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Get set for kickoff

There’s more to surf than NFL.com if you’re a fan of the pigskin and the gridiron. As summer winds to a close, the question is: Are you ready for some football?

Are you ready for some football? If you haven’t heard Hank Williams, Jr., bellow that refrain lately, you will soon. Yet another season of NFL football beckons, meaning that household chores (and spouses and children) will have to endure being ignored on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights for the next few months.

Of course, the Web is full of football sites, but the majority of them presume a consuming interest in one or both of the following pastimes: gambling and fantasy football leagues. People interested in spending the rent money on such pursuits don’t need my help, so we’re going to avoid those kinds of sites. Instead, I’d like to direct you to a handful of out-of-the-way sites not for fans of office pools, but for real football fans.

One would think the place to start would be the NFL’s official site, but the league site is a bit like the game itself: too often long on flash and short on substance. One annoying thing about the league’s site is that it doesn’t have standardized pages for each team, only links to official sites set up and maintained by the teams independently. This means the team sites vary greatly in content and quality. Also, the site’s official status means everything posted on it is projected through the NFL’s public-relations gauze; don’t look for articles about steroid abuse here. For a slightly less official take on NFL doings, try The Sports Rumor Mill. Here’s where you’ll find coverage of most of the scandalous stuff the league would like you to ignore.

The titans of online sports coverage, ESPN.com and SI.com, provide adequate football coverage, but those in need of a strong fix should head to Pro Football Weekly. Contrary to the name, the site provides daily updated news stories, predictions, analysis, and hearsay covering all 32 teams. Not unlike the PFW print edition, the site is cluttered and homely, but also chock-full of information.

There are also a number of more historically-oriented sites. Pro Football Reference isn’t a graphical thing of beauty, but it’s a sight for sore-eyed football data freaks. It contains all-time results, leaders, records, and more for each NFL team. It also has all team data cross-referenced with player data. If you find that the Buffalo Bills finished with an 8-8 record in 2000, that will lead you to learn that their coach that year, Wade Phillips, coached the New Orleans Saints in 1985, whose roster that year included Earl Campbell, who’s the league’s 18th all-time rusher…you get the idea. With a spare few minutes, you could trace your steps all the way back to the NFL’s origins, proving six degrees of separation between Sammy Baugh and Michael Vick.

A great supplement is Football @ JT-SW.com. Not only is it kept scrupulously up-to-date, but it has a more extensive historical archive of records, results, rosters, and trivia.

And once you’ve had your fill of stats, check out the Pro Football Researchers Association site. It’s full of lively, in-depth looks at the game’s past, and often deals with out-of-the-way topics: There’s an account of the NFL’s only forfeited game, and not one, not two, but three articles about the NFL’s first prominent quarterback, Benny Friedman. Another fun oddball historical site is the NFL Weather Hall of Fame, where you can relive all those muddy, icy games from the past.

As a small concession to those who, for whatever reason, like expert predictions of the coming week’s NFL games, I should mention Bud Goode Sports. The site has an impressive prediction calculator that uses a long list of statistical variables, along with factors such as location and time of year, to predict NFL outcomes. As methods of picking games go, it’s as good as any.

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