Today, let’s talk about the timing elements at play: the schedule and game timing.
Preseason starts in August (aka right now! WOOT!), the regular season runs from September to January, and the postseason is played in January and February. Preseason is 4 weeks long. It’s basically a warm-up – teams get to assess their new players and figure out how they want to implement their systems for the regular season. The regular season is 17 weeks long, with each team getting one week off at some point in the season (this is called a “bye week”). The postseason is when the playoffs occur and it culminates with the Super Bowl.
As far as game timing goes, games consist of four 15-minute quarters. The 12-minute break in the middle of the game is called halftime (during the Super Bowl, it’s way longer, and it’s called Over the Top Entertainment). There are also two 2-minute breaks that occur at the end of the first and third quarters to allow the players time to switch ends of the field (they rotate after every quarter).
After the sides have rotated at the end of the first and third quarter play resumes as normal – the Offense just picks up where they left off (but on the opposite end of the field). But after halftime, the team that did not kick off to start the game kicks off a whole new drive. It doesn’t matter if you were a yard away from the end zone when time ran out before halftime: you’re out of luck!
During each quarter, the “play clock” is running. This means that the Offense has 40 seconds from the end of a play to snap the ball and start the next play (except for injuries and time outs and a few other random things, after which the play clock is set to 25 seconds instead – just to be confusing). If the Offense doesn’t get the ball snapped in time, they receive a “delay of game” penalty.
There are a few situations in which the play clock stops. That happens when an incomplete pass is thrown, when a player steps out of bounds, or when a penalty is called.
Stopping the play clock when time is running out at the end of a half is a lucrative action for the Offense because it gives them more time to score. That’s why you’ll see people screaming for a player to “GET OUT OF BOUNDS!!!” when he has the ball and needs to score but time is running low.