MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 14: Sherrin footballs are seen during a North Melbourne Kangaroos AFL pre-season training session at Aegis Park on December 14, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

At first sight, the AFL and the NFL have a lot in common. Both are massively popular sports in their home countries and have millions of followers that generate huge levels of excitement when the biggest games come along. 

Still, is one of these sports tougher and more competitive than the other? 

Introduction to the NFL

The National Football League is arguably the most popular sports league in the US. Comprised of 32 teams, with 16 playing in the National Football Conference and the other 16 in the American Football Conference. 

These teams take part in an 18-week regular season which leads to seven teams from each conference going to the playoffs and then the best of each conference reaching the Super Bowl.

Therefore, to win the Super Bowl, a team has to defeat the best rivals in the rest of the country. The Green Bay Packers lead the way with 13 NFL championship wins over the years, followed by the Chicago Bears with nine wins. If you are curious, you can also check the highest-scoring NFL games by TwinSpires..

How Tough Is the NFL?

NFL players need to be strong and tough to reach the highest level. Depending upon their position on the field, a player’s key attribute might be their speed, their passing ability, or the toughness of their tackles. The fastest players in the league can reach up to 23 mph when rushing with the ball, while this list of the hardest tacklers shows us the players who try to stop them.

These players have trained hard through college to reach their physical peak, in a sport where every play is treated like war and every yard gained has to be earned. The fact that the NFL players wear helmets and protective padding may make it seem as though they are free of the risk of getting injured.

A look at the list of currently injured players in the league reveals that there are plenty of injuries for the teams to deal with though. The demands of this sport mean that injuries are commonplace. In the history of the NFL, Chuck Hughes remains as the only player who has died on the field, although it was from a coronary condition rather than an injury.

While there has long been debate about the safety issues in American Football, the only player to have died from on-field injuries was Howard Glenn, who was playing for the New York Titans in 1960 in the American Football League, which would later merge with the NFL. Mike Utley suffered paralysis due to an in-game injury in 1991 while playing for the Detroit Lions.

The risk of brain injury is a major concern in the NFL. Some studies suggest that repeated hits to the head cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the majority of players, although this is a controversial point that is highly disputed.

Comparing It to the AFL

AFL players need to have high levels of strength and endurance. They run an average of 13km in each game and the fastest players can reach over 36 km/h. There is less reliance on being bulk than in American sport, as players need to be mobile and nimble rather than relying solely on power to overcome their opponents.

Fractures and sprains are among the most common injuries in the AFL, as it is more of a fast, free-flowing game than the American equivalent, with less emphasis on direct hits to the upper body. Yet, the list of AFL players who have died from on-field injuries is longer than the NFL list, although most happened long ago.

Ron Doig died in 1932 following an injury sustained in a game for South Fremantle. Eddie Ford also died following a game, which occurred when he was a Katandra player in 1946. Phil Skehan was another tragic death, playing with Williamstown in 1921.

The lack of deaths from injury in modern times suggests that the controls in place in both sports and the levels of physical strength of the players help to keep both the NFL and the AFL as safe as possible.

As for the question of which is tougher, this is a question that is impossible to answer. What we can say for certain is that both are incredibly tough and competitive sports where the athletes need to be in great physical condition and ready to go to war on the field.