There are winners and losers when it comes to an automatic first down being awarded. If it benefits your team, it’s great. And if it doesn’t, well, let the finger-pointing begin!
What is an automatic first down in football?
The definition of an automatic first down is an award given to the team on offense following certain defensive infractions by the defense. Once issued, the officials will spot the ball after counting off the correct yardage, and the game continues.
- Automatic first downs (AFD) can only be given to the team on offense.
- The opposite of an AFD would be a loss of down, which can only be enforced when the offense commits a penalty.
- Referees communicate penalties like this one through a microphone and signals to keep people aware of what is going on.
- Even if the penalty yardage isn’t enough for a first down, the award can still be given.
- This type of penalty can be very costly to teams. In a sense, it can give the team new momentum.
What determines if a penalty merits an automatic first down?
If the penalty is egregious enough to warrant that the offensive team gets an automatic first down, as previously defined by the league officials, then the officials award the offensive team. Another way an offensive team can get an AFD is by the number of yards the penalty is worth. If it is a 5-yard penalty and the ball is three yards from the first down marker, then that would be awarded a first down.
What penalties result in an automatic first down?
Not all penalties result in an AFD in the NFL, but here is a list of what penalties do.
- Roughing the passer
- Pass interference
- Roughing the kicker
- Defensive holding
- Personal fouls
How Penalties Work in Football Video
What penalties do not result in an automatic first down?
Not all penalties qualify. Here is a list of some of them.
- Running into the kicker.
- Excessive time outs.
- Neutral zone infraction.
- Delay of game.
- Illegal substitution.
- Having more than 11 men on the field.
Penalty Enforcement Basics Video
How do you know when there is an automatic first down?
The officials will communicate an automatic first down by using their microphones following plays involving penalties for games in the NFL and many college games. For all levels of football, officials also use signals to indicate what the foul was, who the foul was on, and what down it will be.
Understanding the Referee Video
Can teams decline?
Teams can decline automatic first downs, but it doesn’t happen very often. Or, they can choose to decline the penalty and automatic first down if they want. Teams will only do this if they feel that their current setup is more beneficial.
Are these types of penalties meaningful?
Overall, penalties can be very costly to teams, but especially significant penalties that result in giving the offense a fresh set of downs. Automatic first-down penalties can be a pivotal contributor to determining the outcome of a game. Automatic first-down penalties can extend drives for teams and give them free yardage.
You’re on our Automatic First Down page.
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