Basic Rules of Football


Watching professional football can be a lot of fun. Every year for roughly five months, America as a whole comes together to watch all of the games unfold as teams push toward the playoffs and the dream of making the Super Bowl.

If you are new to the game but want to start watching, knowing some of the basic rules is a good place to start. You might not be an expert right away, but you can have a better sense of what’s happening with knowledge of these rules.


If you want to get really gung-ho and fully into football, take a minute to understand the rules before you begin getting into other things. NFL betting odds are extremely popular, especially compared to sports like F1, but that might be too big of a place to start for now.

The scoring is the first place to start. Teams get points for a few things: three points for a field goal (kicking the ball through the uprights), six points for a touchdown, one point for an extra point (after the touchdown), two-point conversions (instead of the extra point), and safeties (two points for tackling the offence in the end zone). Nailing the scoring system will at least give you a place to start.

First Downs

One of the most common things you will hear referenced is “downs.” There are downs on every drive, which is basically a play. The offence has four downs to gain at least 10 yards (more if penalties come into play), which then resets the downs and gives them four more tries to do the same thing.

For the most part, teams will try to get 10 yards in the first three plays. If they fail, they kick the ball to the other team (punt), kick a field goal if they are close enough, or attempt to go for it on fourth down if the situation warrants it. Third and fourth downs are pressure-packed situations that can add intensity and drama to the game.


Throughout the course of most games, penalties will occur. These are infractions committed by one side and usually result in yardage of some kind. For instance, one penalty is offsides. This is where a defender lines up across the “line of scrimmage”, which is an invisible line separating the offence and defence.

Holding is pretty self-explanatory. Pass interference is where a defensive player interferes with the receiver, impeding his ability to catch the ball. Yardage incurred on penalties is anywhere between 5 yards (offsides) to varied amounts for something like pass interference, which is a spot foul.


Even though there are a lot of other things to cover, let’s focus on timeouts. Each team gets three timeouts per half. They can be called at any time, giving the team 30 seconds to talk things over, figure out a different play, etc. There are injury timeouts as well, where a team has an injured player and must spend a timeout to tend to that player.

The interesting thing is the two-minute warning. During the final two minutes of each half, the clock will stop at two minutes or as soon as the play ends after the two-minute threshold has been crossed. It essentially adds a timeout for each team at a time when every second is invaluable. Timeouts can be critical in football, especially late in the game when teams are trying to make a comeback. These are good foundations to build on so that you can figure out even more about the game as you watch.

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