We may earn commission from links on this page. Our editorial is always independent (learn more)

The only two NFL rules you need to know to enjoy the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl can be a baffling event for those who haven't watched American Football before but it really is quite simple.

Super Bowl rules

How can people actually enjoy this? Do people actually enjoy this? Why do they wear armour? Isn’t this just rugby? Who is The Weeknd? Can I go to bed yet?


We’ve all been there. The Super Bowl is a growing phenomenon in the UK – its influence drifts across the Atlantic on an annual basis and, particularly in 2021, we’re all craving drama.

In Super Bowl 2021, legendary quarterback Tom Brady will lead his Tampa Bay Buccaneers into legalised sporting, tactical warfare against reigning champions the Kansas City Chiefs, guided by young pretender Patrick Mahomes.

Fear not, we’ve got you covered with the absolute basics, and believe it or not, you can probably get a good handle on Chiefs v Buccaneers in the Super Bowl – enough to enjoy it – just by knowing two basic rules of the sport.

What is a first down?

The entire sport boils down to teams attempting to advance up the pitch.

Each team is given four attempts (downs) to move the ball forward at least 10 yards via throwing and catching the ball or running with it.

At the start of possession, a team will have their first attempt to advance 10 yards. This is known as 1st & 10.

As an example, if a quarterback in a 1st & 10 situation throws the ball to a teammate standing five yards further up the field, play will stop and that team will advance five yards. The 1st (attempt) and 10 (yards to go) situation will become a 2nd & 5 situation – it is their second attempt and have five yards to reach their target.

If the ball is caught, or a player runs with the ball, beyond the original 10-yard target line, this will result in a first down because they have successfully advanced at least 10 yards in those attempts – a fresh 1st & 10 situation has arrived.

NFL Carolina Panthers

This process repeats until a team gets the ball into the endzone to record a touchdown or close enough to the goal posts to attempt a kicked field goal.

If a team does not reach the 10 yards in four attempts, the ball goes to the other team.

This can happen simply by not breaking down the opposition’s defence, or the ball can be directly intercepted by the opposition and they can launch a counter attack.

Usually, a team will kick the ball away on their fourth down to avoid their opponents getting the ball in a good position for their possession.

How many points for a touchdown and field goal?

Taking the ball into the end zone will instantly reward that team with six points.

They can then choose to a) kick the ball through the posts for one extra point or b) have one chance at throwing or running the ball into the endzone again for two extra points.

Field goals are rewarded with three points.

And that really is all you need to know! Understanding tactics, formations, specific positions and bizarre rules (don’t get us started) will only add to the enjoyment, but at its core, American Football is all about the four attempts at advancing the ball 10 yards forward.

Or you could just go to bed.


If you’re looking for something else to watch check out our TV Guide.