One of the most common penalties to get called in the NFL is a holding penalty.  A flag will get thrown for holding if a player is illegally restraining another player who is not in possession of the football.  Most of the time you will see a flag get thrown for holding at least once in a game, but usually much more than that.  It is very common for players on both sides of the ball to get called for this.  Typically, a flag for holding will get thrown if a player grabs the jersey of another player not holding the ball and throws him to the ground when he is not holding the ball.  This penalty is mostly called on the offense when a run blocker grabs or throws a defender to the ground to open up space for the running back, or when a pass blocker grabs onto the defender to prevent him from getting to the quarterback.  This penalty is mostly called on the defense if the defender grabs onto the player opposite him outside of the 5-yard area from the line of scrimmage where he is legally allowed to touch an offensive player.  If the defender touches the opponent outside of the 5-yard area, he will get the penalty called against him.

If a holding penalty is called on the defense, it is a 5 yard penalty and an automatic first down for the offense.  If the holding penalty is called on the offense, it is a 10 yard penalty and whichever down it is gets replayed.

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Roughing the Passer

A penalty in the NFL that can cause a lot of drama is roughing the passer.  This rule means that no player on defense is allowed to make contact with the quarterback after the ball has been released from his hands.  Unless the defender is carried by his momentum and can’t stop, he is not allowed to come in contact with the quarterback at all.  The only time a defender is allowed to touch or hit the quarterback is if the ball is still in his hands and he has not thrown it or handed it off yet.

When the quarterback is still holding the ball and he gets hit, it is usually called a sack.  A sack means that the defender tackled the quarterback when he was waiting to throw the ball, and the offense loses as many yards as the quarterback dropped back.  Roughing the passer, however, is a penalty against the defense.  It will result in a 15 yard penalty against the defense and an automatic first down for the offense.

The referees have to always be the judge as to weather a hit should be called as roughing the passer.  If a defender is carried by momentum and it is obvious that a hit to the quarterback after the ball was released was not on purpose, the flag will most likely not be thrown.  However if it is obvious that a defender hit the quarterback after he threw the ball intentionally, the flag will always be thrown and the penalty will be called.  Sometimes the refs throw the flag when they really shouldn’t have, and this gets the fans in the stadium riled up, especially if the defense who got called for the penalty is the home team.

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Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Player’s love to celebrate when they make a good play.  Whether they score a touchdown, get a first down, catch a really good pass, make a great tackle, or anything else you can think of that would give them a lot of credit, they all love to show their enthusiasm in different ways.  However, sometimes these celebrations get the players into trouble.  When a flag gets thrown in a situation like this, it is called unsportsmanlike conduct.

There’s a line that can’t be crossed in the NFL when it comes to celebrating and getting excited after making a good play.  If a player gets flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, it is usually because they were verbally taunting an opponent, taunting an opponent by getting in his face, excessive celebrating, or intentionally causing an injury.  It’s okay for players to celebrate when they make a good play or when they score, but they cannot do it at the expense of the other team.  As soon as a player gets in the opponent’s face or starts saying things to the opponent, they will get flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Certain situations where this penalty gets called can cause an uproar, because there have been times when the refs throw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct when they didn’t need to.  This gets the fans heated, as well as the players.  Many people say that the players should be allowed to celebrate as they wish.  As long as they don’t taunt or cause trouble with the other team, I personally don’t see a problem with celebrations, especially after scoring a touchdown.

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False Start

When watching a football game, it is very likely that you will see a ref throw a flag and call a penalty for a false start.  This is a penalty that gets called on the team that is on offense.  It is common because the reason it happens is very simple.  The offense lines up with seven players on the line.  If one of these players moves or jumps forward before the ball is snapped to the quarterback, it is a false start.  A false start penalty is a loss of five yards, and the team replays whatever down they were on.

If you are the home team, and your team is on offense and they get called for this penalty, it is very frustrating.  However, if your team is on defense, getting the offense to have a false start is something all fans love.  Most of the time, when the home team is on defense, they will signal to the crowd to get loud.  This is because the louder it is in the stadium, the harder it is for the players to hear what the quarterback is saying, and it often causes them to jump or move, resulting in a false start penalty.  Some teams get multiple false start penalties in a game, especially if the noise level in the stadium is high.

One team that has fans who are known to get really loud and cause the opposing team’s offense to get false start penalties are the Seattle Seahawks.  They call their fans “The 12th Man” because of the noise level they generate at home games.

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Watch the video below to see an entire offensive line, except the center, get called for a false start:

First & 10

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!

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Defensive Pass Interference

You don’t need to watch football regularly to know that there are a lot of rules.  There are tons of things you can get a penalty for on all sides of the ball.  Learning and understanding all of the rules can get confusing, especially to a new football fan.  If you are on defense, getting called for pass interference is one of the worst penalties you can get.  However, if you are the offensive player and the person covering you gets called for pass interference, you love this call.

Defensive pass interference is fairly simple to understand.  It means that the player on defense cannot touch the player he is covering that is on offense.  A defensive player will get called for pass interference if he has bodily contact that restricts the other player’s ability to catch the ball, if he grabs onto the receiver’s arms and disables him from being able to catch the ball, or if he hits and basically tackles the receiver before the ball arrives so that he cannot catch the pass.

There are also instances when it may look like pass interference, but the refs won’t throw a flag.  It will not be a penalty if accidental contact occurs when neither player is looking for the ball, if both players’ feet get tangled by accident, or if the pass that gets thrown is completely uncatchable.  An example of an uncatchable ball would be a ball thrown in the direction of a receiver but went far out of bounds.

If a defensive player gets called for pass interference, the ref will instantly throw a flag.  The result of the play will be a first down for the offense at the spot of the foul.  This means that if the quarterback threw the ball from the 50 yard line, and the penalty happened at the 20 yard line, the offense gets the ball at the 20.  This is the reason why the team on offense loves when the defense gets this penalty.

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Source: http://www.nfl.com/rulebook/passinterference