How Well Do You Know Official NFL Rules?


By: John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: ferrantraite/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

To the uninitiated, National Football League games are a strange combination of organized violence and strict rule-following. Even seasoned sports fans often can’t make heads or tails of the league’s densely packed rule book — that’s in part because each year, the NFL changes the rules a bit, sometimes to improve player safety, or perhaps to sway the game in favor of the offense or defense. In this hard-hitting quiz, do you really think you know NFL rules?

Sometimes rules even seem to be made to protect a specific player. Just mention the "Brady rule" among a bunch of Steelers fans and watch the fur fly.

Every bit of professional football games is guided by a finely tuned set of rules. When players break those rules, their team is often “flagged” by the officials. Those dreaded yellow flags mean that a rule has been broken … and the offending team is typically penalized by a loss of yardage. In some cases, those penalties might be rather mild, but in others, it can cost a team big chunks of field position. Do you think you know which infractions are the worst?

From kickoffs to touchdowns, field goals to free kicks, the NFL is chock full of regulations. Tackle this tough NFL rules quiz now!

It’s a triumphant accomplishment in gridiron battles. How many points are teams awarded for a touchdown?

Both teams slug it out in hopes of scoring as many touchdowns as possible. Each one is worth six points, and it's topped off with a PAT or a two-point conversion attempt.


In the NFL, the offense has four downs to accomplish which task?

The offense has four downs with which to gain 10 yards. If they don’t, the other team’s offense takes over, and they'll attempt to take the ball in the opposite direction.


There are four quarters in an NFL game. How long is each quarter?

Each quarter is 15 minutes long. But with stoppages and commercials it often seems more like two hours. In high school football, quarters are only 12 minutes long.


This part is critical to strategy. What are teams allowed to do between downs?

After each play, coaches can substitute a number of players to counter the other team’s tactics. Personnel changes can totally change the game’s momentum.


If a defender interferes with a receiver during a pass, where do officials spot the ball?

Did your cornerback just interfere with a receiver 40 yards downfield? Commence groaning ... because in the NFL, interference penalties are enforced at the spot of the foul.


After the end of the previous play, how long does the offense have start another play?

The play clock is reset to 40 seconds after each play. The offense must snap the ball before that play clock runs out. If they don't, they'll be flagged by the officials.


If the offense doesn’t snap the ball before the play clock hits zero, what happens?

Offenses are expected to beat the 40-second play clock. When they don’t, they are given a five-yard delay of game penalty. Coaches often throw their clipboards in frustration at these penalties.


In the NFL, you’re not declared down until what happens?

In the NFL, ball carriers can go to ground and get up again. They’re not down until an opponent touches them while they’re on the ground.


This event sends fans into hysteria. What happens if the defense tackles the ball carrier in his own end zone?

It’s certainly not "safe" for the offense. When defenders tackle the ball carrier in the end zone, they receive a two-point safety ... and to add insult to injury the offense must kick the ball away.


In order to be a legal kick, how far must the kickoff travel?

Kickoffs must travel at least 10 yards. And once the ball goes 10 yards, a player from either team can grab it. A very short kick is called an "onside" kick.


What happens when there’s just two minutes left in either half?

It’s called the two-minute warning, when there are just two minutes left in a half. It’s essentially a free timeout for both sides.


In the NFL, what happens if the game is tied at the end of the fourth quarter?

It’s not uncommon for teams to remain tied at the end of regulation. In this case, the game goes to overtime and a different set of rules kicks in.


What happens if the offense kicks a field goal on the first possession of overtime?

In overtime, if the offense kicks a field goal team also gets a turn on offense. Before 2010, a field goal immediately ended the game. But many fans saw this as an unfair ending to a close game.


What happens if a coach’s challenge of the previous play fails?

Coaches often challenge the outcome of plays by throwing a red flag. But if instant replay upholds the call, the challenging coach loses a timeout.


In overtime, what happens if the offense scores a touchdown?

In overtime, if the offense scores a touchdown, the game immediately ends. But a field goal on the first possession means the other team gets a chance on offense.


In 2010, why did league officials change the overtime rules so that games DID NOT immediately end when the first team with possession scored a field goal?

A coin flip determined which team got the ball first in overtime. And in most cases, the first team would get just enough yards for a field goal and then end the game ... and the other team’s offense never even took the field.


In the NFL, which condition must be met for a catch to be considered legal?

In the NFL, a receiver must land with both feet in bounds. This is different than college football, in which the player needs only one foot in bounds for a legal catch.


If an NFL team elects to go for two after a touchdown, where is the ball placed?

After a TD, the offense can go for two points instead of kicking for one. Two-point attempts line up at the two-yard line. And even from this short distance, many two-point attempts fail.


In the NFL, what happens with the game clock after the offense gains a first down?

In college, the game clock pauses after a first down. In the NFL, though, the game clock keeps right on going, a fact that dramatically changes coaching strategies.


A "place kick" is used for which purpose?

In a place kick, the ball is snapped to a place holder, and then the kicker boots it ... in hopes of scoring a field goal. Some kickers are accurate from more than 60 yards.


Linemen hang their heads in shame during this event. How many yards is the offense docked for a holding penalty?

It’s hard to protect quarterbacks in the NFL. Offensive linemen are slapped with 10-yard penalties for grabbing and holding charging defenders.


In the NFL, what happens if the offense commits a chop block penalty in their own end zone?

Chop blocks are extremely dangerous and are penalized as such. If the offense commits a chop block in their own end zone, officials declare a safety.


In the NFL, what happens after a missed field goal attempt?

If the kicking team misses, the other team takes possession. The ball is placed at the spot of the kick attempt -- unless it's too close to the end zone. Then, the circumstances change.


Officials in the TV booth always review which NFL plays?

All scoring plays are subject to booth review, where officials check instant replay. The idea is to make sure teams aren’t unfairly awarded points.


It’s a major change that started in 2012. What happens after every NFL turnover?

Turnovers can swing the tide of a game. So since 2012, officials use instant replay to confirm each turnover before resuming play. This was one way NFL officials worked to appease outraged fans who clearly saw conflicting events on instant replay.


If the defense blocks an extra-point attempt and returns it to the opposite end zone, what happens?

Sometimes, defenses will block an extra-point attempt and return the ball all the way to the end zone. They don’t receive a touchdown ... it’s only two points.


PATs are no longer gimmes. Where is the ball spotted for extra-point attempts?

After a touchdown, kickers have to earn the extra point. The ball is placed at the 15-yard line. Sometimes, they miss ... a fact that quickly turn the tide of a game.


In an NFL game, which official is the leader of the officiating crew?

The referee is the leader of the officiating crew. He spends much of his time observing play in the area of the quarterback.


What happens if both teams kick field goals during overtime?

If both teams kick field goals in overtime, sudden death rules begin. That means the first team to score again wins the game. Just one play can make or break a team.


How does the play clock work during an extra-point attempt?

The game clock doesn’t run on PAT kicks. However, the play clock runs as usual, meaning a delay of game penalty can occur.


In the NFL, how many challenges does a coach have per game?

NFL coaches have two challenge flags at their disposal. But if a challenge is unsucessful they’re docked a timeout ... meaning they must carefully weigh challenges.


What’s a consequence for an intentional grounding penalty?

Intentional grounding (illegally throwing the ball away to avoid a sack) results in 10-yard penalty (or from the spot of the pass, whichever is more). Worse, it costs the offense a down.


NFL coaches have two challenges per game. What happens if they use both challenges successfully?

It’s a rare situation. If NFL coaches successfully use both of their challenges, they are granted still another challenge for use later in the game.


It’s a serious offense. How many yards is a team penalized for a personal foul?

Personal fouls are serious infractions that could result in injury. That’s why the offending team is smacked with a 15-yard penalty, a fact that can swing momentum in a hurry.


If the kicking team misses a field goal attempt on the 10-yard line, where does the other team take possession of the ball?

If an NFL team misses a kick inside the 20-yard line, the other team is granted some breathing room — they get the ball at their own 20.


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