The NFL has the highest per-game attendance of any domestic professional sports league in the world, drawing over 67,000 spectators per game for each of its two most recently completed seasons, 2006 and 2007. However, the NFL's overall attendance is only approximately 20% of Major League Baseball, due to the latter's longer schedule (162-game scheduled regular season). (Credit: Wikipedia)


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