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Main differences between Australian Football League and NFL

As if it weren’t enough that football and soccer are hard to distinguish by some, the confusion becomes even bigger when we include all the different footballs. Rugby had been played all over the world and two former British colonies developed two distinctive national sports: in the USA we have NFL and in Australia we have AFL. In a nutshell, American football and Australian football might seem as similar as they both involve running around with an egg-shaped ball but for true fans, the two sports are worlds apart. Apart from different protective gear, do you really know what all the differences between Australian football and NFL are?


One thing that is an instant giveaway for each sport are the countries it is played in and the existence of a fan base there. In this sense, Australian football is more local. It originated in Australia (surprise, surprise) in the latter half of the 19th century and has been gaining popularity ever since. However, it still hasn’t managed to capture the hearts of all Aussie as the state of Victoria still remains its most popular region. Although the national championship AFL is comprised of teams from across the continent, there are no teams from New Zealand or Tasmania. Recently, the sport gained ground in China, with India next in sight for promotional activities.

NFL is immensely popular, considering the fact that it started out locally, just like Australian football. Even since the first game in 1869, American football had been on a constant rise, so today the final game, the famous Superbowl is one of the most-watched sporting events on the planet. Outside the United States, the sport is most popular in Europe and Japan, where there are professional leagues and many countries have their national teams. Although it is not an Olympic sport, it is safe to say that NFL has global popularity.

The playing field

The first major difference that catches everybody’s eye is the shape and the size of fields, respectively. NFL is played on a standard rectangular field, not much different than the one for soccer, which is 110 meters long including the end zones, and some 50 meters wide. Of course, all the measurements are originally in yards. The AFL field is much bigger in size since it can be 130 to 185 meters long and 110 to 155 meters wide. However, shape is quainter than size as an Australian football field is oval shaped since it originated from cricket. NFL, on the other hand, started off as a mixture of soccer and rugby, so that explains the rather conventional shape and size of the pitch.


In both sports, there are goal posts. NFL has only two through which a ball can be kicked for 3 points or carried into the end zone for 6 points and an additional kick for one extra point or a play for two extra points. In Australian football, there are no rushing points but you have to kick the ball between the outer goal posts for 1 point or through inner goals posts for 6 points. Because of their unique design (and numbers), AFL clubs almost exclusively order Australian made goal posts whose regional origin guarantees quality.

The number of players and the shape of the ball

Such a large surface area of an AFL field can partially be explained by the number of players that totals 18 per team. There are also 3 subs per match allowed. An NFL team is seemingly smaller because there are “only” 11 players on each team on the field, like in football. However, the number of substitutions is unlimited and the roster is bigger because of the offensive, defensive, and special team lineups. Needless to say, it can get crowded on the sideline during an NFL match.

The ball is not much different at first glance but if you pick it up, the difference becomes gigantic. The NFL football has sharper edges and it is harder to touch than a typical AFC ball that doesn’t differ much from a ball used for rugby.

The game length

The length of the game is surprisingly enough roughly the same both in AFL and NFL. There are four quarters in each sport, with the only difference being their respective length of 20 minutes and 15 minutes. In Aussie rules football each time a team is awarded a free kick the clock stops and there is stoppage time to make up for the time lost carrying out injured players from the field. In NFL, every time a rusher goes out of bounds the time is stopped and the clock also stops 2 minutes before the end of each quarter. In general, NFL appears to be “slower” when watching because the time between snaps is pretty long, while AFL is a more fluent sport in which the ball is almost constantly in play.

Both AFL and NFL started off as regional variants of rugby but over time developed into separate sports. Their longevity so far can be the main reason behind their potential global popularity.

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