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XFL vs NFL: Rules, the game, and where it stays the same

XFL vs NFL: Rules, the game, and where it stays the same
Photo credit: USA Today

With the NFL season nearly over, Pro Football Network has turned its attention over to the inaugural season of the new XFL. In just one short week, we will see the XFL back on our television screens for the first time in nearly 20 years. The betting crew will be releasing breakdowns of each of the eight teams leading up to the opening day kickoff, but we decided to start with a quick breakdown of how the XFL rules will be vs. the NFL.

The XFL is branding itself as the new and improved fan-first league. Over the last few months, they have been meeting with former head coaches, NFL referees, and football aficionados to determine the rules that would cater to the everyday fan. They put together a comprehensive gameplan to try and make the league safe for the players while reintroducing some of the elements that the NFL has started to lack over the years.

“The XFL is a brand new, fan-first league that’s reimagining the game of football and offering fans an opportunity to experience more action, access, and fun.”

But how could they reimagine a game that has been played for 100 years now? And will it be successful? Well, it is too early to tell if the XFL will finally be the alternative league to the NFL that football fans have long craved, but with the rules they have put in place, they are definitely setting themselves up for success. 

“We’re evolving things just a bit. Less stall, more ball is how we describe it: a fast-paced game with fewer play stoppages. We’ve made timing changes, common-sense rules changes, and created five gameplay innovations that will raise the excitement level and minimize the downtime.”

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A new shorter way to play the game

The biggest difference between the NFL and the XFL is going to be the play clock. Like they mentioned in the above quote, the goal of this new league is going to be to eliminate unnecessary stalls and stoppages. They will do that three ways.

  1. The play clock is shorter (25 seconds vs. NFL’s 40).
  2. The game clock stops (at least temporarily) after every play inside the final two minutes of either half.
  3. The clock won’t stop for incompletions or out-of-bounds plays outside of two minutes remaining.
  4. The halftime will only be a 10-minute break, then back to the action.
  5. Each team will have two one-minute timeouts per half.

The XFL is aiming to play each game in under three hours, but with the same amount of total plays as the NFL. In order to achieve this goal, the XFL is treating incompletions and out of bounds plays the same as plays that end in the field of play. This will speed things up, and when combined with a shorter play clock, will allow for more snaps. With such a short play clock, this could mean that quarterbacks and running backs will need to sub out more often than the NFL. An important note when looking at the depth of a roster.

An overtime shootout

One of the more creative ideas to come out of the XFL is the way they will be handling overtime. In the current NFL system, there is a rare scenario where a game actually ends up in a tie. This will never be the case in the XFL. They will be deploying a shootout like overtime, similar to the NHL.

“Each team gets five turns to score on a single play from the 5-yard line. Most points after those five rounds win.”

The defense cannot score when in the shootout mode, so their only job will be to stop the offense from getting points. This will be a fun way to make sure that overtime ends the way it is meant to, with a clear-cut winner.

The extra point becomes a lot more interesting

The extra point after a touchdown has become one of the most predictable plays in both college football and the NFL. Moving the line back has definitely made it more challenging, but the end result is still the same. Not with the XFL. 

After a touchdown, the team now has the option of running a play from the two, five, or 10-yard line, worth one, two, or three points, respectively. The team must run an offensive play and no kicking plays are allowed. If the defense is able to cause a turnover and return the ball to the opponent’s end zone, the resulting score is equal to the number of points the offense was attempting to score on its PAT.

This changes the game on so many levels. Now, no matter how big the lead, teams can be opting to get nine total points on a single possession. An 18 point lead is no longer as safe as it once was.

“Fans have told the XFL that the 3-point play creates more strategy and innovation for the coaches.”

XFL rules vs. NFL innovation

There are also a number of smaller differences compared to the NFL to try and make the game more enjoyable. To begin with, the XFL will take a page out of college football’s book and receivers will only need one foot in bounds for a completion. 

Catches in the NFL are often up to debate because of timing and control of the football. By simplifying the rules that establish control of the football, it will create an easier way for officials to determine when a catch is made. The XFL spoke with over 100 former NFL players and they nearly all said the same thing, “A catch is made with your hands, not your feet.”

The XFL will also be introducing coach-to-player in-game communication. The NFL already has something similar with captains and the QB, but the XFL is looking to expand on that. By allowing coaches to communicate with all offensive skill players that substitute and change locations for each play, the game will be played at a faster pace. This will be fun for the fans because broadcast partners will have access to this communication and may use it during the game.

Another small innovation that the XFL will implement is that they will allow players to throw a second forward pass on the same play if the first comes behind the line of scrimmage. 

“The ‘Double Pass’ is one of the most exciting plays in football and the XFL aims to add excitement while maintaining traditional football. The Double Forward Pass updates the rules to make double passes less risky because the first pass may fall incomplete rather than becoming a fumbled lateral.”


Ways the XFL will increase accuracy and scoring

Taking a look at one of the most common plays in the NFL, punting, the XFL decided to do something new. According to the research the XFL completed, fans said that they didn’t like the number of punts per game and how many punts did not have a return (47% ended in fair catch, out of bounds, or touchback). To repair this problem, all out-of-bounds kicks that create a touchback will be brought out to the 35-yard line.

Also, no punt coverage players can release until the ball is kicked. This will create an average distance between the punt return and the nearest defender to 11 yards, vs. similar leagues of six yards, creating less reason to fair catch.

To try to make things more accurate, the XFL has removed the ability of a coach to challenge the result of a play. Similar to what the AAF tried to install, all plays will be subject to review from the Replay Official, who will be stationed in a booth above the field. Two things to note about this replay official:

  • The Replay Official may correct obvious errors involving player safety at any point throughout the game.
  • The Replay Official may correct any egregious, obvious error that may have a significant impact on the outcome of the game in the last five minutes of the 4th quarter or during overtime.

They have also introduced a Ball Spotting Official, who will solely be responsible for quickly spotting the ball and getting a new ball after each play

There are a number of smaller changes that have been introduced as well, but these are the most important. They will have quite an impact on scoring, as well as how we enjoy the game as fans. 

Running List of PFN Bets 
Click to view the running list of our bets for this week and the 2019 NFL regular season. Be sure to bookmark that page and visit it often throughout the week to stay updated on our latest moves.

If you have any XFL related questions, make sure to reach out to @PFNBets or me, @rygosling, on Twitter. 

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