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NFL Football Overtime Rules

football overtime

NFL overtime rules are a set of regulations that govern how an overtime period must be played if a football game remains tied after 60 minutes of regulation.

Games will often be decided before regulation ends, but overtime games are a semi-regular occurrence in the NFL. For this reason, teams practice the plays and learn the rules they would use in an overtime situation.

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NFL Regular Season Overtime Rules

The rules for the NFL regular season overtime are slightly different than the postseason playoff games, most notably games can end in ties. Below are the rules for the NFL regular season:

  • A single 10-minute period is played to determine the winner.
  • A coin toss decides which team gets the ball first.
  • The first team to score a touchdown or safety wins.
  • If the score is tied after each team has had a first possession, the next score will win the game.
  • Games can end in a tie after the end of the overtime period.
  • Each team gets two timeouts.
  • Coaches are not allowed to use coach’s challenges to review plays.

NFL Postseason Overtime Rules

The rules for NFL Postseason overtime are slightly different than the regular season. This ensures that there is always a winner to advance to the next round of the playoffs, or be declared champion. Also, the main difference between regular season and postseason is that both teams are guaranteed a chance to possess the ball. Below are the rules for the NFL postseason overtime:

  • 15 minute periods are played until a winning team is decided.
  • Each team is granted a possession of the ball, even if a safety or touchdown is scored on the opening drive.
  • If the score is tied after each team has had a first possession, the next score will win the game.
  • Each team gets three timeouts for every two overtime periods.
  • Coach’s challenges are not allowed. Reviews can only be initiated by the Replay Official

Overtime Possession Rules

The NFL overtime possession rules during the regular season do not guarantee that both teams will get possession of the ball. If the team who receives the initial kick scores a touchdown on the opening drive of overtime, they will automatically win the game. However, if the team turns the ball over or only scores a field goal, the opposing team will have the chance to possess the ball. If the team who originally possessed the ball did not score a field goal, the team to possess the ball second can win the game with just a field goal.

In the postseason (playoffs), possession rules are a bit different. As of 2022, both teams are guaranteed a possession in postseason overtime. This means that even if the team that possesses the ball first scores a touchdown, the opposing team will still get a chance to tie the game up.

The Coin Toss

A coin toss decides which team gets to choose either to receive the ball or choose which endzone they want to defend. As is the case with the beginning of the game, the away team gets to call which side the coin will land on. If the away team correctly guesses how the coin will land, they get to choose. If not, the home team will get the option. Especially in the regular season, most teams that win the coin toss will choose to receive the ball first. This is to protect themselves from losing in the sudden death format.

Scoring and Winning

Once they have received the kickoff, the offense takes the field and tries to score. If the offense scores a field goal (worth 3 points) or fails to score entirely, the other team is given a chance to either tie the game with a field goal of their own or win the game with a touchdown (worth 6 points). If the first receiving team scores a touchdown, the game is over and the opposite team does not get a chance to score. Note that this scenario only occurs during regular season overtime periods.

Should the game be tied after each team has had a possession, the next score will win the game regardless of what type of score it is. During the regular season, if the score is still tied at the end of the 10-minute overtime period, the game will end in a tie.

In the postseason, both teams are guaranteed to get possession of the ball. This means that even if the team who initially receives the ball gets a touchdown, the game is not automatically over. The team that did not receive the ball first will get a chance to tie or win the game, regardless of the outcome of the other team’s drive.

Overtime Strategy

Teams have to be a lot more precautious with their play calling in overtime since a turnover in your own half of the field can lead to an easy game-winning field goal. Field positioning is often more important than taking risks.

In regular season games, each coach will have two timeouts at their disposal in an overtime period, but they will not be able to challenge a call. All video reviews must be initiated by the Replay Official. 

In the playoffs, teams will get three timeouts for each 15-minute overtime period. As with regular season overtime periods, coaches may not challenge any calls, and any video replay must be initiated by the Replay Official.

Overtime Period Length

In the regular season, an additional 10-minute period is added to the game for overtime. If there is no score or the game is still tied after the 10 minutes have expired, the game will end in a tie.

In the postseason (playoffs), overtime periods are 15 minutes in length. In the event of a tied score at the end of the first overtime period, additional 15 minute overtime periods will take place until a winner can be determined. There is a two minute break between each overtime period in the playoffs.

Overtime Clock Stoppage

If a player runs out of bounds with possession of the ball within the final two minutes of overtime, the clock will stop until the next snap. For any other instance earlier in the period, the clock will continue to run on a successful play (running play or completed pass). Generally, clock stoppage in overtime will work the same as it would in regulation. 

Summary of NFL Overtime Rules

  • Overtime happens when the score is tied at the end of four quarters of regulation.
  • A coin toss will take place at the start of overtime to determine who will be kicking and receiving.
  • Regular season overtime periods last 10 minutes and postseason overtime periods last 15 minutes.
  • During overtime the clock will stop if a player runs out of bounds during the last two minutes of the overtime period.
  • In the regular season, each team gets a chance to be on offense, unless the team that receives the ball scores a touchdown or safety during the first possession.
  • In the postseason, each team gets a chance to be on offense, regardless of whether the first possession results in a touchdown or safety.
  • During the regular season, games can end in a tie after the first overtime period. Multiple overtime periods are played in the postseason when a winner is required to advance.
  • Coaches are not able to challenge instant replay decisions during overtime.

FAQ

Can a playoff football game end in a tie?

NFL playoff games will never end in a tie. There must be a clear winner who will advance to the next round or win the championship. If there is no victor after the first 15-minute overtime period is played, another 15-minute period will be played following a brief intermission. No playoff game has gone past double overtime, but the teams would theoretically play additional 15-minute overtime periods until a winner emerged.

Do NFL teams kick extra points in overtime?

NFL teams do not kick an extra point on game-winning touchdowns in overtime. Regardless of the circumstance, a touchdown in regular-season overtime means an immediate end of the game. Therefore, kicking extra points is not relevant in regular season NFL games that go to overtime.

How long is overtime in the NFL?

In the regular season, NFL overtime periods are 10 minutes in length. There is only one overtime period in regular season games. In the postseason (playoffs), each overtime period is 15 minutes. If the score remains tied at the end of the first overtime period in a playoff game, each additional overtime period will also be 15 minutes. This process will repeat itself until a winner is determined.

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