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Sometimes the referee will flag a team for having an "illegal formation". What are the restrictions on how a team is allowed to line up?

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The NFL network was showing the superbowl from the year the Miami Dolphins went undefeated. I noticed that wide receivers were in the down position 3 point stance. Was this a rule back then or just the way it was done? They were on the line of scrimmage. –  Bob Aug 22 '13 at 15:35
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1 Answer

up vote 14 down vote accepted

From the rulebook:

Section 5 Position of Players at the Snap

Article 1: Offensive Team. The offensive team must be in compliance with the following at the snap:

(a) It must have seven or more players on its line (3-18); and

(b) All players who are not on the line, other than the receiver of the snap under center, must be at least one yard behind it.

(c) No player may be out of bounds.

An illegal formation for the offense would be one where there are not 7 men on the line. There are no restrictions on the defense's formation during normal play, however the defense can be penalized during special teams play:

During a punt, a field-goal attempt, or a Try Kick, a defensive player, who is within one yard of the line of scrimmage at the snap, must have his entire body outside the snapper’s shoulder pads.

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There's also the need for the player at either end on the line to have a number that indicates he's an eligible receiver or needs to have reported to the referee as an eligible receiver with an ineligible number. –  user252 Feb 25 '12 at 5:06
    
@AIE Actually, that applies to any player who lines up in an eligible-receiver position, whether it's on the end of the line or behind it. –  Steely Dan May 25 '12 at 3:08
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