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CFL vs NFL - The Key Statistical Differences


I’ve had many a discussion among my fellow Canadians about which professional football league is better, CFL or NFL. My preference has been and always will be the NFL but that isn’t the case for all.

Now, a lot of Americans probably don’t give the CFL the light of day (except for maybe Chris Berman), but the reality is that it’s a league that is doing very well and it has a very good fan base. TSN does a great job of covering the games much like their American cousin, ESPN, covers NFL games.

The disparity in talent is easy to see but that doesn’t mean the games aren’t exciting. It’s not just talent that separates the leagues as there are many different rules that make each league unique.

Here are a few numerical categories where the leagues differ.

 

CFL

NFL

Games In A Season

18

16

Players On The Field

12

11

Downs To Make 10 Yards

3

4

Roster Spots

42

45

Field Width (yards)

65

53.5

Field Length (yards)

110

100

End Zone Length (yards)

20

10

Total Field Area (square yards)

8450

5885


One of the biggest scoring differences in the CFL is the “rouge” which awards a single point for a missed field goal or a punt that goes into the end zone without being returned. This rule basically means that any score is possible while the NFL is more prone to having the 14-10 or 21-7 score. Another big difference in the CFL is the “no yards” penalty that will occur when the kicking team does not give the returner at least 5 yards of room to pick up the ball and run with it. In the NFL this type of scenario usually just results in the kicking team “downing” the ball.

But what about the statistics? Football is still football and 99% of the stats calculated are the same for both leagues. Let’s take a look at the numbers from the 2012 seasons and see what kind of discrepancies we find. It’s important to remember when looking at the Team Season Average that the CFL plays 18 games while the NFL plays 16. Team Game Average is the best comparison.

 

TEAM SEASON AVERAGE

TEAM GAME AVERAGE

AVERAGE GAME TOTALS

Passing

CFL

NFL

CFL

NFL

CFL

NFL

Passing Yards

4,970.6

3,700.6

276.1

231.3

552.3

462.6

Pass Attempts

597.4

555.9

33.2

34.7

66.4

69.5

Pass Completions

378.6

338.5

21.0

21.2

42.1

42.3

Yards Per Completion

13.1

10.9

 

 

 

 

Yards Per Attempt

8.3

6.7

 

 

 

 

Completion Percentage

0.634

0.609

 

 

 

 

Passing TD's

28.5

23.7

1.6

1.5

3.2

3.0

Sacks Allowed

38.3

36.5

2.1

2.3

4.3

4.6


The stat that really sticks out here is completion percentage and yards per completion. It appears that it is slightly easier to complete a pass in the CFL and for more yards. The biggest reason for this is most likely the bigger field which gives the receivers more room to get open. In the CFL, the receivers also have the option of a running start at the snap.

 

TEAM SEASON AVERAGE

TEAM GAME AVERAGE

AVERAGE GAME TOTALS

Rushing

CFL

NFL

CFL

NFL

CFL

NFL

Rushes

339.9

435.2

18.9

27.2

37.8

54.4

Rushing Yards

1,880.8

1,854.7

104.5

115.9

209.0

231.8

Rushing Average

5.5

4.3

 

 

 

 

Rushing TD's

14.6

12.5

0.8

0.8

1.6

1.6


Since the CFL has only 3 downs to get 10 yards the running game often takes a back seat to the passing attack. The NFL has more of grind it out feel as the average team rushes approximately 8 more times per game. Similar to yards per completion, yards per rush in the CFL is also quite a bit higher.

 

TEAM SEASON AVERAGE

TEAM GAME AVERAGE

AVERAGE GAME TOTALS

Turnovers

CFL

NFL

CFL

NFL

CFL

NFL

Interceptions

17.1

14.6

1.0

0.9

1.9

1.8

Fumbles

25.8

21.2

1.4

1.3

2.9

2.6

Fumbles Lost

12.5

10.3

0.7

0.6

1.4

1.3

Total Turnovers

29.6

24.9

1.6

1.6

3.3

3.1


There tends to be slightly more turnovers in the CFL. This is probably a good indication that the talent level is better in the NFL.

 

TEAM SEASON AVERAGE

TEAM GAME AVERAGE

AVERAGE GAME TOTALS

Penalties

CFL

NFL

CFL

NFL

CFL

NFL

Penalties

173.6

100.4

9.6

6.3

19.3

12.6

Yards Penalized

1,463.9

850.7

81.3

53.2

162.7

106.3

Yards per penalty

8.4

8.5

 

 

 

 


Here’s a category that really sticks out. There are WAY more penalties in the CFL. Some of this may be due to the no yards rule or other rule differences but it may also be an indication of poor player performance. Interestingly, the average yards per penalty is about the same but the average CFL game will have around 7 more penalties called.
 

 

TEAM SEASON AVERAGE

TEAM GAME AVERAGE

AVERAGE GAME TOTALS

Special Teams

CFL

NFL

CFL

NFL

CFL

NFL

Field Goals Attempted

48.8

31.8

2.7

2.0

5.4

4.0

Field Goals Made

39.5

26.6

2.2

1.7

4.4

3.3

FG Percentage

0.810

0.839

 

 

 

 

Punts

118.6

76.5

6.6

4.8

13.2

9.6

Punting Yards

5,128.0

3,510.0

284.9

219.4

569.8

438.8

Punting Average

43.2

45.9

 

 

 

 


Since the goal posts are situated at the goal line in the CFL and at the back of the end zone in the NFL there are a lot more field goal attempts in the CFL, almost 1.5 attempts per game. There are also more punts in the CFL, but this can easily be explained by the 3 vs 4 down difference. The punting average and field goal percentage are both slightly better in the NFL which is to be expected.

 

TEAM SEASON AVERAGE

TEAM GAME AVERAGE

AVERAGE GAME TOTALS

Miscellaneous

CFL

NFL

CFL

NFL

CFL

NFL

1st Downs

368.9

317.5

20.5

19.8

41.0

39.7

Total Points Scored

466.3

364.1

25.9

22.8

51.8

45.5

Total Yards

6,851.4

5,555.2

380.6

347.2

761.3

694.4


Some people say they like the CFL better because it’s higher scoring. Well, it is but not by that much. The 6.3 point differential may seem fairly large but there are a lot of single points (rouge) in the CFL that can quickly add up. There is an average of 1 missed field goal per game in the CFL plus there are numerous punts that go through the end zone that result in a single point.

What the stats seem to tell us is that the CFL’s bigger field really does have an impact on stats like rushing yards per attempt and yards per completion. What it also proves is that the NFL has the better players. Better punting average, higher field goal percentage, fewer turnovers and way fewer penalties are a good indication of this.

Which is your favourite league?



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