NFL Rules

To prepare an NFL betting strategy, understanding the basic rules is a great first step. These are the fundamentals that are later needed for analysis and bet selection. Plus, knowing the rules makes watching any sport more enjoyable.

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The rules for the NFL are very similar to those of collegiate football. Scoring, field dimensions, and the characteristics of winning teams are all the same. Penalties and safe play rules are also very similar.

The rules for the game of football are part of the game day outcomes. How well the teams perform within the rules framework, is also a part of it. It is a predictable performance that helps you develop a betting edge.

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Basic NFL Rules

The Field of Play

The field of play is rectangular shaped and is 100 yards long from goal line to goal line, with an end zone at each end of 10 yards in length. The width of the field is 53.3 yards. There are goalposts at each backline of the endzone.  

Each team has 11 players on the field at any time during play. 

The basic scoring principle is to move the football over the opposition’s goal line. One unit of 11 is defending their goal line (on defense). The other team is trying to cross the opponent's goal line and score (on offense). 

Each side has a squad of offensive and defensive players. There is a third squad that is primarily involved with kicking the ball to or receiving a kick from the other team. This third group is known as the special unit. Special units include the unique services of a punter and field goal kicker, as examples.

Run or Pass

To move the ball towards the goal line, the offensive unit can either run with the ball or complete a forward pass. This is done from one player to another. A legal forward pass is when the ball is thrown from behind the line of scrimmage to another player. This is in a forward direction towards the goal. An eligible teammate must catch the ball before it hits the ground.

The line of scrimmage is the term for the starting line on the field. It is where the ball is placed and is the virtual line across the field. This is where the offense lines up against the defense to try to move the ball.

Four Tries to Move Ten Yards

The dimensions of a football field are measured in yards. The field length is 100-yards from the end zone to the other end zone. A scoring opportunity can come on any play. However, most often the team with the ball strives to move down the field in a series of tries. These tries are known as downs - 1st, 2nd, and so on.

The side with possession of the ball has 4 downs or tries to score or move the ball 10 yards. 

A team is given another set of downs when the ball moves from the initial line of scrimmage to a distance of ten yards.

When they fail to move ten yards in four tries, the other team goes on offense and tries to do the same. Most often, when failing after three tries, the special unit is called in to punt. 

A punt refers to kicking the ball downfield as far as possible. It's to increase the distance the opposition needs to move the ball toward the goal.

The ability of a team to consistently move the ball towards the goal line by having good first downs is big. This team has the advantage to win the game. This consistent progress results in more scoring opportunities. It also keeps the opponent’s offense off the field, limiting their scoring chances.

Scoring 

The side with the highest score wins the game and it is the score that determines betting results. Whether you make any of the following, the scoreboard is everything.

  • Point spread bet
  • Money line bet
  • Wager on the game’s combined points total

When the offensive runs or receives a pass beyond the opponent’s goal line, this is a “touchdown”. It is worth six points. Touchdowns come with a potential for a single extra point with a successful kick. In some situations, a team can try for a less certain 2-point attempt. This is done by running or passing the ball over the goal line.

The coaching decision to “go for 2”, can often come up late, as the side trailing in score looks to close the gap. Field goals are worth 3 points. Often, the critical difference in close games is a successful field goal kick.

A less common scoring opportunity is a “safety”. Safety is when a player is tackled in their opponent’s end zone, and results in 2 points for the opponent. It is sort of a touchdown in reverse, but rarely has any impact on your betting strategy.

The main objective is to score a touchdown and is the highest point award. After scoring a touchdown, the scoring side is given the opportunity for an “extra point or points”. A single extra point is scored when the ball is kicked through the goal-posts on the backline of the endzone. It is possible for a unit to run a play - pass or run the ball across the goal line and receive two extra points.

Your betting strategy when analyzing matchups is to look at a team’s scoring strength. Also, look at defensive ability.

Penalties

Rule violations result in penalties and are a key aspect of a football rules discussion.  The penalties are to enforce the rules of the game and take the form of assessed yardage, not points. 

Penalties against the defense can result in a first down for the offense. When the offensive side commits a rule violation, penalty yards often stall drives. Penalties can derail-scoring drives or shorten the distance to the goal.

Rules to protect players from injuries also carry significant penalties. 

Penalties are mistakes that can change momentum and a game’s final score. Your football betting rule should be to always analyze how each side performs. Keep in mind the respect to the rules of the game and the impact of penalties.

List of Penalties in Football

Delay of Game: An action that delays the game. For example, when the offense allows the play clock to run out.

The opposing team receives a 5-yards Penalty. 

False Start: When an interior lineman on the offensive team moves prior to the snap of the ball, or when an offensive player makes a quick, abrupt movement prior to the snap of the ball. 

The opposing team receives a 5-yards Penalty. 

Offside: When any part of a player’s body is beyond the line of scrimmage or free kick line when the ball is put into play.

The opposing team receives a 5-yards Penalty. 

Encroachment: When a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage and makes contact with an opponent before the ball is snapped. 

The opposing team receives a 5-yards Penalty. 

Holding (Offensive): When an offensive player uses his hands, arms, or other parts of his body to prevent a defensive player from tackling the ball carrier.

The opposing team receives a 10-yards Penalty.

Holding (Defensive): When a defensive player tackles or holds an offensive player other than the ball carrier. 

The opposing team receives a 5-yards Penalty and an Automatic First Down.

Face Mask: When a player grabs the face mask of another player while attempting to block or tackle.

The opposing team receives a 5-yards Penalty and an Automatic First Down.

Helmet to Helmet Collision: When one player uses his helmet to hit into another player’s helmet.

The opposing team receives a 15-yards Penalty and an Automatic First Down.

Horse Collar Tackle: When one player tackles another by grabbing inside their shoulder pads (or jersey) from behind and yanking them down.

The opposing team receives a 15-yards Penalty and an Automatic First Down.

Pass Interference: A judgment call made by an official who sees a defensive player making contact with the intended receiver before the ball arrives, thus restricting his opportunity to catch the forward pass. This penalty is no longer reviewable by instant replay. 

The opposing team receives an Automatic First Down at the spot of the foul.

Roughing the Kicker: When a defensive player makes any contact with the punter, provided the defensive player hasn’t touched the kicked ball before contact.

The opposing team receives a 15-yards Penalty and an Automatic First Down.

Roughing the Passer: When a defensive player makes direct contact with the quarterback after the quarterback has released the ball. 

The opposing team receives a 15-yards Penalty and an Automatic First Down.

Personal Foul: An illegal, flagrant foul considered risky to the health of another player.

The opposing team receives a 15-yards Penalty.

 

Automatic First Down is called after a defensive team commits a certain penalty (such as Face Mask), the offensive team will receive an automatic first down.

NFL Game Time Structure

The game duration is 60-minutes of playing time, with four quarters of 15 minutes each. However, you need to set aside three hours to watch an entire game from opening kick-off to the final whistle. The playing time, or “game clock “only runs for continuous play on the field. 

The game clock stops when:

  • A player carries the ball out of bounds
  • There is an incomplete pass
  • There is a penalty 
  • A team uses one of their allotted time outs. 

Game clock management is a very important aspect of the game. Game time available can determine the number of remaining scoring attempts.

NFL Overtime Rules 

The basic rules for NFL playoff games are the same as in regular-season overtime. They differ in the fact that a playoff game must have a winner. The Super Bowl must conclude with a clearly defined champion.

A solid understanding of the NFL overtime rules is important to sports bettors and those watching the game. 

Regular Season Overtime Rules

Some regular-season NFL games end in a tie after 60 minutes of regulation game time. These games then go into a single overtime period of 15 minutes. There will be a short 2-minute intermission between the end of regulation time. A coin flip to determine which side will receive the ball for the start of the overtime period.

The current overtime rules state the game is over when either team scores a touchdown. This can happen at any point during the overtime period. If the receiving side scores a field goal, the game is not over. The opposing team will then be given a chance to score a field goal to continue overtime play. Or, score a touchdown and end the game with a win. If the team to receive the ball first scores a field goal and the opposition fails to score, the game is over.

If both teams score field goals on their opening possession, the game goes until the next score. This can also happen if both teams fail to score field goals. Once both sides have had a single opportunity to score, the game goes to “sudden death” rules. This means the next score wins the game.

If at the end of the single overtime, neither team scores, then the game ends in a tie. This can also happen if both teams score only a field goal on their first possession.

In the NFL regular season, there can be ties. However, only after each side has had an opportunity to win during an overtime period.

Another possibility is if the side receiving the ball to start the overtime period is tackled in their own end-zone (a safety). The game is over and the opposing team wins. This is yet to happen in the NFL, but it is an interesting possibility.

Overtime Rules for the NFL Playoffs

The same overtime rules for scoring and ending the period apply to NFL playoff games. The difference is the game must have a winner. This means the possibility of multiple overtime periods.  

Sometimes, there is no winner using the regular-season overtime rules described above. In that case, there will be successive overtime periods until a winner emerges.

Sports Betting Notes for NFL Overtimes

Under overtime rules, a touchdown ends the game and there is no extra-point try. 

Therefore, if you took the favorite at 6.5 points, there is no overtime hope for your bet.  

Also, point total bets where you take the under, are at risk in overtime. It is dependent on the points total at the end of the game, not regulation time. 

You should always look at the reliability of a team’s field goal kicker in any game. This is important in any close game or any potential overtime situation. The overtime rules are an important aspect of the NFL.

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Sacha

6 February 2020
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