American Football – the basics
Posted on Friday 31st January

The Super Bowl is this weekend. To many American Football fans this is what the NFL season is all about. Soccer* fans can maybe relate it to the significance of the Champions League Final. It is BIG!

If you haven’t ever seen an American Football game, then you will soon. With the ever growing popularity of the sport from the other side of the Atlantic, sees three games being played at Wembley in 2014, more coverage on UK TV screens than ever before and even discussions about having an NFL team based in London, we thought we would help you along with the basic rules of American Football. Welcome to our beginners guide.


  • There are 22 players in a team. 11 are known as the offensive team, the other 11 are known as the defensive team.
  • The offense are the team with possession of the football.  They have to try and advance the ball down the field by running with it or throwing it. Their aim is to get to the end zone (area at the end of the pitch). If they do this, they score points. Simple? Not when there’s a defence in the way…
  • The defence of the oppositions objective is to stop the offense progressing up the pitch and to make it give up possession of the ball.
  • If the team with the ball does score or is forced to give up possession, the offensive and defensive teams switch roles (the offensive team goes on defence and the defensive team goes on offense).


  • All progress in a football game is measured in yards.
  • The offensive team tries to get as much “yardage” as it can to try and move closer to the opponent’s end zone. They must gain at least 10 yards within four chances (downs) in order to have an opportunity to progress any further. If the offensive team successfully moves the ball 10 or more yards, it earns a first down, and another set of four downs
  • If the offensive team fails to move 10 yards within four downs, possession is surrendered
  • If after the first 3 downs, the offense has not gained 10 yards than they must make a decision whether to try to gain the remaining yardage on 4th down, or kick the ball away to the other team consequently surrendering possession to them (or if they are close enough, can try for a field goal).


  • Touchdown (six points) -A touchdown is scored when a player crosses the goal line with possession of the football, this can be done by running across the goal line with the ball in your hands, or by catching the ball in the endzone (must have both feet in bounds with full possession of the football).
  • Field goal (three points) – These are usually attempted on fourth down if the kicker is close enough to the end zone to kick the ball through the posts, or uprights.
  • Extra point – A point is earned by kicking the ball through the uprights after a touchdown (similar to a rugby conversion, only it is always taken from the centre point of the field).
  • 2 point conversion – Can be attempted instead of an extra point. The ball is placed on the 10 yard line and the offense has to get the ball across the goal line (just like a touchdown).
  • Safety (two points) – Awarded to the defensive team when a member of the offensive team is tackled with the ball in his own end zone. If this happens than the team who surrendered the safety must also than kick the ball to the opposing team therefore losing them possession.


  • Four 15min quarters
  • Three time-outs per half for each team
  • 12min half-time
  • 15min sudden-death overtime if scores are tied


A lot of this will make a lot more sense when you sit down and watch the game, so when’s better to start than the biggest game of the season?  Catch Seattle Seahawks vs Denver Broncos this Sunday. Kick off at 11:25pm (it’s a late one!)

*Use of the word soccer will ONLY be used in this article to avoid any unnecessary confusion. For anyone upset by this, may we apologise and hope you feel reassured when we champion the message in this picture: