|Platform(s)||Dreamcast, GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox|
|First release||NFL 2K|
September 9, 1999
|Latest release||ESPN NFL 2K5|
July 20, 2004
|Spin-offs||All-Pro Football 2K8|
NFL 2K was an American football video game series developed by Visual Concepts and published by Sega. The series was originally exclusive to Sega's Dreamcast video game console due to the absence of EA Sports's Madden NFL series on the system. As the foremost "2K" title, it marked the beginning of a running athletics series that eventually led to the spinning off of 2K's sports publishing business under the name of 2K Sports. Upon the Dreamcast's discontinuation, the series continued to be published for other sixth generation game systems and became the chief competitor of the Madden series.
After the competitively priced NFL 2K5 significantly reduced sales of that year's Madden release, EA signed an exclusivity deal with the NFL that made Madden NFL the only series allowed to use NFL team and player names. After losing the NFL license, Visual Concepts made a brief return to developing football games with the release of All-Pro Football 2K8, which featured former NFL players on fictional teams.
The NFL 2K series was introduced by Sega to address EA Sports's decision not to publish games, including the Madden NFL series, for the Dreamcast. The first installment, NFL 2K, was released exclusively for the system, in time for its September 9, 1999 launch in North America. All 32 NFL teams were included in the game (including the returning Browns) along with alumni teams, and All-Pro teams for the AFC, NFC, and NFL. The game received positive reception upon its release, with praises for its visuals, presentation, and overall gameplay.
A sequel, NFL 2K1, was released for the Dreamcast on September 7, 2000 to critical acclaim. Improvements over its predecessor include a significant amount of new player animations, larger play-books, improved AI, and tweaks to the running game, the passing game, and defense. 2K1 also introduced a multi-season franchise mode and online play.
With the demise of the Dreamcast, the NFL 2K series was re-positioned as the main multi-platform rival to the Madden NFL series. NFL 2K2, the third installment, was released on September 19, 2001, for the Dreamcast. PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game were later released with enhanced graphics. Reception for the game was positive, with critics noting improved AI, enhancements to the passing game, and new player animations. However, the franchise mode was criticized for lacking depth, as it remained nearly unchanged from 2K1. The Houston Texans were included in the game, featuring stock players as the team did not yet have a real-life roster.
NFL 2K3 was released for PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube on August 2002. The game featured licensed ESPN-styled presentation, with halftime reports, player awards, and post-game and weekly wrap-ups. ESPN's Dan Patrick is featured in the opening intro. Franchise mode was greatly expanded upon in 2K3, and featured interactive menus along with much greater depth. Historic teams were included for the first time, and current real-life coaches were introduced to the series (along with the ability to create ones). 2K3 was the first game in the series to include Xbox Live capabilities.
ESPN NFL Football was released in September 2003 for PlayStation 2 and Xbox. It is the only game in the series not featuring 2K in the title; 2K4 was instead regulated to the bottom corner of the box art. The game would expand upon the series' ESPN license, with players receiving reports and highlights from ESPN's Chris Berman and Suzy Kolber. New features were added such as first-person football and "The Crib', which serves as the player's own digital apartment and trophy room.
With the cancellation of NFL GameDay (989 Sports) on PlayStation 2 and the NFL Fever (Microsoft Game Studios) franchise, the series truly became Madden NFL's primary competition. In what Grantland later called "one of the greatest, most insidious guerrilla-warfare moves in the history of video game competition", Sega released ESPN NFL 2K5 in July 2004 for $19.99, giving the game significant market share versus the $49.95 Madden NFL. One EA developer recalled that Sega's aggressive pricing "scared the hell out of us"; EA later reduced Madden NFLs price to $29.95. In December 2004, however, EA signed an exclusive agreement with the NFL for an undisclosed amount of money, making Madden NFL the only series allowed to use NFL team and player names. Comparatively, the NFL signed a similar six year exclusivity deal with Visa Inc. worth $400 million in January 2004. EA also signed an agreement with ESPN to become the only licensee of ESPN's brand in sports games on all platforms. This was an immense blow to Sega's franchise in their MLB, NBA, and NHL series. As of June 2014, EA's NFL licensing rights were due to end in "a couple more years." 
The commentary is by the fictional Dan Stevens (Terry McGovern) and Peter O'Keefe (Jay Styne), who narrate in each of the series' games. The fictional Michelle Westphal (Marcia Perry) provided occasional sideline reports from NFL 2K until NFL 2K3, while ESPN NFL Football and ESPN NFL 2K5 featured sideline reporting from ESPN's real-life Suzy Kolber.
2K Sports has a spiritual successor to the series, in the form of All-Pro Football 2K8. The spin-off was released in 2007 and features over 240 retired NFL players, including Joe Montana, Barry Sanders, John Elway, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, and Johnny Unitas. In-game announcers Stevens and O'Keefe are also featured in All-Pro Football 2K8, with many player animations and gameplay mechanics returning as well.
|Title||Release date||Console(s)||Cover athlete|
|NFL 2K||September 9, 1999||Dreamcast||Randy Moss|
|NFL 2K1||September 7, 2000||Dreamcast|
|NFL 2K2||September 19, 2001||Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Xbox|
|NFL 2K3||August 12, 2002||PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube||Brian Urlacher|
|ESPN NFL Football||September 3, 2003||PlayStation 2, Xbox||Warren Sapp|
|ESPN NFL 2K5||July 20, 2004||PlayStation 2, Xbox||Terrell Owens|
|Title||Release date||Console(s)||Cover athletes|
|All Pro Football 2K8||July 16, 2007||PlayStation 3, Xbox 360||John Elway, Barry Sanders, Jerry Rice|
The series has received universal acclaim.
|'NFL 2K'||(DC) 91.53 |
|NFL 2K1||(DC) 94.50 ||(DC) 97|
|NFL 2K2||(DC) 89.35 
(PS2) 86.85 
(Xbox) 84.84 
(Xbox) 87 
|NFL 2K3||(Xbox) 89.79 
(GC) 89.45 
|ESPN NFL Football||(Xbox) 89.27 
(PS2) 88.12 
|ESPN NFL 2K5||(Xbox) 90.52