Different Rules of the CFL & NFL


Football is football, or so one might be led to believe. However, fans of the American-based National Football League might be surprised to learn that the game is considerably different north of the border. The Canadian Football League differs from the NFL in many noteworthy ways, including size of the field and the number of players allowed on the field at any given time.

Number of Players

  • In the National Football League, eleven offensive or defensive players are allowed on the field at one time. On the other hand, the CFL allows twelve players. On offense, this equates to seven players on the line of scrimmage and five in the backfield, which also means that there is an extra eligible receiver on each, compared to the NFL.

The Playing Field

  • Another difference between the CFL and the NFL is that the playing surface in Canadian football is much larger. In the NFL, the length of the field is 100 yards (not counting the two 10-yard end zones) and the width is 53 1/3 yards. In the CFL, however, the official playing surface is 10 yards longer, each end zone is twice as long and the field is 65 yards wide.

Timeouts, Play Clock and Overtime

  • In the NFL, each team is allowed to call three time-outs in each half. In the CFL, teams are allowed just one time-out in each half. Furthermore, the play clock, which measures the amount of time an offensive team can take to prepare from the end of one play to the start of the next, is 40 seconds in the NFL but just 20 seconds in the CFL. Also, the CFL does not utilize the sudden-death style of overtime to decide games that are tied after regulation. Instead, each team is give up to two possessions to score, taking turns much like in NCAA college football. Afterward, if the score is still tied, the game ends in a tie.

Playoff Points System

  • CFL teams earn one point if they play in a game that finishes with the score knotted up. That's because, unlike with the National Football League, the CFL uses a playoff points system similar to that used in the National Hockey League. A victory is worth two points, a tie is worth one and a loss is worth naught, and the teams with the highest number of total points are the ones who will make the playoffs and play for the championship.

Number of Downs and Scoring Rules

  • In the NFL, teams are given four downs to earn a first down and keep their drives alive. In the CFL, they must do it in three downs. However, in the CFL, a team earns points for the equivalent of kicking a touchback in the NFL. This is called either a rouge or a single. Also, in the CFL, missed field goals are live and can be returned for touchdowns.

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