Originally named the American Pro Football Association, the league that became the NFL was founded in 1920 and had only 14 teams. It changed its name to the National Football League in 1922, and its rules have mostly stayed the same since. Like many other sports, teams in the NFL simply have to score more points than their opponents. There are various kinds of scoring plays, which include touchdowns, field goals, and safeties.

SCORING

Touchdowns, when the ball is taken over the other team’s goal line and into their ‘endzone’, are worth six points. Teams can then add what is known as an ‘extra-point’ after the touchdown, by kicking the ball through the goalposts, making the touchdown worth seven points. Field goals are worth three points and are again scored by kicking the ball through the other team’s goalposts. Safeties are worth two points, but are scored by the defense when an offensive player is tackled inside their own endzone.
When teams have the ball, they want to get to the opposite end of the field and score. This is the job of the offense. The other team clearly doesn’t want them to score, so that’s why they have a defense. The offense has four attempts to move the ball at least ten yards, by either throwing it through the air or carrying it along the ground. These attempts to move the ball are known as ‘downs’.
If the defense stops the ball from moving ten yards on each set of four downs, their offense receives the ball so they can attempt to score. However, offenses can choose to kick the ball away (known as ‘punting’) to the other team, usually on fourth down, to make sure they’re as far away from the endzone as possible.

LINE OF SCRIMMAGE

Each down, the ball starts on the ground and is inactive. It becomes active when an offensive player lifts it off the ground, or ‘snaps’ the ball. Where the ball is placed is known as the ‘line of scrimmage’ - a line on the field where the offense and defense set up their players before the ball is snapped.

CHANGE OF RULES

Originally, NFL rules meant that teams had to be five yards behind the line of scrimmage to throw a forward pass. In the league’s first playoff game in 1932, the Portsmouth Spartans complained that Chicago Bears player Bronko Nagurski didn’t drop back five yards before he threw the game’s only touchdown pass. The referees decided to let the touchdown stand. The Bears eventually won.
This led to various rule changes by the 1940s, hoping to encourage offenses to throw the ball and to make games more entertaining. Teams no longer had to be five yards behind the line of scrimmage to throw a forward pass, weren’t penalised for throwing incomplete passes, and were penalised if they hit the player who had thrown the ball for no reason. This set the groundwork for the modern NFL.

THE GREATEST
GAME EVER
PLAYED

THE GREATEST GAME
EVER PLAYED

The 1950s saw ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played’ - the 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants. The Colts won in overtime, and the dramatic game, combined with the league’s new rules, increased the NFL’s popularity in America. The NFL soon merged with the American Football League (the AFL) in the 60s, and even adopted some of their rules, including adding player’s names to the back of jerseys.

CHANGE OF RULES

The NFL made some rule changes in the early 1970s. The hash marks (the small lines that run through the middle of the field) were moved closer infield to give offenses more space and increase their chances to score. This change helped the running game, as players had the whole field to run into and could no longer be funnelled toward one side. Unfortunately, it ruined the passing game, as teams no longer had one wide-open side of the field to throw into.

To balance this out, some more rules were added in the late 1970s. These included the ‘Mel Blount Rule’. Named after the Pittsburgh Steelers defender, defenses were no longer allowed to grab or hit receivers down the field if they didn’t have the ball. Offenses became even more exciting to watch.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino used these new rules to his advantage. He threw a record-shattering 48 touchdown passes in 1984 and led the league’s offensive explosion well into the 1990s.

In 1994, the NFL introduced the two-point conversion. If teams scored a touchdown, then scored again from a play they ran afterwards, the touchdown would be worth eight points instead of seven. Coaches gained the ability to review referees’ decisions they disagreed with in 1999, when challenged arrived. Teams have one challenge per half, but if their challenge is unsuccessful and the referees decide the call on the field was the correct one, the team loses one of the three timeouts they have each half.
The NFL made some rule changes in the early 1970s. The hash marks (the small lines that run through the middle of the field) were moved closer infield to give offenses more space and increase their chances to score. This change helped the running game, as players had the whole field to run into and could no longer be funnelled toward one side. Unfortunately, it ruined the passing game, as teams no longer had one wide-open side of the field to throw into.
To balance this out, some more rules were added in the late 1970s. These included the ‘Mel Blount Rule’. Named after the Pittsburgh Steelers defender, defenses were no longer allowed to grab or hit receivers down the field if they didn’t have the ball. Offenses became even more exciting to watch.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino used these new rules to his advantage. He threw a record-shattering 48 touchdown passes in 1984 and led the league’s offensive explosion well into the 1990s.

In 1994, the NFL introduced the two-point conversion. If teams scored a touchdown, then scored again from a play they ran afterwards, the touchdown would be worth eight points instead of seven. Coaches gained the ability to review referees’ decisions they disagreed with in 1999, when challenged arrived. Teams have one challenge per half, but if their challenge is unsuccessful and the referees decide the call on the field was the correct one, the team loses one of the three timeouts they have each half.

PASSING OFFENSE

The NFL again wanted to encourage exhilarating passing offenses, especially after the 2003 season’s AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. New England’s defenders were incredibly physical with Indianapolis’ receivers, and it forced the referees to become even stricter when they saw receivers being grabbed or hit. Naturally, one year later, Peyton Manning broke Dan Marino’s record, throwing 49 touchdown passes.

The passing game has benefited over the years and helped transform the NFL into the offensive showcase it is today - all because referees are more than happy to throw their penalty flags.