The 2016 NFL season kicks off Thursday, and within a month the league will be back in Great Britain for the first of this season's three London games. Talk of a permanent U.K. franchise continues to bubble, with officials hinting that it could happen as soon as 2020.
Meanwhile, the United States continues to fall ever deeper in love with European -- and especially English -- soccer. TV screens showing Premier League games can be found nowadays in bars everywhere from New York City to Lincoln, Nebraska.
The two leagues operate in drastically different ways. There is no Premier League equivalent to the NFL draft, no salary cap for soccer. NFL teams, meanwhile, never need to fret about the risk of relegation. For these reasons, and many others, drawing direct comparisons can feel like a fool's errand.
But just for fun, and in the spirit of international inclusion, we thought it would be an entertaining exercise to pose this question: If your favorite Premier League club were an NFL team, which one would it be?
Manchester United would be -- the New England Patriots
They've been the preeminent forces in their respective leagues over much of the past two decades. Although Sir Alex Ferguson retired three years ago, the comparison with Bill Belichick feels obvious, both of them brilliant and ruthless leaders who have defined their teams and sometimes courted controversy. Where the Patriots head coach was fined $500,000 for illegally filming opposing teams' defensive signals, the Manchester United manager acknowledged pressuring referees into giving his team more injury time in games when they needed a late goal.
Bournemouth would be -- the Houston Texans
Ambition is the unifying theme for Bournemouth and Houston this season. Each has spent big in recent months to acquire a highly rated but unproven talent from a more storied rival. Bournemouth, playing in England's top division for the first time, hope former Liverpool winger Jordon Ibe can help them to extend their stay at this level. The Texans want ex-Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler to lead them on their first Super Bowl run.
Burnley would be -- the Philadelphia Eagles
Who needs the ball? Burnley defied all wisdom last month when they beat Liverpool 2-0 despite earning just 19.4 percent of possession. Philadelphia spent less time on offense than any other NFL team last season but still won seven out of 16 games and finished second in the NFC East. That was, admittedly, a reflection of the beliefs of since-departed head coach Chip Kelly, who once famously argued, "Time of possession is how much time can the other team waste."
Crystal Palace would be -- the Oakland Raiders
Their home stadiums are old and run down, but the real reason opposing teams hate to visit is that Palace and Oakland boast some of the most raucous and colorful fans in their respective leagues. On the field, though, they might be trending in different directions. The Raiders believe their young and talented roster is ready to end a 13-year playoff drought. Palace, despite an FA Cup final appearance this year, have won only two of their past 24 Premier League games.
Everton would be -- the San Francisco 49ers
There was a time when these guys used to rule the roost, but it feels like so long ago. At Everton they yearn for another Dixie Dean, whose 60 goals during the 1927-28 season remain an English record. In San Francisco, every new quarterback lives in the shadow of Joe Montana. Both clubs have recently been at a low ebb but hope a new coach can revive their fortunes.
Arsenal would be -- the Cincinnati Bengals
Both teams believe in stability. No Premier League manager has been in post for longer than Arsenal's Arsene Wenger, who was hired in 1996. Only one current NFL head coach has held his job for longer than Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis, who took charge in 2003. Wenger rewards his club's faith by qualifying for the Champions League every year and then losing in the first knockout round. Lewis has led the Bengals to the NFL playoffs in six of the past seven years without a single postseason win.
Hull City would be -- the Cleveland Browns
When the Premier League season kicked off, Hull had just 14 fit senior professionals on their books. NFL teams are required to have a minimum of 43 active players for each game, rendering an equivalent situation impossible, but Cleveland fans might nevertheless have wondered who was left after a vast offseason clear-out. The Browns' 53-man roster heading into Week 1 features 26 players who were not with the team last year.
Leicester City would be -- the Carolina Panthers
The NFL will never truly know a team like Leicester City. Parity is ingrained into the league in such a way that even rank outsiders like Cleveland are listed with some bookmakers as a 66-1 shot to win Super Bowl LI. Leicester defied odds of 5,000-1 in 2015-16 to become Premier League champs for the first time. But the Panthers did stage a more modestly impressive turnaround of their own last season, winning 15 regular-season games and reaching the Super Bowl after finishing with a losing record in 2014. They have since bid farewell to star cornerback Josh Norman, whose vital defensive interventions stand in comparison to those of departed Leicester midfielder N'Golo Kante.
Liverpool would be -- the Dallas Cowboys
They have not been champions since the '90s and were overtaken in recent years as the teams that have won their respective leagues the most often. Nevertheless, Liverpool and Dallas remain two of the best-followed clubs in any sport, global brands with huge international followings. And, who knows, perhaps they could even be ready to challenge for major honors again in the near future -- if only their best players would stop getting injured.
Middlesbrough would be -- the Jacksonville Jaguars
In March, Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka stormed out of a team meeting amid reports he was about to be sacked. Instead he was allowed to return and lead a 10-game unbeaten run that saw the club promoted to the Premier League. The Jaguars hope for similar success after they stuck by head coach Gus Bradley, even backing him with major free-agent signings, despite his having presided over three straight losing seasons.
Chelsea would be -- the New York Giants
Champions in the 2000s and then again in the first half of this decade, each team is coming off a down season (OK, several in New York's case) during which it was dragged back into the middle of the pack. Chelsea have sought to kick-start a fresh winning cycle by parting ways with manager Jose Mourinho, who led them to three Premier League titles across two stints in charge, just as the Giants cut ties with Tom Coughlin, who orchestrated two Super Bowl wins.
Southampton would be -- the Detroit Lions
Summer after summer, Southampton supporters endure the frustration of watching their best players leave to join richer clubs. Fans in Detroit can empathize. A year ago the Lions lost their top three defensive tackles -- Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley in free agency. This March, their all-time leading receiver, Calvin Johnson, retired.
Stoke City would be -- the Buffalo Bills
If the cliche has it that even world-class soccer players struggle to showcase their talents on a wet and windy night in Stoke, then spare a thought for NFL kickers whose teams visit Buffalo. The average wind speed at New Era Field has been reported at 16.1 mph, and the Bills needed to call in fans with shovels to help clear away snow before games in each of the past two seasons.
Sunderland would be -- the Chicago Bears
As with many entries in this list, the comparison feels imprecise. Chicago is the third-largest urban center in the United States and is the site of one of the world's busiest airports, whereas Sunderland is a modest port city of fewer than 300,000 people. But each is just as fiercely attached to its team, even though neither has won a title in several decades and both tend to get blanketed by snow in the winter.
Swansea City would be -- the Green Bay Packers
On the field, there is no comparison. The Packers are 13-time NFL champions, whereas Swansea won their first major trophy, the oft-derided League Cup, in 2013. The two teams are united, however, by models of fan ownership unique in their respective leagues. The Packers are the only publicly owned major sports team in the United States. Swansea are the only Premier League club with fan representation on their board, thanks to a supporters' trust that owns 21 percent of the team's shares.
Manchester City would be -- the Arizona Cardinals
Although each was founded more than a century ago, neither team enjoyed much success until the last decade. City had been English champions twice, and most recently in 1968, before wealthy new owners helped them to lift the Premier League trophy in 2011-12 and 2013-14. The Cardinals still have not added to the NFL titles they won in 1925 and 1947, but they reached the Super Bowl in 2008 and are among the favorites to do so again this year, thanks to a coach, Bruce Arians, whose soaring reputation might soon equal that of City's Pep Guardiola.
Tottenham Hotspur would be -- the New York Jets
Big-city boys who haven't won a championship since the 1960s, these guys would be happy enough nowadays just to finish ahead of their hated neighbors (Arsenal/New England) for once. The talent has often been there, but somehow things always seem to fall apart in the most undignified way possible. Where Tottenham will never be allowed to forget a 2006 collapse brought on (supposedly) by dodgy lasagna, the Jets are forever marked by the Butt Fumble.
Watford would be -- the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
An unfashionable club, located in a small city near more glamorous neighbors, the Buccaneers know what it's like to be overlooked. But they turned heads last season by winning games they were supposed to lose with the help of a pair of offensive players who exceeded expectations. For Watford's Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo, see Tampa Bay's Doug Martin and Jameis Winston.
West Bromwich Albion would be -- the San Diego Chargers
After sailing along in the middle of the pack these last few years, West Brom and San Diego suddenly find themselves caught between comfort zones and an unknown future. The Baggies were taken over by a Chinese investment group last month, and the Chargers must wait until November to find out if residents will allow them to build a new stadium in their home city. If the vote goes against the Chargers, they could join the Rams in Los Angeles.
West Ham United would be -- the Minnesota Vikings
New stadiums were supposed to mean bright new futures for West Ham and Minnesota, each of whom exceeded expectations last season. Recent weeks, however, have been trying. West Ham fluffed their chance to compete in the Europa League, losing a qualifier against Romania's Astra Giurgiu. The Vikings suffered a more devastating blow when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater tore up his knee in practice.