The most basic rule in the NFL is the down system. When you watch football, you’ll notice that you hear the phrase “first and 10” very often. Even if you have never watched the sport before, the concept behind this is very simple.
The team that is on offense has 4 chances to go 10 yards. Every time you advance 10 yards you get a first down. If you start with the ball on your own 30 yard line, you can try 4 times to get to the 40 yard line. The first play would be called “first and 10 from the 30.” If that play goes 3 yards, then the next play will be second and 7 from the 33.” If the next play goes 5 yards, then the following play will be “third and 2 from the 38.” The next play goes 2 yards, so you now have “first and 10 from the 40,” and the downs reset. The team on offense keeps going until they don’t advance 10 yards, at which point they will need to punt the ball.
Most teams will not go for the first down if they don’t get to it on third down. They will usually punt on fourth down instead of going for it, because if the team on offense does not get the first down and it is a fourth down, they have to turn over the ball exactly where it is to the other team. If the team punts, the other team will usually get the ball much further down the field. However, if it is a crucial point in the game, or if it is fourth down and they have less than a yard to go, some teams will try to go for it.
Although this may sound confusing to a beginner football fan, once you watch enough of the sport, this is one of the easiest concepts to catch on to!