Explaining the rules of the NFL for Super Bowl XLVII

Can anyone guess what the most-watched TV program is every year? I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t the season premiere of “Duck Dynasty.” It’s the Super Bowl! Yes, our country loves to come together over beer and various meats every year to watch 22 people knock the stuffing out of each other.

Therefore, if you’re going to be ready for the big game, you’re going to need to know some of the basics. I do realize some people watch it for the commercials, but come on: everyone should learn a little bit of the sport that’s more red, white and blue than monster trucks or plastic surgery.

The Basics

A football game consists of four 15-minute quarters and overtime, if necessary.  Each team has an offensive unit, a defensive unit and a special teams unit that handles punts and kickoffs. Each unit consists of 11 players. The team with the most points at the end of the game, wins.


The game begins with one team kicking off to another, as decided in a coin toss. If the player receives the ball in the endzone (the sectioned-off ends on each side of the field), they can take a knee to have their offense start on their own 20-yard line (this is called a “touchback”) or run towards the other team’s endzone.

Once the ballcarrier is tackled (they are forced to the ground, their forward progress is completely stopped or they go out of bounds), that team’s offense can start where the player was tackled.

Offense vs. Defense

The offense has four chances, or “downs,” to move the ball 10 yards. They can do this either by running or by passing. Should the offense get 10 yards or more during those four downs, they get four new downs to move the ball another 10 yards. If they cannot get 10 yards on those four downs, the ball is turned over to the other team’s offense. Because of this, many teams elect to “punt” on their fourth down — meaning they kick the ball as far as possible so the other team’s offense has to travel a farther distance when they come onto the field.

The other team’s offense can also get the ball if their defense forces a “turnover.” A turnover can either be a “fumble” or an “interception”. A “fumble” happens when a ballcarrier drops the ball on the ground before being tackled. If the defense picks up the fumbled ball, their offense can come onto the field. An “interception” happens when a defensive player catches a pass from the other team’s quarterback, which also means their offense can come onto the field.


There are five ways you can score points in football: 1) touchdown, 2) field goal, 3) extra point, 4) two-point conversion or 5) safety.

Touchdown — If a ballcarrier gets any part of the ball over the white line of the opposing team’s endzone, it is a touchdown. This is worth six points. Once a team scores a touchdown, they can either do an extra point or a two-point conversion.

Field Goal — If the kicking unit can kick the ball through the field goal post (located behind the endzone), it is a field goal. This is worth three points.
Extra Point — After a touchdown, the ball is placed on the 3-yard line. If the kicking unit makes a field goal from this distance, it is called an extra point. This is worth one point.

Two-point Conversion — After a touchdown, the ball is placed on the 3-yard line. If the offense can get in the endzone similar to a touchdown. it is called a two-point conversion. This is worth two points.

Safety — This applies to the defensive unit. If the defense can tackle the ballcarrier in their own endzone, it is called a safety. This is worth two points to the defensive unit’s team.


If a player breaks a rule, the referee will throw a yellow flag to signal it. Here are a few of the more common infractions that take place:

False Start — The offense can’t move until the quarterback gets the ball. If a player does move, this is a five yard penalty, meaning the team must now travel five more yards to get a new set of downs.

Offsides — Similar to a false start, if the defense goes into the area of the ball before the quarterback gets it, this is a five yard penalty against the defense. The offense now only has to travel five less yards to get a new set of downs.

Holding — When an offensive lineman is blocking a defender from getting to the ballcarrier, they cannot hold them — they can only push. If a lineman holds, it is a 10-yard penalty.

Pass Interference — After five yards, the defense can’t touch an offensive player going for a pass that would impede their catching of the ball. This is a serious penalty that results in the offense moving to the part of the field where the foul occurs.

Notes About Super Bowl XLVII

  • The two teams that are playing this year are the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.
  • The head coaches of both teams are brothers — the first time this has ever happened.
  • Ravens defensive player Ray Lewis, considered one of the best of all time, is retiring after this game.
  • 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is the first rookie quarterback to make it to the Super Bowl.
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