Is The NFL Different Than The CFL? (How & Why?)

The NFL, or National Football League, is regarded as the most popular professional sports league in North America. This is particularly true in the United States. In terms of television ratings, the NFL owns the professional sports market. The NFL is the highest level of North American football that you will find, players and teams included. Often forgotten is that Canada also has its own professional football league called the CFL, or Canadian Football League. The caliber of football in the CFL does not stand up to the level of the NFL, but it is still competitive. The NFL and CFL have the main concept of North American football in common, but besides that, Is the NFL different than the CFL? Let’s find out.

Yes, the NFL and CFL have many differences in how the leagues are run. The main differences between the two leagues are the game rules, amount of teams, league rules, schedule, and much more. The NFL is a more successful global brand than the CFL, specifically in the United States. The CFL’s main audience is in Canada.

Is The NFL Different Than The CFL

Has a CFL Team Ever Played An NFL Team?

As a matter of fact, the NFL and CFL have had a history of collaboration. There have long been efforts to establish an NFL franchise in Toronto Ontario due to its market size. Toronto is the third-largest city in the United States or Canada. Toronto is also the largest city that does not have an NFL team.

The NFL played its first game in Toronto in 1959. The NFL and CFL played four interleague games between the years 1959 and 1961. Those games were:

  • August 5th 1959 – Chicago Cardinals (NFL) vs Toronto Argounants (CFL). The Cardinals won 55-26 in Exhibition Stadium, with a fan attendance of 27,770.
  • August 3rd 1960 – Pittsburgh Steelers (NFL) vs Toronto Argounants (CFL). Pittsburgh won 43-16 in Exhibition Stadium, with a fan attendance of 23,570.
  • August 2nd 1961 – St Louis Cardinals (NFL) vs Toronto Argounants (CFL). The Cardinals won 36-7 in Exhibition Stadium, with a fan attendance of 24,376.
  • August 8th 1961 – This was the only interleague game not to feature the Toronto Argounants. The Buffalo Bills (who at the time were apart of the AFL, and are now in the NFL) vs the Hamilton Tiger Cats (CFL). Hamilton actually beat Buffalo 38-21 in Civic Stadium, with a fan attendance of 12,000.

From 1960-to 2013, the NFL has done its best to host preseason and regular-season games in Toronto Ontario. Through those years, the NFL has hosted seven preseason games and six regular-season games. This was all an effort to bring in as much of the Canadian audience as they could. Typically, the home team in these preseason games from the NFL would be the Buffalo Bills. This is due to the fact that Buffalo is just across the border from Toronto, making them Ontario’s NFL team geographically wise.


Can A CFL Team Beat An NFL Team?

No, not in today’s NFL. In the early creations of the two leagues, it did happen, and the two leagues were fairly competitive. However, the NFL talent far exceeds what the CFL has access to. Every year the NFL selects the top 250 college football players from North America in their annual draft. Couple that with the already established superstars in the NFL, and the talent gap is too great for the CFL to compete.

Some CFL star players will catch the eye of an NFL team and get signed. However, it is far more common for NFL players to be cut by an NFL team and settle with a CFL team afterward.

The resources the NFL has, such as marketing, television exposure, training, team money, are not comparable to what the CFL can offer.

Is The NFL Different Than The CFL?

The main question is how is the NFL different than the CFL. Well, let’s discuss that. Besides the main concept of North American Football, everything about the two leagues is different. Here are those differences:

Player Salaries:

The NFL offers significantly higher player salaries compared to the CFL. For example, in 2021 the average NFL player’s salary was between 1-1.5 Million dollars.

The CFL structure of player salaries is different. The average base salary is structured around how long a player has been in the league. For players with less than two years of experience, the average salary in 2022 will be $81,605. Players with two or more years of experience will have an average salary of $212,522. A player with more than 5 years of experience will have an average salary of $313,866. The gap between the two leagues for salaries is astronomical. Click here to check out everything regarding CFL salaries.

Field Size:

An NFL field is 100 yards long from end zone to end zone. The width of the field is 53 yards, with mid-field being at the 50-yard line. A CFL field is 110 yards long, with a width of 65 yards and mid-field being the 65-yard line. The end zones are also different in size. CFL end zones are 20 yards deep, whereas the NFL is only 10 yards deep. In total, the NFL field spans 120 yards and the CFL field spans 150 yards.

Number of Teams:

The NFL has a combined 32 teams, which are split up into two conferences and eight divisions. Each conference has 16 teams, which are divided into four teams per division.

The CFL on the other hand only has a total of nine teams in the league. Those nine teams are split into two conferences, four in the Eastern Conference and five in the Western Conference.

Number of Players On The Field:

The total number of players on the field in the NFL is 22. There are 11 players on the field for each team. In the CFL, each team deploys 12 players at a time for 24 total players on the field. The NFL and CFL require seven offensive players to be on the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped. Because of this, the 12th player on the field in the CFL is typically a backfield position like a running back. This has led to the tight end position being commonly removed from CFL offenses in favor of two players in the backfield.

Play Clock Rules/Timeouts:

In the NFL, each team has three timeouts per half. There is also a two-minute warning given at the two-minute mark of each half. The CFL on the other hand gives each team two timeouts per game. Each team can only use one timeout during the three-minute warning of the second half. The two and three-minute warnings are a pause in play that stops the clock from running.

Another huge difference is the play clock. In the CFL, after the play is over the referee whistles for the next play to start. The offense then has 20 seconds to snap the football. After the whistle is blown in the NFL, the play clock starts at 40 seconds.


The NFL overtime rules are a hot debate around the league. Overtime begins with a coin toss to determine who gets the ball to start overtime. The away team gets to call the coin toss. Whoever wins the coin toss, if that team scores a touchdown on their opening possession then the game is over. If that team kicks a field goal, then the opposition gets the ball with a chance to score. However, if the opposition then scores a touchdown the game is over. If the two teams match field goals the game continues on. If the team that starts overtime on defense happens to score a touchdown off a turnover, the game is over. Should the overtime period conclude with the score still even, then the game results in a tie.

The CFL overtime rules are the same in that a coin toss determines who will have the first possession of the football. The winning team decides to either take the first possession or the second possession in overtime. There is no kickoff in this overtime format. Instead, the ball is placed on the opposition’s 35-yard line and the offensive team will try to score or lose possession. If the defense scores a point, the game is over.

Once the first team has had their possession of the football, the second team will get the football at the opposition’s 35-yard line. The second team can either match the first team’s score or beat their score. Should the second team beat the score, they automatically win the game. If the game is still tied after the second team’s possession, each team will have one more possession of the football to score. If after two possessions by both teams the score remains even, the game ends in a tie.

Regular Season & Schedule:

The NFL regular season begins in September and ends in early January. Each team plays 17 regular-season games. Playoffs begin in January a week after the regular season ends. The championship game, or the Super Bowl, is played on the first or second Sunday in February. The NFL schedule primarily has all games played on Sundays. There is one Thursday Night game and one Monday night game almost every week during the regular season. There are Saturday games in the last couple of weeks during the season. During American Thanksgiving in late November, several games are played on that day.

The CFL regular season begins in June and ends in early November. Each team plays 18 regular-season games. Playoffs begin during November and the championship game, or the Grey Cup is played on the last Sunday in November. CFL games are scheduled throughout the week during the regular season. The majority of the games are played on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays. There may also be some games on Thursdays and Mondays. Labour Day in September is a big day for Canadian fans to watch football, and many games are scheduled for this day to celebrate.

Field Goal Post Positioning:

In the NFL, the field goal posts are located centered at the back of the end zone. The CFL has its field goal posts at the front of the end zone. The difference in location is due to the size differences between the two fields. The distance for a kicker would be similar between the two leagues, but the field goal needs to be at the front of the end zone in the CFL since the length of the field is larger.

Number of Downs:

On every offensive possession, an NFL team has 4 downs to move the ball 10 yards. The drive begins with 1st down and 10, and they have 4 plays to get the first down. If they succeed in crossing the first down marker, the downs reset back to 1st and 10 and the drive continues.

The CFL is similar in the offensive team’s objective, but they only have 3 downs to get 10 yards. Supporters of the CFL claim this provides for a more exciting game to watch.

Fair Catches & Punt Returns:

In the NFL, after the kicking team punts the football the punt returner can do one of the following:

  • Catch and run with the ball until he is tackled, pushed out of bounds, or scores a touchdown.
  • Wave his hand in the air to signal a fair catch. A fair catch means that the kicking team can’t tackle or make contact with the punt returner. They must let the punt returner catch the football after the punt, but the returner may not advance the football.
  • Let the ball bounce into the field of play where the kicking team can touch the football, but possession still remains with the punt-return team. The punt returner can also let the football bounce out of bounds and possession is taken from where the football goes out of bounds.

However, this rule is quite different in the CFL. Rules on a punt in the CFL are:

  • There is no fair catch rule. The punting team must give a cushion of five yards to allow the punt returner to catch the football. The returner can catch the ball in mid-air, catch the football after it bounces, or pick up the football and run after the ball has stopped bouncing. If the kicking team does not allow the five-yard cushion, they will be issued a 10-yard penalty.

Scoring (Honorable Mention):

Scoring between the NFL and CFL is almost completely similar. A safety is two points, a field goal is three points, a touchdown is six points, a kicked extra point is one point, and a conversion after a touchdown is two points. The only different scoring option that the CFL has but the NFL does not is the single point. The single point occurs if:

  • The kicking team misses a field goal or punts the football and the receiving team does not return the ball out of their end zone.
  • When the kicking team misses a field goal or punts the football and the ball goes through the end zone and out of bounds without being touched.

I hope you found the information you were looking for in this article. North American football is such an eye grasping sport that we all love, Americans and Canadians alike. But while both countries have their own professional league, it’s important to understand the history between the two. Most importantly, it’s valuable to understand what makes the NFL and the CFL unique respectively.

If you want to check out more football-related content, you can click here. If you wanted to learn more about another professional sport, you can click here.

Until next time, at On The Record.