The NFL on-field product is very complex and competitive when teams face each other on Sundays, and sometimes they are competitive to the point where a winner cannot be determined after four quarters of action. When NFL teams transition to overtime, how do the rules of the game change with extra quarters in the regular season and post-season?
NFL Regular Season Rules
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, where the score is tied between two teams, the game will proceed to go into overtime.
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. Many NFL team’s strategies change in overtime in comparison to the start of a game. It’s common to see the team who wins coin-toss elect to defer until the second half, but in the extra period, teams will elect to receive the ball first.
During normal regulation, the length of quarters last 15-minutes, but the NFL overtime rules state that there are only 10 minutes to determine a winner. The NFL rules explain that “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 who receives the ball first scores a touchdown 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.
If the team who 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. If the score between both teams is tied at the end of overtime, the game concludes with a tie.
The scoring stipulations change when teams go to overtime, but the rules and resources for coaches and officials change to. Each team is granted only two timeouts, and there are no coaches challenges allowed in overtime, as each review of any play is conducted by the replay official.
In the NFL playoffs, overtime rules change because there cannot be any ties in the post-season. If both teams are tied at the end of overtime in the post-season, another overtime period will occur. Play will continue to occur 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 post-season, teams will be allowed to have three timeouts instead of two because the contest is treated as a normal game. There is a two minute intermission period between each overtime period, but there is no halftime after the second period of overtime.
If a playoff overtime contest does not have a defined winner at the end of a fourth overtime period, another coin-toss will occur, and the game will be played until a winner is determined.
Some NFL teams have been vocal about the overtime rules if their team does not get a chance to possess the football, and the opposing team scores a touchdown. While the idea of allowing each team to match touchdown for a touchdown is intriguing, the NFL has no plans of changing how the format presents itself.
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