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

The NFL overtime rules are easy to get a grasp of. Here are all the details broken down, comparing the regular season to the playoffs.

The 2023 NFL postseason is here, so it’s important to remember all the rules, as they could be the difference between a season-ending or a Super Bowl title. How many times has an NFL fan recited the NFL overtime rules incorrectly?

Infamously, Donovan McNabb stated he didn’t know the overtime rules. 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? Let’s dive into it.

NFL Overtime Rules for Regular Season Games

When an NFL regular-season game is tied after regulation time has ended, the game then enters overtime. The NFL has a guideline of rules that outline how teams will proceed in the extra quarter of action.

When overtime begins, 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 and decide how the action will proceed following that coin-flip outcome.

How Does Overtime End in the NFL?

In 2017, the NFL changed the length of regular-season overtime from 15 minutes to 10 minutes.

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. The point after try will not be attempted, and the score will remain as is and become final.

The controversy comes into play with the decision to see who begins with the ball decided by the flip of a coin. If the team that wins the coin flip scores first, the loser never even touches the ball, which has been a hot topic around the league.

Many skeptics have suggested the overtime rules are slanted in favor of the team possessing the ball first and have voiced their displeasure. Proponents of the overtime rules state defense is part of the game, and stopping your opponent from scoring gives you a leg up as a field goal would then win the game.

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 have a chance to win by scoring a touchdown or extending overtime by kicking a field goal to tie the game within the 10-minute quarter.

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This rule was changed in 2012, but 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 in the regular season, 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 given only two timeouts. Secondly, there are no coaches’ challenges allowed during an overtime period, with the replay official being the only one who can call for an instant replay review.

NFL Overtime Rules for Postseason

In the playoffs, overtime rules change because there obviously cannot be any ties in the postseason. If both teams are tied at the end of overtime in the postseason, another overtime period will begin. Play will continue regardless of how many overtime periods are needed until a winner is finally 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, and the play continues as if it is just a regular changing of the quarter.

Another coin toss will occur if a playoff overtime contest does not have a defined winner at the end of a fourth overtime, which would be essentially completing two games in one instance.

How Does Overtime End in the Playoffs?

The Buffalo Bills/Kansas City Chiefs 2021 playoff thriller ended without the Bills touching the football. That ending left many fans feeling unfulfilled, and the NFL adopted a change to their playoff overtime policy as a result.

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Because of that situation, both teams will now have an opportunity to touch the ball before a winner is declared during the overtime period in the playoffs. The winner of the coin toss typically decides to receive the ball first, and if they score a touchdown, the other team is allowed a chance to do the same. If they don’t score, then the game is over.

If the winner of the coin toss kicks a field goal, the other team can win by scoring a touchdown on the following possession. 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?

There is no overtime in 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. With the game carrying no value in the win/lose column, it made no sense to prolong the action.

Instead, there is now no overtime in the preseason, with games ending in a tie. This decision was made with player welfare in mind. It’s unlikely we see this change any time in the future.

NFL players are overwhelmingly in favor of this rule remaining, and with the importance of player safety at an all-time high, the rule isn’t going anywhere.

Can an NFL Game End in a Tie?

Yes. 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 since.

Want to predict the results of the 2023 NFL postseason with our FREE NFL Playoff Predictor? How about looking into in-depth breakdowns of team depth charts or the NFL playoff schedule? Pro Football Network has you covered with all that and more!

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