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CFL rules: How do they differ from the NFL?

The NFL and CFL are the two most popular football leagues, but each have their own set of rules.

This article will highlight the differences in the rules between these two leagues.

Length of the field

NFL: An NFL football field measures 120 yards in length with each end zone representing 10 yards. This means that the actual playing field is 100 yards in length.

CFL: For the CFL, the football field is 150 yards in length. Unlike the NFL, each end zone is 20 yards in length. This means that the playing field is 110 yards with the midfield line being at the 55 yard line. 

Players on the field

NFL: The standard number of players on the field at one time is 11 players per team. This means that there are a total of 22 players on the field at one time.

CFL: The CFL is slightly different in that there are 12 players on the field for each team for a total of 24 players.

Number of downs per possession

NFL: The standard number of downs in the NFL is a minimum of four per possession. Teams must gain 10 yards for a first down and have three downs to do so. On a fourth down play, an NFL team can punt, kick a field goal, or go for it. However, if a team fails to pick up a first down on a fourth down play, they will turn the ball over. 

CFL: Downs work the same in the CFL, they just have one less. So instead of four downs to pick up a first down, CFL teams have three downs. In this sense, a third down play acts like a fourth down play in the NFL, where teams can go for it, kick a field goal or punt. If a CFL fails to convert a third down, they will turn the ball over.

Rules for overtime

NFL: The overtime rules in the NFL work like the start of a normal game. However, if the first team to receive the ball scores a touchdown, the game is over. If the first team scores a field goal, the other team will get possession to try and win the game with a touchdown or extend the game with a field goal. The game will end in a tie if the entire overtime quarter is played without a winner being determined.

CFL: Overtime in the CFL works more like College Football where each team will get a possession starting from the 35-yard line. If Team A scores and Team B fails to score, Team A will win the game. After a touchdown, each team must go for a two-point conversion. There are three overtime periods, and the game will end in a tie if no winner is determined.


NFL: The lowest scoring play in the NFL is a safety, which is worth two points.

CFL: The lowest-scoring play in the CFL is one-point rule called a “rogue”. This occurs when a missed field goal or punt is not returned out of the end zone. A rogue can also happen when a punt or missed field goal goes out of the back of the end zone, resulting in one-point for the kicking team.


NFL: In the NFL, the players on the kickoff team must stand at the 35-yard line and cannot move until the ball is kicked. Fair catches are also allowed in the NFL, which a returner can signal.

CFL: Fair catches are not allowed in the CFL and for kickoffs, the players start at least 10 yards away from the 35-yard line and can have a running start.

Play clock and timeouts

NFL: The play clock is 40 seconds per play in the NFL and each team will have three timeouts per half.

CFL: The play clock in the CFL is 20 seconds per play and each team will have two timeouts for the entire game.

In-bounds rule 

NFL: One other small difference is that in the NFL, two feet must be in-bounds to secure a catch. 

CFL: In the CFL, only one foot must be in-bounds for it to be a catch.


NFL: The NFL season is 18 weeks and each team will play 17 games, with one bye week. 

CFL: The CFL season is 21 weeks and each team will play 18 games, meaning they each have three bye weeks.

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