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Nothing but Game: American Football 101

By Amy Hernandez

Welcome to “Nothing but Game”, the column that teaches you the basics of every major American sports league. The first sports league we’ll look at is the NFL, which stands for The National Football League. This league consists of 32 teams, divided equally into the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). There are four divisions in each conference. The NFL has a 17-week long regular season that begins in early September and ends in late December. Each team plays 16 games and has one bye week, which is a week when the team does not have to play a game. Once the regular season ends, seven teams from each conference (NFC & AFC) advance to the playoffs, a single-elimination tournament, meaning that one loss during the playoffs ends a team’s run to play in the Super Bowl. However, it looks like this year there will be 16 teams (8 from each conference) in the playoffs because of Covid. The last teams standing in the NFC and AFC get to play in the Super Bowl, which is usually played in the first week of February.

Let’s talk about how games work:


  • A game is split into four 15-minute quarters, and there is a 12-minute halftime break

  • Each team gets three timeouts per each half


  • Teams who have possession of the ball have four chances (downs) to move the ball forward and to gain at least 10 yards

  • If the team gets the 10 yards, the count resets, and the team is given another four downs

  • If a team’s offense fails to gain the 10 yards, possession is given up, and the opposing team gets their turn to play offense

  • On fourth down, teams usually elect to kick a field goal to salvage points


  • The team with the most points at the end of a game wins

  • Touchdowns are worth 6 points and are scored when a team crosses the opposing team’s goal line or catches/collects the ball in the end zone

  • Field goals are worth 3 points and are scored when a team’s kicker kicks the ball through the upright posts

  • Extra points are either worth 1 or 2 points. Teams score 1 point after kicking the ball through the uprights after a touchdown and 2 points if they take the ball into the endzone again, but since this is riskier, teams usually take the 1 point

  • A safety is worth 2 points and is scored when the defensive team tackles a player from the offensive team with the ball in their own end zone


The Offense

There are 11 offensive players on the field at a time, and the offense is made up of:

The Quarterback (QB): QB’s either hand the ball to a running back, throw it to a receiver, or run with the ball. They are usually the most well-known and considered the most important players on a team.

Running Back (RB): RB’s do it all. They run, catch, block, and sometimes pass the ball.

Full Back (FB): FB’s are usually lead blockers out of the backfield.

Offensive Line (O-line): The O-line consists of a Left Tackle (LT), Left Guard (LG), Center (C), Right Guard (RG), and Right Tackle (RT). These players either pass block for the QB or run the block for the RB or FB. The center also snaps the ball, meaning he gives the ball to the QB.

Wide Receivers (WR): WR’s mainly catch passes.

Tight End (TE): TE’s block for the QB and RBs and also catch passes.

The Defense

Defensive Line (D-line): The D-line consists of 3-4 players: 2 Defensive Ends (DE) and 1-2 Defensive Tackles (DT). These players shed the block of the O-line and tackle ball carriers (usually RBs and QBs).

Linebacker (LB): There are usually 3-4 LBs on the field at a time, and their job includes shadowing RBs, TEs, and sometimes WRs, rushing the passer, and tackling ball carriers.

Cornerback (CB): CBs break up passes, tackle players who catch passes, and try to intercept passes.

Safety (S): There are two S positions: the Strong Safety (SS) and the Free Safety (FS). The SS is responsible for covering TEs, RBs, and WRs. The FS has similar responsibilities but is considered the last line of defense.

Special Teams

Specialty players come on the field during field goal attempts, punts, and kickoffs.

Kicker (K): Kickers are responsible for kickoffs and field goals.

Punters (P): Punters kick the ball away when the offense fails to get a first down.

Return Specialists: The two types of return specialists are Kick Returners (KR) and Punt Returners (PR). These are the players that kickers and punters are kicking the ball to during kickoffs and punts.

Long Snapper (LS): Long snappers “snap” the ball back to the punter during punts and field goal attempts.

The 2020 NFL season so far...

The Best Teams :

  • The Buffalo Bills

  • The Kansas City Chiefs (reigning Super Bowl Champions)

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers

  • The Baltimore Ravens

  • The Tennessee Titans

  • The Seattle Seahawks

  • The Green Bay Packers

  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Average Teams:

  • The Miami Dolphins

  • The Las Vegas Raiders

  • The Cleveland Browns

  • The Indianapolis Colts

  • The Arizona Cardinals

  • The Los Angeles Rams

  • The San Francisco 49ers

  • The Chicago Bears

  • The New Orleans Saints

The Worst Teams:

  • The New England Patriots

  • The New York Jets

  • The Denver Broncos

  • The Los Angeles Chargers

  • The Cincinnati Bengals

  • The Philadelphia Eagles

  • Washington (currently doesn’t have a name)

  • The Dallas Cowboys

  • The New York Giants

  • The Minnesota Vikings

  • The Detroit Lions

  • The Atlanta Falcons

  • The Carolina Panthers

The best players and the most fun to watch:

  • Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs QB) is the reigning Super Bowl Finals MVP and has been the best quarterback a team could ask for since becoming a starter three years ago. He continues breaking records this year, and he is so much fun to watch because you never know what he’s going to pull out of his bag of tricks.

  • Russell Wilson (Seahawks QB) is in his seventh season and continues to be one of the most elite QBs in the league. This year is another MVP caliber season for him, and I definitely recommend watching a Seahawks game to see his on-field magic.

  • Aaron Rodgers (Packers QB) is also in his seventh season as a starter, and as sports analyst Stephen A. Smith says, “he’s a baaaaaaad man.” Despite not having the strong offense that other teams have, he wins games and makes some of the most difficult throws possible.

  • Aaron Donald (Rams DT) is a sack machine, and he is THE guy you want on defense every play. If you want to watch defensive excellence, Aaron Donald is the man to watch.

  • Derrick Henry (Titans RB) is unstoppable. He came onto our radar last season in the playoffs, and there has been no stopping him this season either.

Honorable Mentions

  • DeAndre Hopkins (Cardinals WR)

  • Lamar Jackson (Ravens QB)

  • DK Metcalf (Seahawks WR)

  • Christian McCaffrey (Panthers RB)

  • Khalil Mack (Bears LB)

  • Travis Kelce (Chiefs TE)

  • George Kittle (49ers TE)

The best way to understand the game of football is by watching games. I mean it. Even if you find yourself watching your first game and don’t understand what is going on, keep with it. The more games you watch, the more you will learn about rules, regulations, plays, and teams. Watching NFL games is a great way to bond with friends and family. They also give us something to talk about with acquaintances and strangers. If you’re new to sports, do not be overwhelmed by the many rules and regulations. You’ll get the hang of it and realize sports are fun!

Quick Facts

  • NFL games are played on Monday, Thursday, and Sunday

  • Most games are played Sunday

  • The Pro Bowl (the league’s all-star game is played in the postseason)

  • The trophy that the Super Bowl winner wins is called the Vince Lombardi

  • NFL games are shown on CBS, NBC, FOX, and ESPN

For a funny video explaining football, check out YouTuber Scooter Magruder’s video:

Amy Hernandez is an editorial intern dedicated to researching and writing about all things skincare, film, and fashion.

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