XFL Preview: the 2020 season

The conclusion of the NFL is usually a moment of celebration and sadness for football fans. The excitement surrounding the Super Bowl is wonderful, but once it is over it is a long time until we see meaningful football in the following September. However, in 2020 there is a fix for those post-Super Bowl blues in the form of the XFL. With eight new franchises and a whole lot of rule changes to get our heads around, let’s dive into the second coming of the XFL with all of the information you need to know in our handy preview.

The Teams

XFL Preview

The most important part of any league are the teams, so that is the logical place to start. This season we have eight teams, split into two conferences, the East and the West. The eight teams are owned and operated by the league, as opposed to the franchise model operated by the NFL. Let’s take a closer a look at each of the teams.

Eastern Conference

Western Conference

Unlike the NFL, where each team has their own practice squad, the XFL will operate a central practice squad known as “Team 9”. Team 9 will not play in any official games but will have its own coaching staff in order to ensure that players are ready to step in when required.

The Format

As we have seen above, the league is made up of eight teams. Each team will play 10 games, with home and away games against the three teams in their conference. They will then play the four teams from the opposing conference, two on the road and two at home. At the end of the season, the top-two teams from each conference will square off in a Conference Championship game, with the winners meeting in the XFL Championship game.

The season will consist of a 10 week regular season, with no bye weeks, and the playoffs taking place over the following two weeks. The majority of games will be played on Saturday and Sunday, with Week 9 and 10 featuring Thursday night games.

The initial rosters were determined in two ways. Firstly, the league assigned one marquee quarterback to each roster before a number of small drafts. Each team selected 10 offensive skill position players, 10 offensive linemen, 10 defensive linemen and/or linebackers, 10 defensive backs, and 30 players of any position.

XFL Preview

The Rule Changes

There are a number of rule changes in the XFL compared to the NFL. You can read more about them here, but let’s run through them briefly.

  • Overtime: A five-round two-point conversion shootout. Both offenses and defenses will be on the field at opposite ends at the same time in order to speed up the game. The first defensive penalty of the shootout moves the ball up to the one-yard line. A second defensive penalty in the shootout results in an automatic score for the offense. If the scores are tied after five rounds then sudden death will occur.
  • Kickoffs: The kicker will kick from his 25-yard line. However, the coverage team will line up on the opposing 35-yard line, with the returning teams’ blockers on their own 30-yard line. Only the kicker and returner can move prior to the ball being caught. 
  • Kickoff touchbacks: There will be two types of touchbacks. If the ball bounces into the end zone then the receiving team will start at their 15-yard line. However, if the ball goes into the end zone on the full then the receiving team will start at the 35-yard line. Both rules are an attempt to increase the number of kickoff returns and add excitement to that element of the game.
  • Punting: No gunners will be allowed in the XFL and any punt traveling into the end zone will be treated the same as a kickoff touchback. Equally any punt that leaves the field within five yards of the end zone will be brought out to the 35-yard line. The aim of these rules is to encourage teams to go for it on fourth down.
  • PATs: These will not exist in the XFL. Instead, teams will have a single play with the starting distance of that play from the goal line determining whether it is worth one (two yards), two (five yards) or three points (10 yards). 
  • Double-forward pass: Two forward passes are allowed as long as the ball does not cross the line of scrimmage before the second pass. In the NFL, the first such pass must be backward to allow a second pass to be made on a single play.
  • Timing: The timing rules have been adjusted to attempt to speed up the game. Outside of the two-minute warning, the clock will only stop on possession changes. After the two-minute warning, the clock will stop until the ball is spotted after every completed play. Incomplete passes will stop the clock as per the NFL inside the two-minute warning. Each team will also only have two timeouts. Instant replay reviews will be limited to 60-seconds and there will be no coaches challenges.

Ben Rolfe

Head of NFL Content