American Football & NFL Betting and Sports Guide

american football painted with US flagSuggest to an English sports fan that American football is the ‘true’ version of football and you’ll be scoffed at and informed that you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s easy to laugh at our friends from across the pond, but they’ve got a right to be defensive; after all, their version of the game has been being played since 1880s when Walter Camp changed the rules of rugby to create the game that would become American football.

It was in 1934 that the ball being used in the game took on the tapered shape that we know nowadays, which was 12 years after the formation of the National Football League. The NFL is split into two halves: the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference. They play a regular season and then at the end of that the winning side of each conference meets in the Super Bowl.

Best American Football Betting Site


All bookies will offer at least outright or match result markets for American Football, but if you want to go beyond that there are several great bookies, the best of which we think is 888 Sport.

888 are a global brand and as such understand a global audience.  They have all conceivable markets, advance ante-post odds and a suite of specials to bet on, all at competitive prices, especially towards the lower level.

888 Sport also have permanent promotions for NFL and American Football (along with all US sports) that can add further value to wagers.

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Betting On American Football

The Term What It Means
The Money Line This is a bet on the overall winner of the match. It’s worth noting that this bet includes overtime.
Spread Betting Better known to UK audiences as Handicap Betting, this sort of bet sees points being ‘given’ to one team or ‘taken’ from another to try to level the playing field.
Over / Under This bet is based on the total number of points scored during a game, usually by either team.
Outrights These includes bets on who will win a particular competition, such as the Super Bowl, who will score the most points or which player will be the MVP.

Those of you that tend to bet on association football as your number one sport of choice might find the world of American football betting to be somewhat confusing. A lot of the terms used will not necessarily be ones that you’ve heard before or understand. The table above looks at some of them and what you need to know.

american football betting

As with any sporting event in which the number of bets available are almost never-ending, this just touches on the theme and gives you some indication of what you can bet on. As always, research is your friend and you’re best off investigating some matches in both the ante-post and live markets to give yourself some idea of what betting on the NFL entails.

The History Of American Football

american football refereeAs with so many physical sports played with a ball, the history of American football has its origins in the early days of association football and rugby. Back then the two sports were very similar to each other, with the split primarily coming about because of a difference in opinion from some quarters about how the game should be played.

If you want to be particularly completist in your discussion of the sport’s history then you could even look as far back as the Ancient Greek game of Episkyros, in which a ball had to be thrown over a scrimmage when players were trying to tackle the thrower. Variations on a similar theme were played throughout modern Europe, with football games typically involving the use of hands and regular scrummages.

Football Played In America

american football on top of a US flagThe Native Americans certainly enjoyed played games that were similar in nature to football, but as with most native American culture that mostly get forgotten about and ignored today.

When the Europeans settled in America they brought the ‘mob football’ of the time with them, which sessionally pitted unlimited numbers of people against each other in an attempt to get a pig’s bladder to a marked position in the opposing village or town, with the rules that anything was legal as long as it didn’t result in murder or manslaughter.

Obviously that’s not the sort of thing that can easily be turned into a publicly acceptable spectator sport, so it only really began to take shape when games began to be played on college campuses.

As with football in England, the various colleges had their own variations of the game, such as Princeton University’s ‘ballown’ and Harvard’s ‘Bloody Monday’, started in 1820 and 1827 respectively. The latter was abandoned in 1860 when college authorities and the local police felt it was getting too out of hand.

Whether it was the games mentioned above or the ‘old division football’ played at Dartmouth, the one commonality between them was that they had their basis in the mob football of Europe. Eventually the violence became too much and it led to Yale banning any type of football in 1860.

It was clear that there was a desire to play football within the ranks of college students, but what form that football would take was what was primarily up for debate.

Football Becomes More Palatable

american football tackleThe first game of intercollegiate football was played  between Princeton and Rutgers Universities on the 6th of November 1869. It used a round ball and the rules were largely based on the earliest ones from the Football Association in England, which bore little relation to what would later become American football.

They played a rematch under Princeton rules the week after, which saw the introduction of a rule that resulted in a player getting a free-kick if they caught the ball on the fly; a rule that would remain part of the sport to the modern day.

The matches gained interest from other Universities and by 1872 a number of them had joined in. The result was that the various colleges wanted to standardise the rules that the game was based on in order to ensure that there was no real ‘home advantage’ for the hosting team getting to insist on their own rules being played.

Representatives from the major universities met on the 20th of October 1873 and drew up the first definitive set of rules for intercollegiate football. They were closer to association football than rugby, which is interesting when you consider what the sport looks like today.

The Modern Game Begins To Take Shape

american football icons of players catching

The one notably absentee from the meeting to discuss the rules was Harvard, who decided to keep playing with their own rules. The only opposition they could find who would play them was McGill University in Montreal. They played firstly at Harvard and then in Canada, with McGill’s rules being more likely rugby.

The Harvard players enjoyed it very much and in particular the try-scoring aspect. The first game that looked mildly similar to what we think of now as American football took place on the 4th of June 1875 when Harvard went up against Tufts University and the following rules were in play:

  • Each side fielded 11 men at any given moment
  • The ball could be carried or kicked
  • Tackles on the player carrying the ball involved play being stopped

Harvard then challenged Yale, their closest rivals and the two teams played a game under what was known as Concessionary Rules. That was because Harvard conceded to allow some of Yale’s more ‘football like’ rules and Yale did the same.

The two teams played the game on the 13th of November 1875 and in the 2,000 spectators watching on was a man named Walter Camp.

Walter Camp Develops the Game

american football icons of various positionsCamp was at the November match as a Yale supporter, but he couldn’t help admiring the style of play put forward by Harvard. As American football was developed in the years after that game, Camp became something of a stable presence at Massasoit House when rule changes were discussed.

His first suggested rule change came in his very first meeting in 1878 when he suggested the number of players be reduced from the 15 used in the Harvard-Yale match to 11. Whilst it was initially rejected, it was eventually taken on board in 1880.

The same year saw the passage of Camp’s most famous rules, the ones that are probably the most responsible for the game being what it is today. He suggested the introduction of both a line scrimmage and the ‘snap’ from centre to quarterback.

The scrimmage in particular completely revolutionised the way the game was played, though it wasn’t always exactly as Camp had intended it. His idea was to prioritise speed of play over brute strength, for example, but Princeton intentionally used the scrummage as a chance to slow the game down when they needed it.

The result was Camp’s suggestion that a new rule be introduced that meant a team had to advance the ball at least 5 yards within 3 downs. It was that, as well as the scrimmage and snap rules, that particularly saw the sport become separate and distinct from rugby and more in-line with what we know of today as American football.

He introduced countless rules over the years that followed, with his suggestion that interference or ‘blocking’ be made legal one of the most influential, given that it is illegal in both rugby codes. Little wonder, then, that Camp is seen by many as the father of the game.

The Game Becomes Professional

american football gameThe Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference were both founded in 1892 as leagues for American college football teams. Throughout the decades that followed, the popularity of American football grew and grew and by the early 1930s there were numerous fierce rivalries not only between teams but parts of the country.

It was clear that there was a strong desire for the game to played at a higher level, with local rivalries being the driving force behind the idea of taking the sport to a wider audience.

The first player to be paid money to join a team was a former Yale player named William “Pudge” Heffelfinger, who was paid $500 to join Allegheny Athletic Association in order to help them beat their rivals, Pittsburgh Athletic Club. He helped his new club to a 4-0 win. That was on the 12th of November 1892, but it took just shy of 3 more years for a fully professional game to be played. That occurred on the 3rd of September 1895 when Latrobe Athletic Association took on Jeannette Athletic Club.

Latrobe would later become the first club to pay all of its players for the entirety of the season, essentially being the first fully professional team.

The Foundation Of The National Football League

american football nfl signInterestingly, the first even professional league in America was called the National Football League, though it’s not the same as the one that is played in today. It began life in 1902 with the formation of football teams by some baseball clubs.

The professional game soon began to move to the rest of country and the most important moment came with the formation of the Ohio League, which was created in 1902. It was an informal association of professional clubs and is widely considered to be the forefather of the modern day NFL.

The reason the Ohio League is tied so closely to the NFL is that the American Professional Football Association was formed in a car dealership in Ohio in 1920. Back then, of course, it was nowhere near the same level of organisation that we know of today, primarily just being a loose agreement between the participating teams to go up against each other and declare a winner at the end of the season.

More teams joined the league in 1921 and by the middle of the 1920s there were more than 25 teams in the league. A rival organisation known as the American Football League was formed, though it folded after just one season.

The League’s Growth

american football stadium with closed roofWhichever sport you want to discuss, it only really begins to seep into the public consciousness once the primary league is established and begins to grow and develop. That was as much the case for American football and the NFL as it was association football and the First Division in England.

The war and then the post-war years were an important part of the league’s development, with the former seeing countless teams have to either fold or merge because of a lack of players and the latter seeing more teams be founded and join the division.

In 1959 a rival division known as the American Football League was formed. Despite the fact that it was the fourth such league to be created, it was actually far more successively than its predecessors, in no small part thanks to television coverage. It was soon seen as a genuine alternative to the NFL, even to the point that it started to attract NFL players.

It resulted in a partial merger of the two in 1966, with a common draft taking place for players and an end of season game called the AFL-NFL World Championship. That was renamed as the Super Bowl in 1968 and then 2 years after that the leagues merged completely and officially.

Rules And How To Play American Football

american football iconsPlayed by two teams of eleven on a rectangular pitch with goals at each end, both sides can make as many subs as they want but can only do so when play has stopped. This often leads to sides having a ‘defensive’ team and an ‘attacking’ one, which will be introduced depending on the circumstances of the game.

The attacking team is allowed four ‘downs’, which are plays, to move the ball forward ten yards or more. If they succeed they can try to do it again, whilst if they fail then the ball is shifted to the other team who get to try to do it. The winning side is they one the scores more points than the other, with points achieved as follows:

  • Touchdown: 6 points
  • Extra Point Conversion: 1 point
  • Two Point Conversion: 2 points
  • Field Goal: 3 points
  • Safety: 2 points

American football is often thought of as being an extremely tactical sport, with coaches instructing their sides to ensure that they do specific ‘plays’ in order to move up the pitch in a successful manner. In order to make a touchdown the attacking team needs to get the ball into the opposition’s End Zone.

  • Length: 60 minutes
  • Intervals: 4 (15 minutes)
  • Players: 22 (11 / Team) + Subs
  • Draws Possible: Yes

Biggest Tournaments

american football player runs with the ballEven if you have never watched a game of American football in your life you’ll almost certainly have heard of the Super Bowl, given that it’s one of the biggest sporting occasions in the world.

It has been taking place since 1966 and involves the 16 teams in each conference, with the conferences split into 4 different divisions that teams are assigned to depending on their geographical location, playing for the right to take part in it during the season.

Aside from the NFL and the Super Bowl, other big American football sporting events include the following:

  • IFAF World Championship – an international competition that is American football’s equivalent to the World Cup
  • European Championship of American football – in association footballing terms, this would be the European Cup
  • NFL International Series – Essentially these are regular season NFL games hosted outside of the United States

Another big organisation of the sport worth mentioning is the International Federation of American Football, which is the sport’s international governing body and also controls the women’s and youth side of the game. They are responsible for the IFAF World Championship, as you might expect.