XFL vs. NFL: What’s the difference?

By Matt Johnson
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL season is over, but it doesn’t mean football fans must wait until August to watch their favorite sport. In fact, the launch of the 2020 XFL season on Feb. 8 will provide fans with a new brand of football that could be even more exciting.

Vince McMahon and XFL commissioner Oliver Luck have a vision for an innovative brand of football. Fans want more scoring, faster action and an intensity that is sometimes missing from the NFL. Now the XFL is hoping its new rules will give fans exactly that. Paired with well-known names on coaching staffs and on rosters and teams ready to compete for a title, everything else is in place for an entertaining product.

When fans tune in for the opening kickoff of the XFL season on Feb. 8, they’ll be treated to a game with different rules tailored to make the game more exciting. Now, let’s take a look at what makes the XFL standout from the NFL.

Rules

  • Kickoff

The game will feel different from the moment the football is kicked off for the first time. As part of the XFL’s vision to bring more excitement to the game, kickoff returns have changed to avoid touchbacks and increase returns.

  • The kicker stands from the 30-yard line and kicks the ball to the returner inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
  • Unlike in the NFL, both coverages teams will line up five yards apart with the return team at the 30-yard line and the coverage team at the 35-yard line. It’s a measure to prevent high-speed collisions.
  • Only the kicker and returner can move at the start of the play. Once the ball is either caught or is on the ground for three seconds, all other players can move.
  • These rules are in place not only to increase player safety, but to create more chances for huge kickoff returns.
  • If the football goes into the end zone and is downed, it’s a “major” touchback with the ball placed at the 35-yard line.
  • If the football hits in play and then goes out of the end zone, it is placed at the 15-yard line.
  • Punts

Punts will be more infrequent in the XFL than the NFL, in large part thanks to rules put in place to encourage more aggressive decisions on fourth downs.

  • The punt team can’t unleash its players past the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked.
  • If the football goes out of bounds inside the 35-yard line, it’s a major touchback and the ball goes to the 35-yard line. This eliminates coffin-corner punts, which are popular in the NFL.
  • If the ball is punted and lands in the opponent’s end zone or goes out of the end zone, it’s a major touchback.
  • Point-After Touchdown

This is one of the areas where the XFL can really stand out. The extra-point kick has become stale in the NFL. So, the XFL is bringing a new twist to the game after a touchdown.

  • Following a touchdown, the team can choose between running a one, two or three-point play. No matter what the team picks, it must run an offensive play.
  • One-point attempt: The team will run an offensive play from the two-yard line.
  • Two-point attempt: The team runs an offensive play from the five-yard line.
  • Three-point attempt: The team runs an offensive play from the 10-yard line.
  • If the defense creates a turnover and returns it to the opposite end zone, they receive points equal to the attempt by the offense.

In the XFL’s eyes, this will add greater excitement to the game and increase opportunities for comebacks.

  • Overtime

When an XFL game goes to overtime, that’s when the wild excitement starts. Instead of watching long drives unfold in the XFL with few scoring opportunities, the XFL focuses on immediate scoring chances.

  • Each team will alternate in a single-play possession from the opponent’s five-yard line and is given one play to score. Each score is worth two points and only the offense can score.
  • The single-play shootout will last for five rounds or until one of the teams is mathematically eliminated from matching the other team’s points.
  • If the score is tied after five rounds, then it will continue until a winner is decided.
  • If the defensive team commits a penalty at any point after, the offense moves to the one-yard line. If another penalty is made, the offense receives two points.
  • If the offensive team commits a pre-snap penalty, the team moves back the subsequent yardage. If a post-snap penalty occurs, the play is dead and no score is given.

Clock Rules:

  • Running game clock: Unlike the NFL, when a pass is incomplete or the play goes out of bounds, the game clock will start once the ball is spotted.
  • Comeback period: Takes place after the two-minute warning. The clock will run after incompletions and out of bounds plays.
  • Play clock: The XFL will use a 25-second play clock rather than the NFL’s 40-second clock.
  • Timeouts: Each team receives two timeouts per half.

All of these rules are meant to increase the speed of the game and help the XFL achieve its goal of games being under three hours. Stopping the clock in the comeback period also allows coaches to save their timeouts. Overall, the focus is on a quicker game with more speed and better decisions.

Instant Replay:

  • Coaches’ challenge: No challenges will be allowed for coaches. All replay decisions are determined by officials.
  • Replay official: The XFL sky judge watches over the game and can correct any egregious and obvious error that may have a significant impact on the game’s outcome in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or in overtime.

The XFL’s goal is to have coaches focus on the game entirely and not become distracted by a referee’s mistake.

Gameplay Rules:

  • Double-forward pass: A team can complete a forward pass behind the line of scrimmage then throw a second forward pass, barring the football not crossing the LOS before.
  • Sideline catches: If a player secures control of the football and gets one foot in bounds, it will be considered a catch.

These rules are meant to not only make the game simpler and to allow players to make more incredible catches, but to also open up more creativity in playbooks.