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A Newbie's Guide To American Football

Posted on May 03 2020

American football is a sport that many follow religiously – never missing a game, be it preseason, regular-season, exhibition, or what have you. As if the game itself isn't enough, you can even indulge in fantasy football today. But not everyone is as familiar with football as the next person.

American football ball on dark background

Whether you have a significant other who loves to watch football, friends who wish you could watch the games with them, or you’re just interested in knowing a little more about the sport in general, we've put together a guide for beginners. There is, of course, much more to the game of football than what is described below. But this at least gives you a starting point and may help you avoid embarrassing questions while watching the next game.

Oh, and for the record, NFL stands for National Football League.

Keeping It Simple

The purpose (or aim) of the game is to get to the opposition’s end zone with the ball. You can throw the ball, a player can run with the ball, or a combination of both. When a player is tackled, he is down (for all intents and purposes).

The field is 53 yards wide and 100 yards long. Yard markers help track the progress of the football – there are the white markings you see on the field. End zones, at each end of the field, tack on an additional 10 yards each. This is scoring territory.

Four 15-minute quarters comprise a complete football game. Half time lasts 12 minutes. Between the first and third quarters, there are two-minute breaks.

Positions and Players

Forty-five players make up an American football team. On the field at any given time, there should only be 11 players from each side. Positions are broken down into defense and offense.

Whoever has the ball and is trying to score is the offense. The team trying to stop them from scoring is the defense. There are numerous positions assigned to the players on both offensive and defensive teams.

Football Game Scoring

  • A safety wins two points.
  • A field goal, three points.
  • A two-point conversion, two points (attempted after a touchdown).
  • Extra point, one point (also attempted after a touchdown).
  • Touchdown, six points.

Plays and Downs

To begin a play (an attempt to score), 40 seconds is allowed to the offensive team. They will be penalized if they do not get the play off on time.

Four chances are given to the offense to move the ball 10 yards in a forward direction. They get a first down if they move the ball 10 yards within those four plays. That gives them another four plays during which to move the ball another 10 yards (or score). If they cannot achieve 10 yards, they will frequently kick the ball as either a punt or a field goal attempt.

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