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Super Bowl LIV: Beginner’s guide to American football and the NFL

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Some call it the greatest sport in the world. Others tune in for the half time entertainment, or to spot the A-list celebrities in the crowd.

Whatever the reason millions of people around the world will be watching the Kansas City Chiefs take on the San Francisco 49ers in Miami, Florida on February 2, 2020 – the game will take place at Miami Dolphins’ home, Hard Rock Stadium.

If you don’t know much about the sport, but want to get involved this year, then you don’t have to look any further.

Here are some handy phrases, rules and beginner tips to get you started with the basics of the NFL – let’s go!

Offence and Defence

Each team is split up into two units; an attacking one and a defensive one.


The team which has control of the ball will have their offence, or attacking players on the pitch. The attacking players will attempt to move the ball and score touchdowns.

The offence will try and get the football to the end zone for a TD. The opposing team’s defence will try to stop that from happening, as you’d expect.

The team without the ball will have their defensive players on, or their ‘defence’ on the pitch. The role of the defence is to stop the team from scoring by tackling the ball-carrier, intercepting passes or causing fumbles.

This is true for most of the game except when one team has chosen to kick the ball. The ‘special teams‘ come on for that.

Fumble: When a player who has possession and control of the ball loses it before being downed (tackled).


How do downs work?

A ‘down’ is essentially a tackle and are key to the game. They pop up in the game all the time, so nail these and you’ll sound like a pro!

You get four attempts (a down) to move the ball 10 yards – by either passing the ball to a receiver, or running with it.

A receiver: A player that receives the ball, normally off the quarterback.

If you make the 10 yards, then you get another set of four downs, for another 10 yards and so on.

If you have ever watched American football before you might see the words ‘1st and 10’ in the corner. That means the offensive team are on their first down and have 10 yards to make, for another first down.

If the team makes three yards on the play, for example, then next it’s 2nd and seven, 3rd and four etc. If they fail to make 10 yards in the four downs, then the other team gets possession of the ball, and the process starts again.

Top tip: If a team fails to to make 10 yards on their first three attempts then its normal for them to kick the ball away on their 4th down. This means the other team will have further to score, as their field position will be further back.

What does the quarterback do?

A Quarterback is the leader of the team and the player that throws the ball a lot. 

The play-maker for the New England Patriots is the legendary Tom Brady, who has won the Super Bowl six times with the Patriots.

Brady is a more traditional player, called a “pocket passer”. He will tend to stand in one spot and throw the ball where as some quarterbacks will move around and try and find an opening.


The aim for any American football team is to score touchdowns by taking the ball into the end zone.

Touchdown (six points) – A touchdown is scored when a team crosses the opposition’s goal line with the ball, or catches/collects the ball in the end zone.

Field goal (three points) – These are normally attempted on fourth down if the kicker is close enough to the end zone to kick the ball through the posts.

Extra point (one or two points) – This extra point comes in place after a touchdown. A team gets one extra point by kicking the ball through the uprights (similar to a field goal), and they receive two points by taking the ball into the end zone again, essentially another touchdown.

Safety (two points) – This is awarded to the defensive team when a member of the offensive team is tackled with the ball in his own end zone.


The Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots have the most Super Bowl rings with six titles to their name.

Extra tips, facts and rules

  • The NFL is made up of 32 teams split into 2 conferences, the NFC and AFC.
  • Each team needs at least 11 players.
  • There are SEVEN officials during a football match.
  • An average NFL game lasts just over 3 hours, but the ball is only in play for about 11 minutes.
  • An American football field is 100 yards long.
  • Pick six – An interception made by the defensive team that results in a touchdown.
  • Interception – When a pass is caught by an opposing player
  • Drive – A term used to describe the offensive team moving down the field in a single possession, made up of at least one series.
  • Passing yards – The number of yards a passer has thrown the ball from the line of scrimmage, plus how far the receivers have taken it after the catch.
  • The line of scrimmage – the imaginary line separating the teams at the beginning of a play.
  • Punt – When a team is on 4th down, the punter will come on the field to drop kick the ball, getting the ball as far away from the end zone as possible.
  • Sack – When a defensive player tackles the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage.
  • Series – A sequence downs ending in a new first down, score or loss of possession.
  • Snap – The pass back or hand-off from the centre, to the quarterback, which starts a play.
  • Turnover – When one team loses the ball to the other during a play.
  • End zone – The area between the end line and and the goal line, where a touchdown can be scored.
  • Red zone – The area between the 20- yard line and the goal line.

Now that you know the basics of American football and the NFL, you are prepared to enjoy Super Bowl LIV – follow us on Twitter for more NFL content and discussion. 

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