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Automatic First Down

Football Terms – Automatic 1st Down

An automatic first down is awarded to an offensive team in the NFL following certain rules infractions by the defensive team (such as defensive holding or pass interference). The penalty is enforced and the ball moved; then the offense gets an automatic first down (even if the distance the ball was moved wouldn�t normally be far enough to gain a first down).

Automatic first downs are NOT awarded for the following fouls:

  • Running into the kicker
  • Excessive time outs
  • Encroachment
  • Offside
  • Illegal substitution
  • Delay of game
  • Incidental grasp of facemask
  • Neutral zone infraction
  • More than 11 players on the field at the time of the snap

Automatic first downs are awarded for the following fouls:

  • Roughing the kicker
  • Roughing the passer
  • Interference
  • Defensive Holding

Penalties like Unsportsmanlike Conduct or Unnecessary Roughness do not necessarily mean an automatic 1st down, but since the yards penalized are 15, these penalties usually give the offense a first down.

NFL penalties can be very costly to teams, and sometimes there is a direct relationship between a team�s penalties and their win/loss record. The following is a brief list of some of the most heavily penalized teams in the history of the National Football League:

  • The Chicago Bears hold the record for leading the league in penalties. As of this writing, they have accomplished the feat during 16 seasons. The Oakland Raiders are in second place with 15 league-leading seasons.
  • The record for the most penalties in a single season goes to the 1998 Kansas City Chiefs with 158 penalties. The 1994 Raiders are in second with 156 penalties.
  • There�s a three-way tie for the most penalties in a single game. Two of these games occurred in 1944 (Brooklyn vs. Green Bay and Bears vs. Philadelphia), while the third was the San Francisco vs. Buffalo game from 1998.

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