Super Bowl 55: A beginner's guide to American football

Last updated at 07:14
Tom Brady and Patrick MahomesGetty Images
American football superstars Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes will go head-to-head at the Super Bowl

Some call it the greatest sporting event in the world, others tune in for the half-time entertainment or to try to spot A-list celebrities in the (smaller than usual) crowd.

Whatever the reason, millions of people worldwide are expected to watch Super Bowl 55 - American football's biggest game - on Sunday, 7 February.

If you don't know much about the sport but want to know more then don't worry, it'll be a bit different this year due to coronavirus, but some things never change.

Keep reading for some handy tips and phrases so you can sound just like an expert.

Who's playing in Super Bowl 55?
The Vince Lombardi TrophyGetty Images
The team that wins the Super Bowl will get to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face the defending champions Kansas City Chiefs in what promises to be a spectacular game.

American football legend Tom Brady is aiming to win the winner's Vince Lombardi Trophy for a record seventh time in his 10th appearance in a Super Bowl game.

Brady goes head to head with Patrick Mahomes, who led the Chiefs to a 31-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in last year's Super Bowl.

The Chiefs remain on course to become the first side to win back-to-back Super Bowls since Brady's former team, the New England Patriots, in 2004 and 2005.

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The game will actually be played at Tampa Bay's home ground- the Raymond James Stadium - which was announced as this year's venue long before the Buccaneers booked their spot in the big match.

However, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the attendance at the 65,000 capacity stadium will be limited to 22,000 including 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers from the local area who were invited by the NFL as thanks for their service during the pandemic.

The game gets under way at 11.30pm (UK time) on Sunday, with BBC TV's coverage starting at 11pm on BBC Two before switching to BBC One.

Offence and Defence
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Ok here's how the tactics work. Each team is split into two units; an attacking one and a defensive one.

The team which has control of the ball will have their offence (attacking players) on the pitch.

The attacking players will attempt to move the ball forward and score touchdowns.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) scores a touchdown ahead of Green Bay Packers cornerback LaDarius Gunter (36) during the second quarter in the 2017 NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome.Reuters
The offence will try to get the football to the end zone for a touchdown. The opposing side's defence will try to stop that from happening

The team without the ball it will have their defence (defensive players) on. The role of the defence is to stop the other team from scoring by tackling the ball-carrier, intercepting passes or causing fumbles.

This is true for most of the game except when one team has chosen to kick the ball. The 'special teams' come on for that.

Top tip: Make sure you pronounce defence like this: "Dee-fence".

Examples you could use: "Tampa Bay's offence relies a lot on Tom Brady to be successful don't you think?" or "Kansas City's dee-fence is the best in the National Football League".

1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Down
Teams often run with the ball on 1st DownGetty Images
Teams often run with the ball on 1st down

These 'downs' are key to the game and will pop up all the time, so nail these and you'll sound like a pro!

Basically you get four attempts (aka downs) to move the ball 10 yards (by either running with it or passing it). If you make 10 yards then you get another set of four downs.

If you have ever watched American football before you might have seen the words '1st and 10' written in the corner of your TV screen. That means it's the 1st down with 10 yards to make.

If a team makes three yards, for example, then next it's 2nd and Seven, 3rd and Four etc. If they fail to make 10 yards in the four downs then the other team gets the ball.

Top tip: If teams fail to make 10 yards on their first three attempts then they'll probably kick it away on their 4th down. This means the other team will have further to go to score.

Examples of use: "I'd throw the ball deep on 2nd down" or "The Chiefs always run the ball on 1st down"

The Quarterback
Tom BradyEPA
Legendary quarterback Tom Brady won the Super Bowl with the Patriots in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2015, 2017 and 2019

A quarterback is the leader of the team and the player that throws the ball a lot.

The play-maker for Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the legendary Tom Brady, who has won the Super Bowl six times already with his former team, New England Patriots.

Brady is a more of a traditional player, called a "pocket passer". He will tend to stand in one spot, protected by his team (in the 'pocket') and throw the ball to a teammate.

Top tip: Players like Tom Brady have kept the traditional way of playing the position alive. Some had predicted that pocket passers would become a thing of the past.

Examples of use: "I think Tom is a good example of how pocket passers can still be successful in the league."

Scoring
The aim for any American football team is to score touchdowns by taking the ball into the end zoneGetty Images
The aim for any American football team is to score touchdowns by taking the ball into the end zone

Touchdown (six points) - A touchdown is scored when a team crosses the opposition's goal line with the ball, or catches or collects the ball in the end zone.

Field goal (three points) - These are usually attempted on fourth down if the kicker is close enough to the end zone to kick the ball through the posts, or uprights.

Extra point (one or two points) - A point is earned by kicking the ball through the uprights after a touchdown (similar to a rugby conversion). Two points are earned by taking the ball into the end zone again.

Safety (two points) - Awarded to the defensive team when a member of the offensive team is tackled with the ball in his own end zone.

What about the Super Bowl half-time show?
The WeekndGetty Images
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OK, OK so it's not strictly part of the sport but the Super Bowl entertainment is a show in itself.

The main event is the half-time show, where all the greats - from Beyoncé to Prince, and Lady Gaga to Bruno Mars - have performed.

This year it will be performed by Canadian star The Weeknd with Miley Cyrus headlining the pre-game show.

Last year's performance by Shakira and Jennifer Lopez was watched by 104 million people so, you know, no pressure.

Fans will also be watching the half-time adverts, which cost a fortune to make (and usually star very famous people) and it can also cost millions of pounds to buy an advertising slot.