How Does NFL Overtime Work?

how does nfl overtime work

The rules of NFL overtime can be difficult to understand. The rules are slightly different for the preseason, regular season, and postseason. In addition, NFL team owners are discussing and voting on proposals for rule changes. Let’s learn about the current rules of overtime in the NFL.

NFL Preseason Overtime Rules

There is no overtime in preseason games. If the score is tied at the end of regulation, the game will end in a tie.

NFL Regular Season Overtime Rules

Below are the rules of overtime in the the NFL regular season:

  • A 3-minute intermission takes place before overtime begins.
  • The visiting team’s captain chooses heads or tails on the coin toss.
  • There is only one overtime period and it lasts 10 minutes.
  • Each team gets two 30-second timeouts.
  • If a touchdown or safety is scored on the first team’s opening possession, the game is over.
  • If a field goal or turnover happens, the other team gets a chance to be on offense.
  • The game can end from any type of score after both teams have had a chance to be on offense.
  • If the score is tied at the end of the 10-minute overtime period, a tie is recorded.
  • No coaches’ challenges are allowed, all replays are called by the replay official.

NFL Playoff Overtime Rules

Below are the rules of overtime in the NFL playoffs:

  • Overtime periods are 15 minutes in the NFL Playoffs.
  • Each team gets three 30-second timeouts.
  • Both teams must get a chance to be on offense.
  • Overtime cannot end in a tie, so multiple overtime periods may be played.
  • A two-minute intermission takes place between overtime periods.
  • At the end of the first and third overtime periods, teams change their end zones on the field.
  • At the start of the third overtime period, the captain that lost the coin toss gets their first choice of the coin toss options, unless the other team chose to defer.
  • At the end of the fourth overtime period, a new coin toss takes place and play is continued until a winner is decided.

Overtime Coin Toss Options

At the start of overtime, the team captains will meet at the 50-yard line for the coin toss. The visiting team's captain will call the coin toss. The winner of the coin toss gets to choose from the following coin toss options:

  1. To receive the kick or kickoff
  2. Which end zone to defend
  3. To defer the ball to the other team

In the playoffs, overtime can last multiple periods if the score remains tied. The losing team of the coin toss will get their first choice at the start of the third overtime period. Teams also switch goals at the end of the first and third overtime periods.

Overtime Replay Rules

During overtime, neither team is allowed to request a review of the previous play. Only the replay official or the Senior Vice President of Officiating is allowed to review the play.

Two-Minute Warning in Overtime

The two-minute warning happens during overtime as the regular timing rules apply for overtime periods. In the playoffs, multiple overtime periods may be played, so there is no two-minute warning in the first overtime period. The two-minute warning does happen every even overtime period (second, fourth, etc.).

The First Possession of Overtime

In regular season overtime, if a touchdown or safety is scored on the first team's possession, the game is immediately over without the chance for the other team to get the ball. There is no PAT played after the touchdown. If a field goal is scored or there is no score, then the other team will get a chance to be on offense.

The game is also over if the first possession lasts the full 10 minutes of overtime.

2022 Rule Changes to OT

In 2022, the NFL team owners approved a modified overtime possession rule for playoff games. A vote in favor of the rule change with 29-3 resulted in the change. Now, both teams get a chance to possess the ball on offense for playoff games.

NFL Overtime Rules Summary

Below we summarize the rules of overtime in NFL football:

  • Overtime lasts 10 minutes in the regular season and 15 minutes in the playoffs.
  • Each team gets two 30-second timeouts in the regular season, and three 30-second timeouts in the playoffs.
  • The coin toss decides which team starts with the ball.
  • The visiting team's captain calls the coin toss.
  • On the first team's possession, if a touchdown or safety is scored then the game is over and the other team does not get a chance to be on offense.
  • After both teams have a chance to be on offense, sudden-death rules follow. Any score (safety, field goal, or touchdown) will end the game.
  • Only one overtime period is played in the regular season, so a tie is possible.
  • Multiple overtime periods may be played in the playoffs until a winner is decided.
  • No coaches' challenges are allowed. All replays are called by the replay officials.

History And Timeline of NFL Overtime Rule

  • 1954: First overtime game is played on August 28, 1954, where the Rams beat the Giants.
  • 1958: On December 28th, 1958, the first NFL overtime game to be decided using sudden-death format occurs, with the Baltimore Colts defeating the New York Giants 23-17.
  • 1974: Overtime was added to the rulebook in 1974.
  • 2010: Overtime sudden-death rules were added in 2010 for the postseason only. Field goals no longer ended the game on the first possession.
  • 2012: Overtime sudden-death rules are added to the regular season.
  • 2017: Overtime was shortened to 10-minute periods.
  • 2019: Kansas City Chiefs make a proposal for a change in the coin toss options.
  • 2020: Philadelphia Eagles and other clubs propose changes to OT around replay and period length of 15 minutes.
  • 2021: Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh proposes “Spot and Choose” rule proposal for NFL overtime.
  • 2022: Tennessee Titans propose OT rule where the team that scores a touchdown on the opening drive can end the game if they score a two-point conversion.