What do these 12 terms mean in American football?

Sports commentary can be confusing at times, so here are 12 terms that often come up in American football commentary, fantasy football, and betting pools.
NFC Championship - Detroit Lions v San Francisco 49ers
NFC Championship - Detroit Lions v San Francisco 49ers / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages

With the Super Bowl on the horizon, there are a lot of people watching football who don't pay attention year-round. Whether you're not a sports person at all or you only catch a game or two per year, it can be difficult to keep up during the biggest game of the year.

The basics of the game can often be figured out fairly easily. Watch the players, and try to keep track of where the ball goes. If the ball gets past the goal line and is either in the possession of or caught by the player, then that team gets a touchdown (6 points). They can then try for one or two extra points. Teams can also kick the ball through the goalpost for a field goal (3 points).

Overall, the Super Bowl follows the same rules as standard American football. The exception is that the Super Bowl cannot end in a tie. If it remains tied after the first overtime period, there will be three more overtime periods. If the game is still tied, then it goes to sudden death.

While these rules tend to be fairly straightforward, it can be hard to understand some of the terminology that gets thrown around in sports commentary and betting pools. Here, we break down twelve of the most common (but confusing) terms that might be seen on the screen or heard during football games.

Common Football Statistic Abbreviations

What does "TOT" mean?

The word "TOT" can be difficult to keep track of, not because it has a complicated meaning, but because it has multiple meanings, depending on the context.

Most commonly, TOT stands for "total touchdowns," and can be used both as an acronym during the game and as a stat for those trying to bet on a team or create a fantasy football league. In general, it's just a way to keep track of how many times a team or player has made a touchdown.

Sometimes, this stat will be further broken down to show what kind of touchdown was made.

  • Ru TD: rushing touchdown
  • Re TD: receiving touchdown
  • Pa TD: passing touchdown
  • Ret TD: returning touchdown

You might also see TOT used in combination with another word, in which case it just means "total." For example, it's relatively common to see "Yds Tot," meaning "total yards." Similarly, the NFL claims that "TOT," when used in defensive statistics, means "total tackles."

What do "PF" and "PA" mean?

Some of the most important stats to keep track of when trying to determine rankings are "pf" and "pa"—"points for" and "points against." The PF is found by adding up all the points a team scores, while the PA is based on how many points were scored against them. These can help gain a better understanding of the offensive and defensive capabilities of a given time.

When considering PF and PA for fantasy football, this can be found by looking at how the players perform in the real world. At the end of the season, these stats may decide who moves forward in the case of a tie, since overtime can't be used in this setting.

In either case, the numbers only include points gained or lost during the regular season. Playoffs and championships don't count.

What does "PCT" mean?

Broadly speaking, "PCT" just means percentage, and can be used in a number of different contexts. When combined with another word, you can assume it just means the percentage of whatever is being measured.

When not explicitly stated, PCT means "winning percentage." To find this stat, you just divide the number of games won by the total number of games. The closer the number is to 1 or 100%, the better the team is.

This is a stat that frequently is used to help assess which teams are best, especially for those who are trying to predict who will win an upcoming game.

How to describe football players

What does "DB" mean?

"DB" is short for "defensive backers," one of the possible player positions. They may also be referred to as the "secondary." Defensive backs are usually positioned the farthest from the line of scrimmage, where they can perform a variety of tasks if needed to block the other team.

In general, there are two types of BD: cornerbacks and safeties. Cornerbacks primarily focus on stopping players from catching passes. This is often done by either keeping the ball away from the receiver or catching it themselves. Safeties block or tackle players who are trying to run the ball. Most teams have two of each kind.

What does "ATH" mean?

"ATH" is short for "athlete," which may seem like a redundant designation. After all, aren't all football players athletes? But what the term "athlete" actually means in football is someone who can play multiple positions. This is commonly used in recruiting stages, to show that a given player is more valuable than one who can only play one position.

Generally speaking, an ATH is probably one of the fastest players on the team, as well as being someone who understands the game as a whole, rather than just their part of it. For example, they might be playing as a running back, but in a tight situation, they could also tackle a player if needed.

ATHs usually won't switch positions in the middle of a game, but they could switch back and forth between games. This is helpful for when one player gets injured, and it can also make it hard for future opponents to strategize, since the team dynamic might change with little to no warning.

What does "IR" mean?

"IR" means "injured reserve list." Essentially, a player gets put on IR if they were injured through football and are unable to play. They are still technically a part of their team, but they are not allowed to practice or play for at least four games.

The benefit of this designation is that a player won't be counted as part of the active roster. This can allow them to heal without fear of being cut.

What does "PUP" mean?

"PUP" is short for "Physically Unable to Perform," which is similar to IR. However, those who are labeled PUP are still on the roster and can return to practice and play when they are medically cleared, no matter how much time has passed.

This gives some degree of flexibility, but it also means that the team effectively has to save a spot on their roster for someone who can't currently play. When cutting down to the final roster, they have to be judged against those who are uninjured.

What does "DNP" mean?

"DNP" can mean a couple of different things, depending on the context. In terms of standard football discussion, DNP usually means "did not play." In this case, it simply designates which players on the roster didn't participate in a given game.

This is usually either because of an injury or because the coach's strategy didn't require the player to compete. However, it can influence the player's career, as their prospects are based on their contributions on the field. If someone has too many DNPs in a season, they may not be chosen to play the next year.

However, the more common meaning for DNP is "did not practice," which is important in fantasy football. Players will usually only sit out from practice if they are injured or were suspended for bad behavior. If they are listed as DNP for multiple days of the week leading up to a game, that's an indication that they won't play (or at least won't play much) in the actual game.

When putting together your lineup in fantasy football, you want to have a team that will score as much as possible in the real world. Players with frequent DNPs are less likely to have significant contributions on the field, and therefore are risky players to keep in the lineup. If they are listed as DNP on Thursday or Friday, it's often a good decision to replace them.

Terminology used during a game

What does "offside" mean?

An offside is a minor penalty that takes place when a player crosses the line of scrimmage before the play starts. This usually affects the defense, and will be handled by advancing the ball five yards. However, it technically can be called on the offense if any offensive player crosses the neutral zone or the snapper passes it.

If the non-offending team likes how the play went, they can also choose to reject the penalty.

What does "play action" mean?

A play action, also known as a play fake, is when the quarterback makes it look like there will be a running play but actually ends up passing the ball. This is used to try to trick the defense into blocking the running back. When successful, it leaves the field open for the quarterback to throw the ball to a receiver.

The opposite of this is a "draw play," where the quarterback acts like they are going to pass the ball, only to hand it off to the running back.

What does "octopus" mean?

An octopus is a very specific, rare play in football that often comes up in betting circles. Essentially, an octopus occurs when one player scores both a touchdown and the subsequent 2-point conversion. Sports Illustrated writer Mitch Goldich coined the term in 2019.

As of 2019, Randy Moss and Todd Gurley were tied for the highest number of career octopi, with three each. The Packers had the most by team (10). In 2024, Jalen Hurts made the first known octopus in Super Bowl history.

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