Wait . . . What Are the Rules of Football, Again?

If you don't know the rules of football but still plan on tuning into the Super Bowl, you're not alone. There are plenty of reasons to watch the big event besides, you know, the football. The national anthem performance is always a tear-jerker. Usher is headlining the halftime show (though the jury's still out on whether he can beat Rihanna's performance). The commercials are always fun, and the NFL cheerleaders are a sight to behold. The Super Bowl snacks are top-notch. This year, there's the Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce of it all to get excited about.

With all those extras, it's safe to say that plenty of people who don't typically watch football tune in on Super Bowl Sunday. But if you're going to be watching the game, even intermittently, knowing the rules of football can make the experience way more enjoyable.

Enter: our guide to the very basics of football. Once you get these five elements down, you'll be able to follow along throughout the whole game with the best of them — and maybe even toss off a few observations that will impress your more football-savvy pals. Happy watching!

The Teams
Getty | Ethan Miller / Staff

The Teams

The number: Each side has a large roster of members, but there can only be 11 members of each team on the field at any time.

The sides: The team that has the ball is called the offense, because they are trying to make their way up the field to score. The team that is trying to prevent them from scoring is called the defense.

The offense: The types of players on the field depend on whether the team is playing offense or defense. Offensive team members include positions like the quarterback, who throws or runs the ball up the field and calls plays; the running back, who runs the ball after being passed it from the quarterback; or the wide receivers and tight ends, who are the ones who can catch the ball when it's thrown by the quarterback. Other players on the offense try to protect their teammates with the ball from getting tackled or otherwise stopped by the defense.

The defense: When a team is playing defense, they bring out the big guys to try to stop the other team — linebackers, cornerbacks, defensive ends, and safeties, who all play a role in tackling or otherwise stopping the quarterback and other offensive players.

Each team also has a group called special teams, which are responsible for kicking the ball in different situations, like a punt or a field goal.

Oh, and if you're really new to football, this year in Super Bowl LVIII, the San Francisco 49ers are playing the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Game
Getty | Winslow Productions

The Game

The field: A football field is 100 yards long and divided by large white markers every 10 yards; the markers start at 10 yards past each end zone and work their way up to the 50-yard line, which is in the middle of the field. The offense has to move the ball up the field to the defending team's end zone (or at least close to it) in order to have a chance to score. The team does this by continuing to make first downs in order to keep the ball in their possession.

The downs: Once you get the concept of downs, you'll be able to understand the basics of the game. The offense has four tries, or downs, to move up field by 10 yards. If they do, they get another first down and four more tries to make another 10 yards. If they don't, they must return the ball to the other team, usually by kicking it away to the other team after the third down (unless they want to take a gamble that they will get a first down on their fourth try). In today's high-tech world, information will appear on your screen showing you which try the team is on and how many yards they have left to move the ball 10 yards. For example, if the team runs the ball two yards, you'll see on the TV screen "second down and eight" (or just 2nd & 8) — this means it's their second try, with eight yards left to make it to another first down.

The Kickoff
Getty | David Madison

The Kickoff

The game (and the second half) starts with a kickoff from one end of the field, where the defense kicks the ball to the team who's trying to score. The team on offense tries to catch it and run as far as possible up the field to advance the ball — this is called a kick return. Where the player carrying the ball is tackled is where they start the next play.

If the defense kicks the ball all the way into the offense's end zone, the player who catches the ball has the choice to kneel down (called a touchback), which means the ball will start at the 20-yard line, or he can try to run the ball up the field if he thinks he can make it farther than the 20-yard line. During kickoff, if no one catches the ball, either team can try to gain possession of it wherever it lands, as long as it's in bounds.

The Time
Getty | Doug Pensinger / Staff

The Time

The quarters: Although the time on the clock in football is only an hour, games can last far longer than that. A football game is divided into four 15-minute quarters, and there's always a halftime break in between the second and third quarter, along with two-minute breaks at the end of the first and third quarters. There are also timeouts (each team gets six in a game) and other ways to stop the clock — like when the ball is thrown or run out of bounds, someone doesn't catch the ball after the quarterback throws it, or a player makes a penalty.

Overtime: If an NFL game is tied at the end of the fourth quarter, the game goes into another 15-minute period, called Sudden Death. In NFL playoff games, however, it has been called a Modified Sudden Death, since the rules are slightly different than in the regular season. With this format, if the team who gets the ball following a coin toss scores a touchdown, the game is over with that team winning. If the team who gets the ball following a coin toss doesn't score a touchdown, the other team has a chance to score one as well. If they don't, then whichever team scores first (in any way, not just a touchdown) after both teams have had a chance to possess the ball wins the game.

But before the start of the 2022 season, the NFL changed the overtime rules for the 2023 playoffs last year. Under this system, if the first team scores a touchdown, the other team then gets a possession and a chance to tie up the game with a touchdown of its own, which would extend play again. But otherwise, the rules remain unchanged from the previous Modified Sudden Death format.

The Points
Getty | Thomas Barwick

The Points

There are four ways to score points in football, each with their own value.

Touchdown (six points): This is the biggest way to score and is when the offensive team gets the ball inside the defensive team's end zone, located at the end of the field.

Extra point (one or two points): After a touchdown, the offense has a chance to score an extra point by kicking the ball through the goal posts from the 15-yard line. They can also choose to try for two points instead, called the two-point conversion, by trying to run or throw the ball into the end zone. A two-point conversion is attempted from the two-yard line.

Field goal (three points): If the offensive team has made it a good way down the field but won't be able to make another first down or reach the end zone for a touchdown before having to give up the ball, they can try for a field goal, which is when they kick the ball through the goal posts just like they do for an extra point. Where the ball is kicked from on the field depends on where it was stopped — it can be close or far depending on how much the team has advanced up the field.

Safety (two points): This is less common, but usually happens when someone on the offense who is in possession of the ball is tackled in their own end zone.