Comparing American Football rules – NFL vs USFL vs AFL vs XFL

American football is a highly popular sport in the United States, with various leagues catering to different audience segments. Four of the most prominent American football leagues are the National Football League (NFL), United States Football League (USFL), Arena Football League (AFL), and the XFL. Each league has its own set of rules that differentiates it from the others. Interestingly, the NFL leads the betting market if we look at the available odds. Let’s take a closer look at the distinct rule sets for each league and compare their key differences.

Playing Field

  • NFL: The standard NFL field dimensions are 120 yards in length (including the end zones) and 53.3 yards in width. The end zones are 10 yards deep, and the field includes hash marks that indicate the line of scrimmage.
  • USFL: The USFL generally follows the NFL’s field dimensions, with a 120-yard-long field (including the end zones) and a width of 53.3 yards.
  • AFL: The AFL field is much smaller, measuring only 50 yards in length (including the end zones) and 85 feet in width. The end zones are 8 yards deep, and the field has no hash marks, as the line of scrimmage is in the center of the field.
  • XFL: The XFL uses a field similar in size to the NFL and USFL, with dimensions of 120 yards in length (including the end zones) and 53.3 yards in width.


  • NFL: In the NFL, touchdowns are worth six points, extra points are worth one or two points (depending on the method chosen), and field goals are worth three points.
  • USFL: The USFL follows the NFL’s scoring system.
  • AFL: In the AFL, touchdowns are worth six points, and extra points can be worth one point (kicked) or two points (run or passed). The AFL also has a unique four-point drop kick field goal.
  • XFL: The XFL has a unique scoring system where touchdowns are worth six points, and teams can choose to go for a one-point, two-point, or three-point conversion from different yard lines. Field goals are worth three points.

Overtime Rules

  • NFL: The NFL uses a sudden-death overtime format, where the first team to score wins. If the team that receives the overtime kickoff scores a touchdown on their first possession, the game ends. If they score a field goal, the opposing team has a chance to respond.
  • USFL: The USFL adopts the college football overtime format, where each team gets one possession from the opponent’s 25-yard line. The game continues until a winner is determined.
  • AFL: The AFL follows the NFL’s sudden-death overtime format.
  • XFL: The XFL has a unique overtime format, where teams alternate five single-play possessions from the 5-yard line. The team with the most successful conversions wins.

Unique Rules

  • NFL: The NFL has specific rules for player conduct, including penalties for excessive celebration and unsportsmanlike conduct.
  • USFL: The USFL is known for its innovative rules, including the use of a two-point conversion (later adopted by the NFL) and a 30-second play clock.
  • AFL: The AFL’s smaller field allows for the use of rebound nets, where balls that bounce off the nets are still in play.
  • XFL: The XFL has several unique rules, including a double-forward pass (as long as the first pass is behind the line of scrimmage) and a one-foot inbounds rule for catches.


Each American football league has its own distinct set of rules, contributing to a diverse football landscape in the United States. The differences in field size, player numbers, scoring, game duration, and overtime rules create unique gameplay experiences for fans of each league. Whether you prefer the traditional NFL, the innovative XFL, the compact AFL, or the pioneering USFL, American football offers something for everyone.

Nakoa Davis