CFL vs NFL | We Listed All The Differences
The National Football League (NFL), with popular teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets, dominates in the U.S., influencing many betting lines and predictions. Up north in Canada, the Canadian Football League (CFL) holds its own, showcasing teams such as the Toronto Argonauts and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, with its own unique betting dynamics.
But the differences aren’t just in team names or betting trends. From the size of their playing fields to player salaries, and even down to the design of the footballs they use, there’s a plethora to differentiate the two. So, what exactly sets the NFL apart from the CFL? Let’s embark on this journey and unravel the unique attributes of each of these prominent football leagues. Despite being the same in most ways, there are the nine major differences when talking about the NFL vs CFL.
The Pay Scale
Perhaps the most significant difference when comparing the CFL vs NFL is the salary scale. The NFL brings in billions of dollars in revenue every single year. Each franchise is worth around a billion dollars, if not more. That equates to some serious paydays for the players at the top of the food chain.
The NFL has some of the highest paid players in all of sports. Quarterbacks usually command the most money, and several make north of $50 million per season. Even the average NFL salary is in the $3 million range, a solid year’s worth of dough.
Though CFL players can earn a pretty penny at the top of the pay scale, it doesn’t compare. If we look into the highest-paid CFL player’s latest list, only two players make $600,000 per year (Chad Kelly and Zach Collaros), with only a handful of others making at least $500,000 per year.
To put it in perspective, the NFL league minimum salary is $750,000, which applies to rookies. For veterans, that minimum salary climbs to $870,000.
NFL players make a lot more, whether it is the kicker or someone in a backfield position. Even the ref and game umpire get paid much more than the CFL.
12 Players vs 11 Players
A noticeable difference when looking at the CFL vs NFL is the number of players on the field at one time. We know in the NFL that each team has 11 players on the field at a time.
In the CFL, however, there are 12 on the field (offset by the field size in the CFL, which is next on our list).
There are some similarities, though. The CFL has two halfbacks and a safety, which is similar but not quite the same as the NFL. The latter has two safety positions, one called strong safety and the other known as free safety. Both leagues require that seven players be on the line of scrimmage to start the play.
The line of scrimmage rule has resulted in one major change in the CFL. The tight-end position has been largely replaced in favour of two slotbacks. It can create a very different look when comparing offences in the NFL vs CFL.
The Size of the Field
Perhaps the biggest difference between the NFL and CFL is the size of the field. They look mostly the same, but the dimensions are quite different, leading to a major difference in team structure and style of play across both leagues.
- In the NFL, the field is 100 yards by 53 yards, with the “midfield” line being at the 50.
- The CFL field, however, is 110 yards by 65 yards with a 55-yard midfield.
Even the end zones are different lengths. The NFL has a 10-yard deep end zone, while the CFL has one twice the size. So, for the math inclined, the NFL has a total length of 120 yards, while the CFL is at 150 yards.
Though it might not seem like a major difference, it has created a distinct difference when comparing the CFL vs NFL. Though the NFL has largely pass-happy attacks, there is more of an imbalance when it comes to offensive attacks in the CFL.
Running games are much more sparsely used than in the NFL, where 1,000-yard running backs are still a regular occurrence (even if it is only a few players).
While the CFL may have a larger field, the NFL stadiums are much larger.
Number of Downs
If you have been a fan of one league but not the other, the biggest thing you will notice right away is that there is a different number of downs in the NFL vs CFL.
In the NFL, each team has four downs to advance the ball 10 yards. If they are successful, the process resets, and the team has to gain another 10 yards (or more if there are penalties).
In the CFL, however, there are only three downs. Fans of the CFL would argue that one less down provides more drama and creates a much more exciting game to watch. In the early days of football in the 19th century, three downs were the norm. Americans added the fourth down beginning in 1912.
Three downs, combined with the rule changes, help create a more balanced and exciting game for offence vs. defence matchups. It might take a bit of time to get used to if you are only familiar with the NFL game, but there are definitely perks to the format change.
This can also cause a situation that is not often seen in NFL football, where a team punts on third down, a shocker to anyone who bought a ticket to enter the stadium for a CFL game for the first time.
Because there are just three downs, each possession can end at any time. If the quarterback can’t get the offence to move forward on first down, then the coach is going to need to dial up a pass play for second down.
For the most part, the scoring system is largely the same when comparing NFL vs CFL:
- a field goal is worth three points,
- a touchdown, six points,
- an extra point is worth one point,
- two-point conversions are available,
- safeties are worth two points as well.
There is one exception, however. The rouge, which is worth a single point, is only possible in the CFL. It is possible to earn this point in two ways. The first is if the kicking team misses a field goal or punts the football, and the receiving team doesn’t return the ball out of their end zone. The kicking team gets the point in that instance. The other is if the kicking team misses the field goal or punts the ball, and the ball goes out of bounds through the end zone without being touched.
It can be a bit confusing to pick up on the rouge right away, but it adds a bit to each game. More precision is required in the kicking game at the CFL level.
That’s not to say that kicking isn’t important in the NFL, but it won’t directly cost the team a point at the end of the day.
This can create a winner during some games where they would end in a tie if they happened in the NFL. Players will try to kick it through the uprights to earn that one point that will win the game and end the action.
Time Rules and Timeouts
This is where a little explanation goes a long way when it comes to the CFL vs NFL. The play clock is the first difference, so let’s break it down. In the NFL, teams have 40 seconds in which to run an offensive play after the whistle has sounded. If they do not, a delay of game penalty is issued, and the team loses yardage.
In the CFL, the play ends, and the referee whistles for the next play to start. From that whistle, the offence then has 20 seconds in which to snap the ball. It creates a sense of urgency and keeps the pace of the play moving where the NFL can feel a bit slow if teams maximize their 40-second window.
Timeouts also work differently when talking about the NFL vs CFL. In Canadian football, both teams get two timeouts for the whole game. They are only able to use one of those timeouts during the three-minute warning that comes at the end of the second half.
In American football, both teams are able to use three timeouts per half. There is also a two-minute warning at the end of each half, acting as a defacto fourth timeout for each team. The two-minute warning in the fourth quarter can be an essential thing for teams looking to make a late comeback.
Though the schedule is similar in length, things look a lot different when comparing the NFL vs CFL.
Both teams have byes over the course of the season in which they can rest and don’t have to play a game that week.
The NFL’s regular season starts in September and runs through late December/early January.
- Each team plays 17 regular season games with one bye week.
- The playoffs begin in January and run through February’s Super Bowl, which is played on the second Monday of the month.
- Games are mostly on Sundays, but there are primetime games on Thursday and Monday nights.
In the CFL, the regular season starts in June and goes through early November.
- Every team plays 18 regular season games with three bye weeks as well.
- The playoffs begin in November, culminating in the Grey Cup, played on the last Sunday of November.
- CFL games are largely played on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, though there are exceptions. Labour Day in September is a big day for Canadian football, with several games scheduled for the day.
The Field Goal Posts
Visually, a lot of things look similar when comparing the NFL vs CFL. But there is one thing that will become immediately noticeable when looking at a CFL field versus an NFL field, and that is the positioning of the goal posts.
In the CFL, the goal posts are at the front of the end zone. For the longest time, this was the case in the NFL and college football as well. Rule changes, however, have since moved the positioning of the field goal posts to the back of the end zone.
The NFL and college football did it for safety reasons. Collisions with the goal posts – the padded middle post, in particular – became a great risk to player safety, requiring the move to the back of the end zone.
The Fair Catch Rule
The fair catch in the NFL has become something of a debate. Many feel that it is a good rule because it protects the receiver from a violent collision while attempting to catch the ball. The CFL, however, does not have a fair catch rule to speak of.
In the NFL, the returner can call for a fair catch rather than running the ball. By waving his hand in the air, the returner can catch the ball without a return or let it bounce. The kicking team must give the returner a chance to field the ball, or a penalty will be called for return interference.
The CFL does have a little rule that helps give the returner a better chance to avoid a collision. The kicking team must provide a cushion of five yards. If that cushion is not given, the punt team will be given a 10-yard penalty as a result. NFL fans feel that the implementation of these rules has hurt the return game in the league.
What Is Our Expert's View on The CFL and NFL Differences?
Understanding the differences between the NFL and CFL is essential for any football enthusiast. While both leagues play what we recognize as American football, the rules and gameplay nuances set them apart significantly.
The NFL, known globally, has its own rhythm with four downs, specific field dimensions, and a set number of players. Its massive player salaries underscore its dominance in the sports world.
In contrast, the CFL offers a different experience, with three downs, a larger playing field, and additional players on the field. Elements like the ‘rouge’ scoring and the positioning of goal posts provide a distinctly Canadian twist.
It’s not merely about which league is “better” – it’s about appreciating the unique characteristics each brings to the table. Keep these differences in mind as you watch games from both leagues, and you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the sport as a whole.
Though the two leagues are similar, the NFL is considered to be the A-league for professional football. It has deeper roots than the CFL, and the best players in the world try to reach the NFL first and foremost. The CFL does have more history in some ways, but the NFL is dominant when it comes to news, Instagram followers, and attention from football fans.
Up until recently, the CFL was more popular than the NFL in Canada. However, a study in 2021 showed that the two leagues are very close, with the NFL holding a small edge in some major Canadian cities. With franchises like the Edmonton Elks, Ottawa Redblacks, and Saskatchewan Roughriders being very popular in Canada, it’s not beyond reason that the CFL is still king.
For the most part, no. Players populating CFL teams are largely former NFL outcasts and those who played American college football but couldn’t get drafted or signed by an NFL team. That’s not to say that CFL players aren’t talented, but they are not quite on the same level.
Though crazier things have happened, a CFL team is highly unlikely to beat an NFL team. CFL rosters are mainly composed of players who could not make the NFL, whereas the NFL has the best of the best from the top of each roster to the bottom.
How Did We Source Our Information?
Here is the list of all the verified sources we used to collect accurate information for our CFL vs NFL guide.
We took the latest salary data from:
We looked at updated stats, schedules, rules changes, and other relevant league news from:
Relevant Guides on The CFL and NFL
Rowan is a sports betting journalist with an established presence in the sports media industry through his thought-invoking coverage and commentary surrounding major leagues like the NBA, NFL, and NCAA. While Rowan specializes in NBA, NFL, and NCAA college sports coverage, he consistently follows and reports on every major sport in North America.
Facts checked by Jake Skudder