Are you ready for some football? Because Microsoft most certainly is. To go along with the introduction of a new NFL app for Xbox One and Windows 8, the software giant has also revealed how it plans to help professional coaches and players during games. As part of an ongoing partnership with the National Football League, which began last year and was reportedly worth $400 million over five years, Microsoft created what it calls a Sideline Viewing System. Naturally, the company's own hardware is a key component to this; the new system is powered by Surface Pro 2 tablets, and it allows NFL teams to review photos of plays instantly on the sidelines and up in the booths. For instance, say the quarterback goes back to the bench, the Surface can then be used to see the opposing team's defensive formation during the most recent drive -- and the same goes for the coaching staff that keeps an eye on the game from higher ground. Players are also able to draw on these images, making it easier for other members of the team to see something which stands out and needs to be checked.

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Microsoft Surface tablets in the NFL

While the new system has the potential to replace paper-printed materials on the sidelines, that's not what the Redmond-based company hopes to accomplish, not yet at least. The Sideline Viewing System won't be required to be utilized by NFL teams, but they will all have it at their disposal week in and week out, should they choose to want to integrate it into their workflow. A representative from Microsoft told Engadget the company doesn't "want to force anything," adding that, ultimately, it is up to individual players and coaches to figure out what they want to do and use the methods best suited for them.

Moreover, Microsoft says the Surface Pro 2s are owned by the NFL and not the teams, telling us that the tablets were heavily modified inside and out. Sure, these devices are capable of handling water, snow and extreme heat temperatures, but here's one thing they can't handle: third-party apps. In other words, don't expect Johnny Football to be Instagramming while he's warming up on the bench. Along those same lines, the Surface tablets on the field operate under a private network created by the NFL, which is how the league plans to keep the sensitive photo-viewing app closed off and away from any potential intruders.

It's worth noting this isn't the first time Microsoft has made its way to NFL sidelines, as it had done so in the past through the placement of really, really big Surface logos everywhere, as well as many other things behind the scenes. For now, we'd say this is much better. The Sideline Viewing System is making its debut tonight, during this year's preseason opener game, between the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants.

[Image credits: Microsoft]