Basic Rule of NFL

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American football can appear overly complicated to a newcomer. However, the game’s foundations are simple to grasp and follow. The basic rules of the game, including the flow of play and scoring techniques, are outlined below.

The game

  • Normal play consists of two teams of 11 players on the field (one offensive, one defensive) battling for four 15-minute quarters.
  • Each team typically has three ‘time-outs’ every half, with a 12-minute half-time interval.
  • The goal of the game is to get the ball into the opposing ‘end zone,’ either by running with it until tackled or by passing it to a teammate downfield, towards the end zone.
  • Although only 11 players from each side are on the field at any given time, a team is made up of 45 players. The quarterback on each team is the primary player who seeks to direct play.


Downs are an element of the game that frequently confuses newbies. They are, in fact, straightforward. In summary, the rule is as follows:

  • While on offense, the team in possession of the ball must move the ball forward by at least 10 yards. Therefore, the pitch has distinct yardage lines.
  • They have four attempts, or downs, to gain those ten yards, and if they succeed, the count resets and the team gets another set of four downs to try to move another ten yards.
  • If the offensive team fails to move these 10 yards in four downs, possession is forfeited, and the defensive team takes over on offense. On fourth down, teams will typically kick for a field goal or downfield to the other team to salvage some points before losing possession.

Scoring in American football

The goal in American football, like in almost every other sport, is to score more points than the opposition. The game’s scoring system is as follows:

  • Touchdown (6 Points): When a team crosses the opposing goal line with the ball or catches or collects the ball in the end zone, a touchdown is scored.
  • Field Goal (3 Points): These are typically attempted on fourth down if the kicker is close enough to the end zone to kick the ball through between the upright posts.
  • Extra Point (1 Or 2 Points): After a score, an extra point is earned by kicking the ball through the uprights (akin to conversion in rugby). Taking the ball into the end zone again earns two points, but because it is more difficult, most teams choose one point.
  • Safety (2 Points): If the defense team tackles an attacking team member with the ball in their end zone, they score 2 points.


  1. Non-Player on Field: If any non-player, including photographers, reporters, employees, police, or spectators, enters the field of play or end zones and, in the opinion of an official, interferes with the play, the Referee, after consulting the crew (13-1-7 and 19-1-3), shall impose any penalty or score that the interference warrants.
  2. Field Control: If spectators enter the field and/or interfere with the game’s progress in such a way that the Referee believes the game cannot continue, the Referee shall declare a timeout. In this situation, the Referee must note the number of the down, the distance to be covered, and the location of the ball on the field. The Referee must additionally obtain and record the remaining playing time from the Line Judge.
  3. Game Called: If the game must be called due to a state or local law, or due to darkness if no lights are available, the host club, visiting club, and officials must immediately notify the Commissioner. Following receipt of all reports, the Commissioner will make a final decision.
  4. Emergency Situations: The NFL reiterates its position that, in most cases, all regular-season and postseason games should be completed. If, in the opinion of appropriate League authorities, it is impossible to begin or continue a game due to an emergency, or a game is deemed to be imminently threatened by any such emergency (e.g., severely inclement weather, lightning, flooding, power failure), the Commissioner and/or the duly appointed representatives will serve as guidelines.
  5. League Authority: The Commissioner, designated representatives from the League office staff, and the game Referee are the League workers with the power to define emergencies under these rules. When neither the Commissioner nor the designated representative is present at a game, the Referee has sole authority; however, if the Referee delays or interrupts a game for an extended period due to an emergency, the Referee must make every effort to contact the Commissioner or the Commissioner’s designated representative for a consultation.
  6. Later Date: If a regular-season or postseason game is not started at its planned time and cannot be played later that same day due to an emergency, the game must be played on a later date to be designated by the Commissioner.
  7. Pre-Game Threat: If there is a threat of an emergency occurring while a game is being played (e.g., an impending tropical storm), the starting time of the such game will not be moved to an earlier time unless there is obviously enough time to perform an orderly adjustment.
  8. Interrupted Game: If an interrupted regular-season or post-season game cannot be finished on the same day due to emergency circumstances, the Commissioner will reschedule the game and resume play at that time.
  9. Game Resumption: When a game is resumed after an interruption, whether on the same or a later date, the resumption will begin at the place where the game was interrupted. At the time of the interruption, the Referee will call a timeout and record the following information: the team in possession of the ball, the direction in which its offense was heading, the position of the ball on the field, down, distance, period, time remaining in the period, and any other pertinent information required for an efficient and equitable resumption of play.

In recent years, a few new rules have been introduced which include:

6-1-3 | Made the free kick formation modification introduced during the 2021 season permanent

This rule is implemented when the ball is kicked on a free kick down:

  1. From the start of the kicker’s approach to the ball until the ball is kicked.
    • Other than the kicker, all kicking team players must be lined up with at least one foot on the yard line one yard behind their restraining line, and both feet must remain on the ground until the ball is kicked.
    • On either side of the ball, no more than five members of the kicking team may be present.
    • At least two players must be lined up inbounds between the side-line and the bottom (outside) of the yard-line number, and at least two players must be lined up between the top (inside) of the yard-line number and the inbounds lines.
  2. Except for all kicking teams, players must be inbounding and behind the ball when it is kicked.
    • A placekick holder (3-18-1-Item 2) may be beyond the line.
    • The kicker may be outside the line if his kicking foot is not outside the line.
  3. All receiving team (Team B) players must remain inbounds and behind their restraining line until the ball is kicked, and at least eight, but no more than nine, players must be positioned between their restraining line and a location 15 yards behind their restraining line (the “setup zone”).
  4. It is a foul if a kicking team player runs out of bounds (without being engaged by a receiving team player) to avoid a block prior to the ball being touched by the receiving team or the finish of the kick.

16-1-4 | In postseason games, overtime was modified to ensure that each team had a chance to possess the ball.

  1. Both teams must have at least one possession of the ball during the overtime period unless the team kicking off to begin the extra period scores a safety on the receiving team’s first possession, in which case the team that kicked off is the winner.
  2. After each team has had a chance to possess the ball, the team with more points than its opponent wins.
  3. If the team that has control of the ball initially does not score on its first possession, or if the score is tied after each team has had its chance to possess the ball, the team that scores next by whatever method wins.
  4. If the score is tied at the end of a 15-minute extra period, or if the second team’s opening possession does not end, another overtime period begins, and play continues, regardless of how many 15-minute periods are required.
  5. There will be a two-minute intermission between each overtime period, but no halftime intermission after the second period. The captain who lost the coin toss before the first overtime session shall have the first choice of the two privileges in 4-2-2 at the start of the third overtime period unless the team that won the coin toss is delayed.
  6. Teams must change goals in accordance with 4-2-3 at the end of the first and third additional periods, etc.
  7. During a half, each side has three timeouts. If there is an extra timeout, the standard rules apply.
  8. Timing regulations apply at the end of a second overtime period, just as they do at the end of the first. Timing rules apply at the end of the fourth overtime period as they do at the end of the fourth period.
  9. After the fourth overtime period, another coin toss will be held in accordance with Section 1, Article 2, and play will continue until a winner is determined.

This tutorial has provided the tools that are needed to get started with the game. Football, like any other sport, has countless other elements and rules in addition to the ones given here, but by understanding the flow of the game and the scoring, it will be enjoyable to grasp while filling in the gaps.