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What are the basic rules of American football?

NFL football
(© razihusin

American football is the biggest Northern American sport, and while the game is played worldwide, the professional leagues are in North America, we are looking at you, NFL, and they attract the best players and the most popular.

Many people love to bet on the NFL, it is even one of the most widely bet on sports worldwide, so if you are betting on the NFL at, you will probably want to also ensure that you have a clear understanding of what the exact rules are for this infamous sport.

Understanding the basic rules of the game will ensure that you have the knowledge you need to make the right decisions about your wagers.

The objective of the game

The objective of American football is really simple. Each team is simply playing to score more points than their opponent in the allotted time. They have to do this by moving the ball down the pitch in phases of play before they get the ball into the end zone for a touchdown. This is something that can be achieved by either throwing the ball to their teammate or running the ball down the field.

Each team gets 4 chances/ downs to move the ball forward 10 yards, and once they pass the 10 yards, their downs reset, and they start again for their next 10 yards. After 4 downs have passed, if they have failed to make it over the 10 yards needed, then the ball will be handed over to their opponents.

Understanding the game

If you are unsure of some of the terminology used in the game, or some of the basics on how the game is run, let us help you out with these facts about American football, so you can bet smarter with new knowledge.


Downs are probably the most fundamental part of the game. The offensive team will move the ball forward in sections of a minimum of 10 yards. They will have four chances/ downs to gain these 10 yards. Each time the ball is advanced 10 yards within their four downs, another first down is earned with another four chances to go on another 10 yards.

However, if they fail to do so, then they surrender their possession of the ball. However, the ball is usually punted to the defending team on the 4th down.


The game is split into four 15-minute quarters, three time-outs per half for each time, with a 12-minute half-time, and 15 minute sudden-death overtime if scores end up tied.


Scoring is also an important part of the game to take note of. There are four aspects to scoring that are most imperative.

First is a touchdown, which is the main goal throughout play. A touchdown is worth six points, and it is scored when the team crosses their opponents’ goal line with the ball, or if they catch or collect the ball inside the end zone. This is the highest scoring type of goal and is the primary aim of the game.

Next is a field goal, which is worth three points. These goals are usually attempted on fourth down, in the case that the kicker is close enough to the end zone for them to kick the ball through the posts.

A team can be awarded an extra point by kicking the ball through the uprights after a touchdown as well. A team can go for two points by then taking the ball into the end zone once more.

Two points will be awarded to the defensive team for a safety when a member of the offensive team is tackled with the ball in their own end zone as well.

The rules of the game

Now that we understand the basics of the game, let’s have a look at the rules. While the main goal is to win the game, every game in any sport has a specific set of rules that make it what it is, and while we understand how scoring is done, and the concept of downs, there is more to football than just that. So, let’s take a look at the rules that help shape American football into what we know today.

  • A football game lasts for four 15-minute quarters, with a 2-minute break between the 1st and 2nd quarters, and between the 3rd and 4th quarters. There will also be a 15-minute rest between the 2nd and 3rd quarters, otherwise known as halftime.
  • Here are hundreds of different plays that players could run in any down. The plays are made up of the teams’ players and will often have players running in many different routes, which is basically just carefully organized chaos. Typically, the quarterback will be the one who initiates the organized chaos, shouting the calls on the field plays for the attacking team, while the defensive captain will call plays for the defensive team.
  • At the start of each game, there will be a coin toss to decide which team receives the ball first and which side of the pitch they will start from. Leaving this decision up to chance makes the play much more fair, as it is unbiased.
  • The game will begin with a kick-off, where one team will punt the ball down field for the other team to then run back with the ball as far as they possibly can.
  • On fourth down the offensive team will have the option to either try to make up their yards if they are short, or to kick the ball. If they kick then they can either punt or attempt a field goal. Their play will typically be decided by their position on the pitch. Anything within 40 yards or so of the goal posts will typically result in an attempt at a field goal. If they are further back, they will likely decide that punting is the better option and go for that instead. They will also likely take into account the strengths of their opposition too.

Story by Addison Webb

augusta free press
augusta free press