What Are the Differences Between the CFL and the NFL?

The sport may be most commonly known as “American football,” but football is becoming more and more popular in other parts of the world, too. In fact, football has plenty of roots in rugby. While we think of football as an American sport, rugby was actually introduced in Canada for the first time in North America back in the 1870s.

The National Football League (NFL) is the most well-known league in the world, but the game has also gained a massive following in America’s neighbor to the north. In fact, the Canadian Football League (CFL) has been around since 1958. The nine-team league is divided into two divisions, a four-team East Division and a five-team West Division.

While both the CFL and NFL are obviously football leagues, the two do not share all of the same rules. So, what are the differences between the NFL and CFL?

Length of Schedule

The NFL season consists of a four-game preseason, a 16-game regular season, and the playoffs. The CFL season is actually longer. Each of the nine teams in the top division of Canadian football play a 21-week regular season, with each team playing 18 games in that span.

While NFL teams play 16 games over the course of 17 weeks, each CFL team actually gets three bye weeks. The NFL season runs from late summer into early winter, while the CFL gets underway typically in mid-June. The Canadian season usually comes to a close in late-November, which is when the NFL is in the midst of its regular season.

As is the case in the NFL, CFL teams begin preseason camps about a month before the start of the regular season. However, the CFL’s preseason spans just two games compared to the aforementioned four-game NFL preseason.

Alignment and Playoff Seeding

Scheduling isn’t the only difference between the NFL and CFL. As mentioned, the CFL has just nine teams, with two divisions split unevenly. The NFL is much bigger. The top American football league has a whopping 32 teams divided into eight divisions, featuring four franchises apiece. The NFL is also split evenly into two conferences, the American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC).

Each CFL team plays two games against each of the other eight teams during the regular season in addition to two divisional games with rotating opponents each season. In the NFL, every team plays all three of their division rivals twice during the regular season in addition to a number of other non-divisional games.

For Example.

All four teams in the NFC East will play each other twice per season. Then, all four teams may be scheduled to face each of the four teams in the AFC South.

Every NFL division champion earns an automatic berth in the playoffs, and there are also a pair of Wild Card teams in each conference that will qualify. As a result, you are not required to win your division in order to qualify for the NFL postseason. If a team still has one of the top two records among non-division winners, that team will get in.

The top two seeds in each conference get an automatic bye through the first round of the NFL playoffs, and home field advantage is determined through regular season record. The No. 1 seeds in either conference will have home-field advantage as long as they remain alive in the playoffs.

In the CFL, the top team in each division gets an automatic berth in the division final. That means they get a bye week for the division semifinal, which features the second-place team in a division hosting the third-place team. However, if a fourth-place team in one division finishes with a better record than the third-place team in the other division, the fourth-place team will qualify.

Because of the massive discrepancy in the number of teams in each league, the NFL playoffs feature four rounds, while the CFL playoffs feature just three. The NFL’s championship game is called the Super Bowl, while the CFL teams play for the Grey Cup. The Grey Cup is the second-oldest trophy in North American professional sports, just behind the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup.

Both the NFL and CFL use a single-elimination format in postseason play.

Rule Differences

The number of teams, scheduling, and playoff formatting aren’t the only differences between the two leagues. The rules of the game are also quite unique to each football league.

For Example.

The field of play is 110 yards long in the Canadian league compared to the 100-yard field utilized by its American counterpart.

The Canadian end zones span 20 yards, while the NFL’s end zones are 10 yards long. The goal posts in the NFL are situated beyond the out-of-bounds line at the back of the end zones, while they are at the front of the CFL end zones. CFL teams kick their extra points from the 5-yard line, while the NFL recently moved their extra-point kicks back to the 15-yard line.

NFL teams put 11 players on the field at a time, while CFL teams have 12 men on the field. The extra offensive player in the CFL is usually a player in the backfield, while the extra defensive player can line up anywhere on the field.

The NFL gives a team four downs in order to gain 10 yards, while there are just three downs in the CFL. As a result, the CFL game tends to be more pass-happy, as short-yardage runs tend to be less effective when you have just three chances to get to the 10-yard marker.

One of the biggest discrepancies is the ability of offensive players to move prior to the snap. In the NFL, just one offensive player is allowed to move along the line of scrimmage prior to the snap, and every player has to be stationary at the time the ball is snapped. In the CFL, any backs and receivers may move prior to the snap, and receivers may even run toward the line of scrimmage in order to gain a running start, if they so choose.

Fumbles out of bounds are also adjudicated differently. In the NFL, the team that most recently had possession will keep the ball if it is fumbled out of bounds. In the CFL, though, the team that touched the ball last prior to the ball bouncing out of play will get possession.

Both leagues use the standard touchdowns and field goals for scoring, but a “rouge” is a scoring option in the CFL that the NFL does not have.

The kicking team will earn a single point if a kickoff or punt goes out through the end zone or if the receiving team declines to return the ball from the end zone. However, no points are awarded for missed field goals that happen to bounce out of play.

There is also no “fair catch” rule on kicks or punts in the CFL. Instead of that rule, the CFL rules say that no defender on the kicking team may come to within 5 yards of a kicked ball until a player on the return team has touched it.

In the NFL, kicks may only be attempted from behind the line of scrimmage, whereas in the CFL any player on the field may kick the ball at any time. There is plenty of strategy involved in this, which is a drastic difference between the two leagues.


While teams in the NFL and the CFL are technically playing the same game, there are clearly vast differences between the leagues. The differences in rules and the differing schedules make each league unique from a betting perspective. The lengthier regular season gives CFL bettors more opportunities, but the fact that there are just nine teams means there are plenty of repeat matchups, especially compared to the 32-team NFL.

Knowing the differences between the leagues is obviously hugely important from a betting perspective. So, taking time to learn the basics now will pay off in the long run for your CFL or NFL betting endeavors.

Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, but he’s willing to take one for the team on that front every now and then.

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