Written by Edward Seaman

Tonight, The Seattle Seahawks take on the Denver Broncos at the MetLife Stadium, New Jersey, in Super Bowl XLVIII.


The event is the biggest single event, in terms of finance and structure, in the world and will be watched by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. But how much do you know about the sport, in particular the rules, of NFL?

This is a beginners guide to the rules of NFL, so get your notepads out and pay attention.

American football is like British football in the sense that both teams have 11 players but the parallels stop there.

To start with the basics, there are four quarters, each fifteen minutes long. At the end of the second quarter there is a 12-minute break, compared to just two minute breaks at the end of the first and third quarters.

Like Rugby, the clock stops when the ball goes out of play, and if the scores are tied at the end of the four quarters, 15 minutes of overtime is played.

There are ‘two sides of the ball’- the offense and the defence and each team takes turns at fulfilling each role.

The offense is formed of the following roles.

  • The quarterback who passes or offloads the ball.
  • The centre whose job is to protect the quarterback.
  • 2 guards and 2 tacklers who attempt keep the defence at bay.
  • 2/4 wide receivers catch the ball thrown by the quarterback.
  • 1 or 2 running backs that receive the ball and run with it.
  • 1 or 2 tight ends that block the defence and can also receive passes.

The defence is much simpler and is formed of:

  • Linebackers who defend against the pass by pushing the offense back.
  • The defensive line. They battle head-to-head against the offensive line.
  • Cornerbacks and safeties whose job is to defend against the pass from the quarterback and stop the runners

The aim is to score a touchdown, which is worth six points to the scoring team. To score a touchdown, the ball must be carried across the goal line into the end zone or caught in the end zone. Upon scoring a touchdown it gives the scoring team a chance to score an extra point or two. In essence like a conversion in rugby.

To score a point, the ball must be kicked between the posts, and to score two, it must be thrown. The two-point throw is very difficult and therefore it is more than likely for the team to opt for the one point option.

Another method of scoring is via a field goal, like a drop goal. If the offense does not believe they can score a touchdown they may opt for a kick at goal, which if it is successful, will earn the team three points.

However, to retain possession of the football, teams do need to make a certain amount of progress up the pitch. All progress in a football game is measured in yards.  Each time the offense gets the ball, it has four downs, or chances, in which to progress ten yards.

If the offensive team successfully moves the ball ten or more yards, it earns a first down, and another set of four downs. If the offense fails to gain 10 yards, it loses possession of the ball and the other team gets the chance to score.

The final way a team can score points is via a safety. The safety is worth two points and occurs when the offensive ball carrier is tackled behind his own goal line.

So there it is, a beginners guide to the rules of NFL. Hopefully now, many will be able to sit up late on Sunday night and enjoy the spectacle, and the circus that comes with it, of the Super bowl.

May the best team win.