NFL Overtime Rules: Regular Season vs. Playoff Rules, Possession, Scoring, and More

The NFL overtime rules are easy to get a grasp of. We'll provide all the details & break them down, comparing the regular season to the playoffs.

NFL Overtime Rules: Regular Season vs. Playoff Rules, Possession, Scoring, and More

The NFL overtime rules have been a topic of discussion as of late. After some serious drama in last year’s playoffs caused the league to reevaluate how overtime works, confusion has run rampant. So, what are the overtime rules now? How do they work, who gets possession, and what happens if the game is still tied after one overtime period?

NFL Overtime Rules for Regular-Season Games

When overtime occurs in the regular season, the NFL has a guideline of rules that outline how teams will proceed in the extra quarter of action. Upon the end of regulation, the game will go into overtime when the score is tied between two teams.

When overtime occurs, the rules state that both teams will have players present at midfield for a coin toss to determine who gets the ball first. The visiting team’s captain will get the choice between heads or tails.

How Does Overtime End in the NFL?

When a game is still tied after four quarters, we head into overtime. As of 2017, a regular-season game that is tied at the end of regulation will have one additional 10-minute period.

The NFL rules explain, “each team must possess, or have the opportunity to possess, the ball. The exception: if the team that gets the ball first and scores a touchdown on the opening possession.”

If the team that receives the ball first scores a TD on their opening drive, the game automatically ends, and the scoring team wins. If a touchdown is scored, no point after try will be attempted, and the game ends.

This is where the controversy comes into play. The decision to see who begins with the ball is decided by the flip of a coin. If the team that wins the coin flip scores first, the loser never even touched the ball.

However, if the team that receives the ball first drives down the field and kicks a field goal, the other team will receive possession on the ensuing kickoff and will have a chance to win by scoring a touchdown or extend overtime by kicking a field goal to tie the game within the 10-minute quarter. This rule was changed in 2012. Before that, all a team needed to do to win the game in overtime was march down the field and kick a field goal.

If the score between both teams remains tied at the end of overtime, the game concludes in a tie.

Although the scoring situation remains the same, there are still some differences between regular action and the overtime period. First, each team is granted only two timeouts. Secondly, there are no coaches’ challenges allowed during an overtime period. The replay official is the only one who can call for an instant replay review.

NFL Overtime Rules for Postseason

In the NFL playoffs, overtime rules change because there cannot be any ties in the postseason. If both teams are tied at the end of overtime in the postseason, another overtime period will occur. Play will continue regardless of how many overtime periods are needed until a winner is determined.

If more than one overtime period occurs, the captain who lost the first overtime coin toss will get to choose to possess the ball or select which goal his team will defend, unless the team that won the coin toss initially deferred to that choice.

During the postseason, teams will have three timeouts instead of two because the contest is treated as a normal game. There is a two-minute intermission between each overtime period, but there is no halftime after the second period of overtime.

Another coin toss will occur if a playoff overtime contest does not have a defined winner at the end of a fourth overtime period. The game will continue to be played until a winner is determined.

How Does Overtime End in the Playoffs?

Introduced this season, both teams will now have an opportunity to touch the ball before a winner is declared during overtime in the playoffs. The winner of the coin toss will get the ball first, and if they score a touchdown, the other team is given the opportunity to do the same. If they do not score, then the game is over.

If the winner of the coin toss kicks a field goal, then the other team is given the chance to score. If they can get a touchdown, then they win the game.

Once both teams have touched the ball, the next score wins. This means that even if a team kicks a field goal, they are the winners.

What Are the Overtime Rules in the NFL Preseason?

The NFL recently changed its overtime rules for the preseason. Previously, any game ending in a tie would go into a mandatory overtime period. However, during the 2021 NFL offseason, this was adjusted to prevent players from facing unnecessary time on the field during the preseason.

Instead, there is now no overtime in the preseason, with games ending as a tie. This decision was made with player welfare in mind. With the results from preseason having no impact on the playoffs, there’s no need to play to a result. It is unlikely we see this change any time in the future.

Can an NFL Game End in a Tie?

Absolutely. The only time an NFL game cannot end in a tie is during the postseason. However, since the overtime period was shortened in 2017, there have only been six regular-season games that have ended in ties. The most recent was during Week 1 of the 2022 season when the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts tied 20-20.