The Difference between the NFL and the CFL Rules 

NFL vs CFL Rules
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The National Football League and Canadian Football League are sports born from the roots of Rugby and have evolved into various forms globally. In North America, the NFL (National Football League) and CFL (Canadian Football League) stand as giants in the football landscape. 

The two leagues exhibit distinct characteristics, from gameplay to rules and regulations. In this article, we delve into the differences between the NFL and CFL, exploring each league’s unique features.

The Origins 

Both the NFL and CFL trace their origins back to Rugby, which gained popularity in Canada when British Army soldiers introduced the sport in Montreal. 

In 1874, a historic game between students from McGill University and Harvard University set the stage for the divergence of Canadian and American football rules. While similarities persist, the two leagues have distinct features that set them apart.

The captivating worlds of the National Football League (NFL) and the Canadian Football League (CFL) pulsate with electrifying action and passionate fan bases.

 However, the rich histories of these leagues reveal a surprising shared origin story, deeply rooted in the sport of rugby.

The tale begins in the mid-19th century, with the arrival of British Army regiments in Montreal. These regiments brought with them a burgeoning sport known as rugby, which quickly captured the imaginations of Canadians. 

Soon, informal games resembling a hybrid of rugby and football began to be played across vast expanses of the country.

A pivotal moment arrived in 1874 with a historic clash between McGill University students and their counterparts from Harvard University. 

This seemingly ordinary game played according to contemporary rugby rules, would inadvertently set the stage for the divergence of Canadian and American football.

While the exact details remain a subject of debate, it’s believed that the sheer size of the McGill players necessitated modifications to the existing rules. 

This likely involved increasing the number of players on the field, widening the playing area, and introducing the forward pass (albeit with restrictions)  elements that would become hallmarks of the Canadian game.

 Embracing Innovation

Despite this pivotal game, Canadian and American football continued to evolve along parallel paths. In the United States, a focus on speed, scoring, and strategic complexity propelled the development of American football.

 The forward pass gained prominence, the playing field narrowed, and the number of players on the field decreased.

Meanwhile, in Canada, a distinct identity began to take shape. While American innovations were certainly considered, the Canadian game retained a more traditional rugby influence. 

The wider field with twelve players per side, the three downs to gain ten yards rule, and the rouge point system (awarded for a single point when a defensive team punts the ball into their end zone) all emerged as defining features of Canadian football.

Celebration of Uniqueness

The shared rugby roots of the NFL and CFL serve as a fascinating historical footnote. However, the true essence lies in the unique identities each league has cultivated. 

The NFL’s focus on speed, high scoring, and strategic complexity continues to enthrall fans worldwide. In contrast, the CFL offers a more nuanced brand of football, emphasizing field position, tactical awareness, and a unique blend of athleticism and finesse.

Both the NFL and CFL boast rich legacies of innovation and adaptation. From the revolutionary rule changes spurred by the “Burnside Rules” in Canadian football,

With the ongoing advancements in player safety and officiating protocols within the NFL, these leagues have consistently strived to enhance the overall experience for players and fans alike.

Furthermore, the NFL and CFL serve as distinct sources of national pride. The NFL represents the pinnacle of American professional football, showcasing exceptional athletic talent and fostering a fervent national following. 

The CFL, on the other hand, holds a cherished place within Canadian culture, uniting communities and fostering a deep sense of national identity.

While the NFL and CFL have carved out distinct identities, their shared origins in rugby remain a testament to the enduring power of sport to transcend borders and ignite a passion for competition.

 As both leagues continue to evolve, one thing remains certain: the legacy of innovation, athletic excellence, and unwavering dedication to their respective sports will continue to captivate fans and inspire future generations of players for years to come.

NFL: National Football League

The National Football League, formed on June 24, 1922, boasts 32 teams and stands as the pinnacle of professional football globally. 

The NFL’s 17-week regular season sees each team playing 16 games, with matches lasting an hour and featuring 11 players per side. The objective is to score points by advancing the ball to the opponent’s end zone through various means, including running, passing, or kicking.

 The Regular Season

The NFL season unfolds in a thrilling 17-week regular season, with each team vying for a coveted playoff spot.

 Every matchup is a clash of titans, as teams strategize and battle for dominance over a grueling 16-game schedule. Each game itself is a microcosm of athleticism and strategic brilliance, typically lasting around an hour.

The action unfolds on a rectangular field measuring 120 yards long by 53.3 yards wide. Divided into ten-yard zones, the field becomes a strategic chessboard where teams maneuver and execute offensive and defensive plays. 

On each side of the line of scrimmage stand 11 players, each with a specialized role – quarterbacks leading the offense, running backs pounding the ground game, wide receivers soaring for spectacular catches, and defensive linemen applying relentless pressure on the opposing quarterback.

Scoring Strategies

The ultimate objective in the NFL is simple yet captivating score more points than the opposing team. Points are primarily accumulated by advancing the ball downfield and ultimately crossing the opponent’s goal line (end zone) for a touchdown, a feat worth six points. 

Teams can also attempt field goals, kicking the ball through the opponent’s uprights for three points, or convert extra points after touchdowns for an additional one or two points.  

Furthermore, the unique “two-point conversion” allows teams to attempt a play from the opponent’s two-yard line for two points instead of kicking the standard extra point.

While the fundamental rules appear straightforward, the NFL thrives on a complex tapestry of offensive and defensive schemes. 

Offensive coordinators devise intricate plays designed to exploit weaknesses in the opposing defense, while defensive masterminds counter with strategies to disrupt passing lanes, neutralize running backs, and ultimately prevent touchdowns. 

This constant battle of wits between coaches and players adds another layer of intrigue to the already electrifying spectacle of NFL games.

The NFL is more than just a league; it’s a cultural phenomenon woven into the fabric of American society. From the roar of the crowd in packed stadiums to the electrifying energy of Sunday Night Football,

 The NFL continues to captivate audiences and inspire aspiring athletes. As the league continues to evolve, one thing remains certain: the NFL’s dedication to athletic excellence, strategic innovation, and passionate fandom will ensure its reign as the pinnacle of professional football for years to come.

The Key Differences in NFL:

  • Number of Players: 11 players on the field during a play, with a total team size of 22 (11 offense, 11 defense).
  • Yards: Four downs to make 10 yards.
  • Field Size: 120 yards long by 53.3 yards wide.
  • Time Between Plays: 40 seconds allowed between plays.
  • Goalposts: Positioned in the rear portion of the end zone.
  • Timeouts: Three timeouts per half.

CFL: Canadian Football League

The Canadian Football League, founded on January 19, 1958, consists of 9 teams and represents the apex of Canadian football. The CFL has a 20-week regular season that includes 18 games per team, played with 12 players on the field at a time. 

The game initiates with a backward pass to the quarterback, who has various options for advancing the ball. Scoring involves crossing the opposition’s touchline, kicking through uprights, or forcing the opponent to fail to advance out of their end zone.

 Season of 20 Weeks

The CFL season unfolds at a deliberate pace, spanning a robust 20 weeks. This extended regular season allows for intense rivalries to develop and fosters a deeper connection between teams and their passionate fan bases. 

Every team embarks on a demanding 18-game schedule, where each matchup becomes a crucial battle for playoff positioning.

Unlike its American counterpart, the CFL utilizes a wider playing field – 110 yards long by 65 yards wide – compared to the NFL’s 120 by 53.3 yards. 

This difference translates to a more wide-open style of play, with an emphasis on passing and larger spaces for offensive schemes to unfold.  Furthermore, each team takes the field with 12 players per side, compared to the NFL’s 11. This additional player allows for more complex defensive formations and strategic variations.

The CFL game often revolves around the strategic brilliance of the quarterback.  Unlike the NFL where quarterbacks typically receive the ball via a direct snap from the center, the CFL features a unique kickoff a backward pass from the center to the quarterback known as a “rollout.

This additional step gives the quarterback more time to survey the field and orchestrate offensive plays.  

This emphasis on passing contributes to the high-scoring nature of the CFL, where teams routinely rack up impressive offensive numbers, keeping fans on the edge of their seats.

The Strategies

Similar to the NFL, scoring points remains the ultimate objective in the CFL.  Touchdowns, achieved by crossing the opponent’s goal line, are awarded six points.

 Field goals, successfully kicking the ball through the uprights, secure three points. However, the CFL boasts a unique scoring opportunity not present in the NFL  the single point. 

Awarded when the defensive team punts the ball and it goes out of bounds in their end zone, this “rouge” adds another layer of strategic complexity to the game.

The CFL transcends the boundaries of mere sport; it’s a cultural touchstone deeply embedded in the fabric of Canadian identity. 

Each team serves as a source of local pride, uniting communities with their vibrant colors, passionate fan bases, and fierce rivalries. 

The electrifying atmosphere within CFL stadiums, filled with the roar of the crowd and the thundering sounds of tackles, is an experience unmatched in the world of professional football.

The CFL’s enduring legacy lies in its commitment to fostering a distinct brand of gridiron action.  From the wider field and additional players on each side to the unique “rollout” kickoff and the single-point opportunity, the CFL offers a captivating spectacle that caters to Canadian preferences.

 As the league continues to evolve, one thing remains certain: the CFL will continue to be a cornerstone of Canadian sports culture, thrilling fans with its exciting brand of football for generations to come.

The Key Differences in CFL:

  • Number of Players: 12 players on the field during a play, with a total team size of 24 (12 offense, 12 defense).
  • Yards: Three downs to make 10 yards.
  • Field Size: 150 yards long and 65 yards wide.
  • Time Between Plays: 20 seconds allowed between plays.
  • Goalposts: Positioned in front of the end zone.
  • Timeouts: One timeout per half.

Comparison of NFL and CFL


  • NFL: Stands for ‘National Football League.’
  • CFL: Stands for ‘Canadian Football League.’


  • NFL: An American football term.
  • CFL: A Canadian football term.


  • NFL: Score points by reaching the opponent’s end zone or kicking through the goalposts.
  • CFL: Score points by carrying the ball past the opposition’s touchline or kicking through uprights.

Field Size

  • NFL: 120 yards long by 53.3 yards wide.
  • CFL: 150 yards long and 65 yards wide.


  • NFL: Balls used have no stripes.
  • CFL: Balls used have white stripes.

Time Out

  • NFL: Three timeouts in each half.
  • CFL: One timeout in each half.


  • NFL: Positioned in the rear portion of the end zone.
  • CFL: Positioned in front of the end zone.


  • NFL: Field goal worth three points; no one-point rule for missed field goals.
  • CFL: Field goal worth three points; one-point rule for missed field goals.


  • NFL: Three timeouts per team.
  • CFL: One timeout per team.

Sudden Death

  • NFL: Uses sudden death to determine a winner in tied games.
  • CFL: Allows two possessions per team if tied at the end, with a game deemed a tie if scores remain level.


Both leagues bring their unique flair to the world of football. Whether it’s the number of players, field dimensions, or scoring intricacies, these distinctions contribute to the rich tapestry of football on both sides of the border. 

FAQ On The Difference between The NFL And The CFL Rules 

1. What are the major differences between the NFL and CFL?

  • Number of players: NFL – 11 per side, CFL – 12 per side.
  • Field size: NFL – 120 yards long, CFL – 150 yards long.
  • Downs: NFL – 4 downs to gain 10 yards, CFL – 3 downs.
  • Scoring: NFL – No single point for missed field goals, CFL – Single point for missed field goals.
  • Goalposts: NFL – Located behind the end zone, CFL – Located in front of the end zone.

2. Which league is faster-paced?

  • The CFL is generally considered faster-paced due to the larger field, fewer downs, and quicker play clock.

3. Which league has more complicated rules?

  • The NFL is often seen as having more complex rules, particularly regarding pass interference and defensive holding.

4. Do NFL players play in the CFL?

  • Yes, some NFL players, especially those at the end of their careers, have played in the CFL. The CFL can offer higher salaries and more playing time for some players.

5. Which league is more popular?

  • The NFL is significantly more popular than the CFL, both in terms of viewership and revenue. However, the CFL enjoys a devoted fanbase in Canada and has a unique culture that some fans prefer.