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Football Terms & Abbreviations – Demystifying NFL Slang & Lingo

Football Terms

Post last updated on by Brad Perniciaro

The way you separate the noobs from the real football heads is through their grasp of the jargon. This glossary of football terms and abbreviations is here to help you step up your slang game and help you fit in with the real gridiron geeks.

Popular Football Terms

These words and phrases range from the common to the rare. They’re the slang, technical terms, and insider lingo that gets thrown around in clubhouses and TV broadcasts, so pay attention if you want to know what the experts are discussing.

1st and 10

1st and 10 is the term used to refer to a team on their first down with ten yards to go to get a fresh set of downs.

Blitz

A blitz is a type of defensive play that involves rushing extra players, generally the linebackers, safeties, or even the cornerbacks, to try to sack the quarterback.

Blue Flag

The blue flag is a weighted bean bag that is used to indicate the place that key events took place. Common uses include marking the site of a fumble, where a penalty occurred, or where possession of the officially changed.

Bye

A bye is a term for a week during the season that a team doesn’t play. Every team has one bye week during the regular season and the top two playoff seeds also get a bye during the first round of the playoffs.

Clipping

Clipping is a foul that’s called when a player makes contact with an opponent below the waist from behind. It is typically a 15-yard penalty.

Defer

Deferring is one of the possible choices for the team that wins the coin toss at the start of the game. If a team defers then they get to choose whether to kick or receive at the start of the second half.

Encroachment

Encroachment is a foul that is called whenever a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped.

Flag

A flag in football refers to the yellow penalty flag that referees throw when a foul has been committed.

Goat

A goat (lower case) is a slang term that refers to the player that takes the blame (deserved or not) for a team’s loss or losses. For example, Tom Brady was treated as the goat for the Patriots loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII.

GOAT

GOAT (upper case) is an acronym that stands for Greatest Of All Time. For example: Tom Brady is thought by many to be the GOAT at the quarterback position.

Hail Mary

A Hail Mary is a long pass thrown at the end of the game in a final attempt to win or tie. Famous examples of successful Hail Mary plays include Doug Flutie’s winning pass for Boston College in 1984 and Aaron Rodgers’ record-setting pass for the Packers in 2015.

Holding

Holding is one of the most common penalties in football. Holding can be called on either an offensive or defensive player any time they try to restrain an opposing player from behind.

Offside

An offside (or offsides) foul is a type of violation that occurs when a player crosses the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped. Offsides can be called on either offensive or defensive players.

Mike

Mike is a slang term for middle linebacker (see MLB). It doesn’t refer to the fact that they are the player wearing the on-field earpiece – though often they are – but instead it’s shorthand used with “Will” (weak side), and “Sam” (strong side).

Moneyline

The moneyline is a bet placed on the team that is favored to win. Moneyline bets do not involve the point spread but simply picking the victorious team.

NFL Game Pass

NFL GamePass is a streaming service that broadcasts every pre-season game live. It also provides same-day access to re-play regular season games.

Omaha

Omaha is a term that’s used by some quarterbacks, most famously Peyton Manning, when calling audibles at the line of scrimmage. Manning used Omaha as an “indicator word” to tell his team that the play had changed.

Over/Under

The over/under is a gambling term that’s used when wagering on the total score of the game. Gamblers can bet on either the “over” (that the combined score of both teams will be higher than the over/under) or the “under” (that the combined score will be lower).

Personal Seat License

A personal seat license (PSL) is a reservation for specific seats that some teams offer to their season ticket holders. The PSL, which is separate from the tickets themselves, ensures that the license holder retains their preferred seats from season to season.

Pick 6

A pick 6 is a slang term that is used when a defensive player intercepts a pass (a “pick”) and returns it for a touchdown (for six points).

Play Action

Play Action is a type of offensive play that involves a fake handoff to a running back in an attempt to draw the defense’s attention, followed by a pass to one of the team’s receivers.

Red Zone

The red zone refers to the final 20 yards before a team’s end zone. It’s used to indicate that a team is within potential scoring position.

Redshirt

A redshirt is a term used in college sports that means that a player is not being used one season in order to preserve a year of their eligibility. A “redshirt freshman” then is someone who is in their second academic year but their first year of athletic competition.

Sack

A sack refers to a quarterback getting tackled behind the line of scrimmage.

Safety

The term “Safety” has two primary meaning in football. It can refer either to the defensive position of safety, a member of a team’s defensive backfield, or it can refer to an offensive player getting tackled in their team’s end zone. When this happens the defensive team is awarded two points and given control of the ball.

Secondary

The secondary is another term for a team’s defensive backfield. The secondary includes a team’s safeties and cornerbacks and is primarily tasked with defending against passing plays.

Shaving Points

Shaving Points is an illegal method of manipulating gambling outcomes without affecting the actual winner of a sporting contest. Point shaving occurs when the favored team intentionally wins by fewer points than the point spread so that those betting on the losing team are still paid off.

Shotgun

The shotgun is a type of offensive formation that has the quarterback receive the snap from several yards behind the line of scrimmage instead of directly from the center at the line.

Skol

Skol is a word that is used in toasts meaning “cheers” or “in good health.” In football circles it is used by the Minnesota Vikings and their fans in the Skol Chant and “Skoal Vikings” team song.

Spread (Gambling)

The spread, or point spread, is a term used in sports betting that indicates how many points a team is favored by. The favored team has to win by at least that many points in order for a player to win that bet.

For example, the Patriots were favored by 2.5 points over the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. The Patriots won 13-3, thus beating the point spread.

Spread (Offense)

The spread is a type of offensive formation that lines up the offensive players as wide as possible across the field. Spread offenses typically start with the quarterback in the shotgun position and use 3-5 wide receivers, who are arranged sideline-to-sideline so as to stretch the defense.

Taking a Knee

Taking a knee is a common term used when a quarterback kneels in order to intentionally down the football while keeping the clock running. This is used most commonly at the end of the game when the outcome is no longer in doubt and the leading team is simply attempting to run out the clock.

True Freshman

A true freshman is a college athlete that did not redshirt for a year but instead played in their first season of eligibility.

Wildcard or Wild Card

The wild card teams are the lower-seeded teams in the NFL playoffs. The four division-winning teams of each conference make up the top four seeds in the playoff bracket, followed by the two wild card teams, which are the teams with the next-best overall records in the conference.

Abbreviations

On the field time is precious and the terminology often gets shortened down to its most basic form. Use this glossary to look up any acronym or abbreviation that you may encounter.

AFC

AFC is short for “American Football Conference.” One of the two conferences in the NFL (the NFC being the other).

ATH

ATH is a designation used in college football that is short for “athlete.” It’s used when a player’s official position has yet to be determined.

ATT

ATT is an abbreviation that stands for “attempts.” It can refer to either rushing attempts or passing attempts, depending on the table that they appear in.

CB

CB is short for cornerback, one of the key members of a team’s defense. Cornerbacks are primarily tasked with defending the opposing team’s wide receivers and other pass catchers.

D1

D1, also sometimes abbreviated as D-1, stands for “division one,” the highest level of American college athletics.

DB

DB is short for “defensive back”, a catch-all term for a team’s safeties, cornerbacks, and all defensive players that play further away from the line of scrimmage.

DBU

DBU is a slang term that stands for “Defensive Back University.” Schools that have a reputation for producing NFL-quality defensive backs are often called DBUs by their fans. Some of the schools that it is most commonly associated with include Alabama, LSU, and Ohio State.

DE

DE is an abbreviation for “defensive end.” As their name implies, defensive ends are the players that line up on the ends of the defensive line (see DL).

DL

DL is short for “defensive line,” one of the key pieces of a team’s defense. The defensive line matches up against the opposition’s offensive line and consists of a combination of 3-4 defensive tackles and defensive ends.

FB

FB stands for “fullback,” a position in the offensive backfield. Fullbacks used to be used as frequent ball carriers, however in today’s NFL the function primarily as blockers.

FBS

The FBS is short for “Football Bowl Subdivision;” the collection of NCAA Division 1-A football teams that are eligible for the playoffs and major bowls at the end of the season.

FF

FF is an abbreviation for “forced fumble,” a defensive statistic that is awarded when a player causes a ballhandler to lose control of the ball. It does not matter if the ball is recovered or not, simply that a defender caused the ball to come loose.

FS

FS is short for “free safety,” a member of the team’s defensive backfield that is often assigned to guard an opposing team’s quarterback. They can also cover receivers with the cornerbacks, try to stop the run, or blitz. Free safeties are also often tasked with calling the plays for the defense.

HB

HB stands for “halfback,” one several designations for the running back position.

IR

IR is short for “injured reserve,” a designation that removes an injured player from a team’s active roster without cutting them from the team entirely. A player on the preseason injured reserve list is eligible to return after week six, whereas only one player who is placed on the IR during the season is allowed to return.

KOS

KOS stands for “kickoff specialist;” the player that is tasked with kicking off. Often this is a team’s placekicker, though occasionally a team’s punter is used as the kickoff specialist.

LB

LB is the common abbreviation for “linebacker,” one of the key members of a team’s defense. The linebacker plays just behind the defensive line and is used for defending both the pass and the run, as well as rushing the quarterback.

LS

LS is the abbreviation for “long snapper,” a member of the special teams unit that is used exclusively for snapping the football to the kicker.

MLB

MLB stands for middle linebacker, one of the key members of a team’s defense. Middle linebackers line up in the center of the field just behind the defensive line and are often tasked with calling the plays for the defense.

NFC

NFC is short for “National Football Conference.” One of the two conferences in the NFL (the AFC being the other).

OLB

OLB stands for “outside linebacker,” a defensive position that lines up behind the defensive line and to either side of the middle linebackers (see MLB). It can also be further abbreviated as ROLB (right outside linebacker) or LOLB (left outside linebacker).

OT

OT is an abbreviation that can mean either “offensive tackle,” a position on the offensive line, or “overtime,” the extra period that’s played if the score of a game is tied at the end of regulation.

OTA

OTA is short for “organized team activity,” one of the semi-voluntary sessions that teams schedule during the offseason. The league’s collective bargaining agreement, and often a player’s contract as well, specify what types of activities a team’s players and management are allowed to participate in.

PA

PA stands for “points allowed” a metric for how many points a team’s defense has given up over the course of the season.

PAT

PAT stands for “point after touchdown,” the technical designation for the extra point kicked after a team scores a touchdown.

PBU

PBU stands for “pass break up,” a defensive measure for passes that a player tips or knocks down but does not intercept (see PD).

PD

PD is short for “pass defended” or “pass deflected,” a defensive statistic that is awarded when a player breaks up a passing play (but does not intercept the pass).

PF

PF stands for “points for,” a metric for how many points a team has scored over the course of a season.

PR

PR is short for “punt returner,” a position on special teams that’s tasked with catching the punts from the opposing team.

PSL

Short for “personal seat license (see above).”

PUP

PUP is an abbreviation that refers to the “physically unable to perform” list. The PUP list is for injured players that may be returned to the active roster within 21 days. If they stay on the list beyond that, however, they become ineligible to return to play for the rest of the season.

RB

RB is short for “running back,” one of the key offensive positions in football. Running backs are primarily tasked with carrying the football during rushing plays, however they also block and catch passes as needed.

RPO

RPO is an abbreviation that stands for “run/pass option.” An RPO is a type of offensive scheme that gives the quarterback decision making power in the moment to throw the football or run with it.

RZ

RZ is short for “red zone” (see entry above).

SS

SS stands for “strong safety,” a member of the defensive backfield that plays deeper than a team’s linebackers but not as deep as a free safety or cornerback. They’re used to defend against both the pass and the run as necessary.

TBD

TBD is an abbreviation for “to be determined.” In football contexts this appears most often when a team has clinched a playoff berth but has yet to receive a definitive time or opponent.

TE

TE is short for “tight end,” an offensive position that’s used for both blocking on the offensive line and as a receiver.

TFL

TFL stands for “tackles for loss,” a term used for any tackle made behind the line of scrimmage.

TOT

TOT is an abbreviation for “total” that’s can be used for several purposes including total tackles, touchdowns, or fantasy points.

WR

WR is an abbreviation for “wide receiver,” an offensive position that is largely dedicated to receiving passes from the quarterback.