HomeSportNFL rules explained: Overtime, pitch size, how to score points, game length...

NFL rules explained: Overtime, pitch size, how to score points, game length and more as American Football returns to London


It’s undeniable that American Football’s popularity away from the US is on the rise.

It is the most watched sport in America and is now starting to grow in other countries, particularly the UK, as the continued presence of the NFL’s London Games shows.

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The NFL’s popularity outside of the US is growingCredit: GETTY

This year’s edition will see the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and Wembley host three games across three weeks.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the basics of NFL.

How long is each game?

An NFL game lasts for 60 minutes and is split into four 15-minute quarters.

However, due to an extended half-time break, injuries, replay reviews, penalties and media timeouts, the whole thing usually takes four hours.

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And if the scores are level at the end of normal time, there is a ten-minute overtime period.

What is overtime and how does it work?

In overtime, both teams must get the chance to have possession of the ball and create a point-scoring chance.

However, should the first team score a touchdown with their first attack, the game ends and they win.

But if not, the winners are whoever scores first.

If after overtime ends and the teams are still level, the match is called a draw unless it’s a knockout match to get to the Super Bowl final, in which case, there will be infinite amounts of overtime until there is a winner.

NFL America's biggest sport and it's growing in stature in the UK

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NFL America’s biggest sport and it’s growing in stature in the UKCredit: Getty

NFL London Games 2023 schedule

Sunday, October 1: Atlanta Falcons vs Jacksonville Jaguars – Wembley Stadium – 2:30pm

Sunday, October 8: Jacksonville Jaguars vs Buffalo Bills – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – 2:30pm

Sunday, October 15: Baltimore Ravens vs Tennessee Titans – Tottehham Hotspur Stadium – 2:30pm

What does the pitch look like?

The pitch for all American Football matches is 100 yards in length with ten yards either side behind the goal-line, which is known as the endzone, where touchdowns are scored.

There are also a set of posts at either end, which are similar to those you would see on a rugby field.

How do you score points?

As in rugby, there are several ways to score points with each worth a differing amount.

A touchdown is the most valuable as it carries six points.

To score a touchdown, the ball simply has to go over the opposing goal-line.

Unlike in rugby, it doesn’t have to be grounded, meaning that a receiver can simply catch a long pass in the endzone to score a touchdown.

After a touchdown, the team can elect to kick a conversion through the post for another point or try to score a touchdown from the two-yard line for two more points.

Teams can also score a field goal, which is worth three points and comes when the ball is kicked through the posts from distance.

Finally, teams can also earn extra points through a safety.

This happens when a ball-carrier is tackled in their own endzone or when the attacking side commit a foul behind their goal-line.

A touchdown is what all teams are aiming for

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A touchdown is what all teams are aiming forCredit: CBS

What’s the objective of the game?

As in most team sports, the aim is to outscore the opposition.

However, you have to be quick in NFL or the ball is overturned.

Each team gets three phases of play known as ‘downs’ to progress up the field by ten yards.

If they manage to do this, the play resets until they score or fail to make ten yards.

If after the ‘downs’ the ball hasn’t progressed, the attacking team are forced to turnover possession and the other side start their phase of play.

If a team have failed to make much progress after three ‘downs’, they will usually elect to try and score a field goal or punt the ball down the pitch to keep the other team further away from the goal-line.

The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will host two NFL games in October

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The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will host two NFL games in OctoberCredit: Getty

Who are the players?

Unlike in football or rugby, players in the NFL are usually there to attack or defend.

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Teams are allowed 11 players on the field at one time but can make as many changes to that side as they like, meaning that a team with the ball will probably have a totally different XI to one when they don’t.

This is because the game is very clearly defined in two phases, defence and offence and most players in the NFL are good at one or the other.

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