NFL Rules Digest
A quick reference guide to the NFL rulebook.
Protecting the integrity of the greatest game.
It's our responsibility to strengthen the sport.
Ensuring a consistent and fair game that is decided on the field, by the players.
Key takeaways from the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement
Ensuring that players conduct themselves in a way that honors the sport and respects the game.
Knees Bent. Pads Down. Head Up and Out.
The NFL is proud of the HBCU professional football legacy.
Honoring the league’s commitment to serve the communities where the game is played.
Meet the people behind NFL Operations.
Learn about the people, the jobs and the technology that deliver the best game possible to NFL fans across the U.S. and around the world.
Countdown to kickoff: how NFL games happen.
See the NFL personnel at every game, what they do and you can identify them.
In the NFL, balancing technology with tradition.
How television has changed the game.
The annual analytics contest explores statistical innovations in football — how the game is played and coached.
Upon further review…
It takes hundreds of computers and five NFL executives to create the NFL’s 256-game masterpiece.
Promoting the values of football.
Learn how NFL players have changed over time, how they’re developed and drafted and how the league works with them after their playing days are over.
Creating an NFL player: from “everyman” to “superman.”
Supporting the next generation of players and fans.
Preparing players of all ages for success at football’s highest level.
Introducing the next wave of NFL superstars.
A look at the programs and services NFL Player Engagement provides to assist every player before, during and after his football career.
Strengthening the NFL brotherhood.
NFL Total Wellness assists players, Legends and their families before, during and after their playing experiences.
Discover the evolution of professional officiating, the weekly evaluation process and how the NFL identifies and develops the next generation of officials.
“One thing hasn’t changed: the pressure. It will always be there.”
The latest information from the NFL's officiating center.
Every week, officials take the field ready to put months of preparation, training and hard work on display, knowing that the whole world — and the Officiating Department — is watching.
Officiating an NFL game takes years of training and experience.
NFL Football Operations protects the integrity of the game by ensuring that the rules and the officiating are consistent and fair to all competitors.
The custodians of football not only have protected its integrity, but have also revised its playing rules to protect the players, and to make the games fairer and more entertaining.
The NFL Video Rulebook explains NFL rules with video examples.
Explore the official rules of the game.
The NFL's procedures for breaking ties for postseason playoffs.
The NFL's familiar hand signals help fans better understand the game.
A quick reference guide to the NFL rulebook.
Sharpen your NFL football knowledge with this glossary of the game's fundamental terms.
See where the players line up in pro football's most common offensive and defensive formations.
Understand what the graphics on NFL television broadcasts mean and how they can help you get the most out of watching NFL games.
The NFL’s instant replay review process focuses on expediting instant replay reviews and ensuring consistency. Learn how it works.
Go inside the game with the NFL's official game stats. Sort the stats by season or by week.
Welcome to the Extra Point, where members of the NFL's football data and analytics team will share updates on league-wide trends in football data, interesting visualizations that showcase innovative ways to use the league's data, and provide an inside look at how the NFL uses data-driven insight to improve and monitor player and team performance.
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Get a snapshot of the current NFL game stats, updated weekly during the regular season.
A quick reference guide to the NFL rulebook.
Disclaimer: The NFL Rules Digest is not a substitute for the official NFL rulebook. If there is a discrepancy in language, the official rulebook takes precedence.
Here are the regular season NFL overtime rules:
Unlike in the regular season, playoff games cannot end in a tie, so the overtime rules change slightly in the postseason.
Here are the postseason overtime rules:
There are three main requirements for completing a catch. The player must:
A player does not have to maintain control the ball through contact with the ground if he makes a football move, and movement of the ball does not automatically result in loss of control.
If a player loses control of the ball, it is an incomplete pass if the ball hits the ground before he regains control, or if he regains control out of bounds.
When a review is initiated, Alberto Riveron, NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating, or a senior designated member of the officiating department, examines the play inside Art McNally GameDay Central in New York. An on-field instant replay technician brings the Referee a Microsoft Surface tablet so they can communicate with GameDay Central and the in-stadium replay official, and review the play. Riveron or a senior designated member of the officiating department makes the final decision on each review.
View this infographic for a full rundown of the NFL’s instant replay review process.
Each team has two challenges per game, each of which requires the use of a timeout. If the challenge is ruled in the team’s favor, the team gets its timeout back. A third challenge is allowed if a team wins its first two challenges.
If a team initiates a challenge with no timeouts remaining or when it is not permitted to do so, it is a penalty and loss of 15 yards.
A team may use a challenge to review these situations:
These situations are not reviewable:
A replay review is initiated by a replay official or a member of the officiating department in Art McNally GameDay Central — the NFL’s officiating command center in New York — during these scenarios:
Teams are not charged timeouts during an official review. There is no limit to the number of official reviews. An official review must be initiated before the next play begins.
Some examples of 5-yard penalties include:
Some examples of 10-yard penalties include:
Some examples of 15-yard penalties include:
The play clock is set to 40 seconds immediately after a play ends (unless it follows one of these scenarios). If the ball is not snapped before the play clock expires, it is a delay of game.
The play clock is set to 25 seconds after certain administrative stoppages, including:
The Referee can reset the play clock to 25 seconds by pumping one hand vertically.
When there is a 10-second runoff, the clock starts on the referee’s signal. A 10-second runoff occurs when a team commits any of these acts after the two-minute warning with the clock running:
There is a 10-second runoff if a replay review of a play after the two-minute warning results in the on-field ruling being reversed and the correct ruling would not have stopped the clock.
This runoff only applies to the offense. The defense always has the option to decline the 10-second runoff and have the yardage penalty enforced, but if the yardage penalty is declined, the 10-second runoff is also declined.
A player is automatically disqualified if they are penalized twice in the same game for:
The player will be automatically disqualified regardless of whether the penalty is accepted or declined by the opponent. The fouls do not have to be judged by the official to be flagrant for the automatic disqualification to occur, and any foul that occurs during the pregame warm-up period will carry over into the game. Note: If a game official judges a foul to be flagrant, he/she may disqualify a player based on one occurrence.
Unsportsmanlike conduct is any act contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship. Some examples include:
The penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct is a loss of 15 yards. If the foul is by the defense, it is also an automatic first down.
Beginning in 2019, both offensive and defensive pass interference calls are reviewable. Plays can be reviewed whether the penalty was called on the field or not. This rule change is subject to a one-year trial period.
A pass interference ruling will be changed in replay only when there is clear and obvious visual evidence that the on-field ruling was incorrect. To change the ruling on the field, there must be clear and obvious evidence that contact "significantly hindered" or "did not significantly hinder" an opponent.
Owners voted to expand protection of defenseless players by eliminating the blindside block. It is now prohibited for a blocker to initiate forcible contact with his head, shoulder or forearm when his path is toward or parallel to his own end line. The penalty for an illegal blindside block is a loss of 15 yards and an automatic first down.
Owners voted to make permanent the kickoff rules changes that were implemented in 2018. The restrictions resulted in a 35% decrease in concussions on kickoff plays when compared to the 2017 season.
Here are the NFL kickoff rules:
In addition to pass interference, the league expanded the number of plays subject to booth reviews to include:
Beginning in 2019, only players in uniform may enter the field to celebrate. If anyone other than a player in uniform enters the field, it is a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct — loss of 15 yards and an automatic first down.
The league has expanded the authority of game officials to disqualify players for acts committed during a game. In 2018, designated members of the officiating department could disqualify a player for non-football acts (such as unsportsmanlike conduct) if a flag was thrown related to that act. In 2019, this will be expanded to also include any football act.
The offense may now apply any penalties committed by the defense to either the ensuing kickoff or to the succeeding extra point or two-point conversion plays.
The Officiating Department will continue to emphasize the Use of Helmet rule adopted in 2018.
The officiating standards for the Use of Helmet rule are:
Players can be ejected for Use of Helmet fouls — and all ejections will be reviewed by senior officials in Art McNally GameDay Central in New York. The standards for ejection are, if:
The Committee is in support of issuing warning letters for any Use of the Helmet fouls in the interior line or where there is little space between players.
Offensive holding will be more strictly enforced this season, particularly on the back side of the run play or line of scrimmage. Game officials will closely monitor play at the line of scrimmage to ensure that offensive players do not materially restrict opponents or alter the defender’s path or angle of pursuit.
Material restrictions include, but are not limited to:
It is intentional grounding if a passer, in danger of losing yardage due to defensive pressure, throws a forward pass without a realistic chance of completion. A realistic chance of completion is defined as "a pass that is thrown in the direction of, or lands in, the vicinity of an eligible receiver."
It is not intentional grounding if the passer:
The penalty for intentional grounding:
If the passer’s entire body (airborne or on the ground) and the ball are beyond the line of scrimmage when the ball is released, it is an illegal forward pass.
Other examples of an illegal forward pass include:
These are the penalties for an illegal forward pass:
It is a safety:
A safety is worth two points. The team that gave up the safety will put the ball in play with a free kick (punt, dropkick, or placekick) from its 20-yard line.
It is not a safety if: