NFL 101

At 10.30am (AEST) on Friday the 5th of September, the National Football League season kicks off. American football is steadily growing in popularity in Canberra. However if you can’t differentiate Tom Brady from Ray Lewis, then this guide is for you.

The basics

American football is played between two teams. Each team has eleven players on the field at any given time, though squads are much larger and divided into offensive and defensive teams.

Like rugby, teams score points by advancing the ball into the opponent’s end zone or kicking it through a goal. Unlike rugby, players wear body armour which allows them to perform ludicrous feats of strength and fearlessness on the field.

In the NFL, 32 teams are divided into two conferences – the National and American Football Conferences (NFC and AFC). Each conference is further divided into four divisions.

Teams compete over a 17 week schedule (with one bye week per team) before six teams from each conference enter the playoffs. Following the respective conference playoff series, the two conference champions compete in the Superbowl for the NFL championship.

Key terms

Field goal (FG) – worth three points; ball is kicked off the ground through the goal posts.

Touchdown (TD) – worth six points; like a try in rugby but you don’t have to touch the ball to the ground.

Run and pass plays – in a run play the offense attempts to advance the ball by handing the ball to a carrier to run up the field (also called “rushing”); in a pass play, the offence attempts to advance the ball by throwing it forwards from the quarterback to a receiver.

Down – equivalent of a tackle in rugby league; an offence has four downs to gain ten yards before the ball must be turned over; gaining ten yards results in four more downs; reported as down number and yards to go e.g. 1st and 10 means the offence is on its first down, with ten yards to gain.

Incomplete pass – a pass that falls to the ground without the recipient ever being in possession of the ball; results in no yardage gained or lost.

Interception – a pass caught by the defence; results in a turnover.

Fumble – a ball knocked loose from the offence’s possession; results in a turnover or fumble recovery.

Hopefully this quick start guide is helpful for anyone confused by the spectacular, entertaining and admittedly complicated sport of American football as the new NFL season begins.


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