The 2023 postseason featured the debut of a new NFL overtime rule that ensured both teams received at least one possession in any playoff game that ends tied after four quarters.
Here’s everything you need to know about the league’s overtime rules.
In the regular season, NFL games that are tied after the four quarters of regulation will enter a 10-minute overtime period. OT begins with a coin toss to determine who gets the ball first.
Each team will have the opportunity to possess the ball unless the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown on the opening possession. Sudden death play — where the game ends on any score (safety, field goal or touchdown) — continues until a winner is decided.
Other details to keep in mind:
- Each team gets two timeouts.
- The point after try is not attempted if the game ends on a touchdown.
- If the score is still tied at the end of the overtime period, the result of the game will be recorded as a tie.
- There are no instant replay coach’s challenges; all reviews will be initiated by the replay official.
Playoff Overtime Rules
How does it work, and can a playoff game end in a tie?
Unlike regular-season games, which can end in a tie, postseason games can’t.
Overtime rules in the postseason consist of as many 15-minute periods as are necessary until there is a winner, instead of the single 10-minute overtime period in the regular season. Both teams will now get at least one possession, even if the team that has the first possession scores a touchdown. If the team that got the ball first doesn’t score a touchdown, or if the score is tied after each team has possessed the ball, the next score would end the game.
If the team that possesses the ball first commits a safety on the initial possession, the kickoff team would win and the game would end there, which is also true in the regular season.
Other details to keep in mind:
- There are no coaches’ challenges in overtime. All replay reviews will be initiated by the replay official.
- Each team gets three timeouts during a half (two overtime periods), as opposed to two timeouts during overtime in the regular season.
- The intermission between the end of regular time and the first overtime period is no more than three minutes.
- There’s a two-minute intermission between each overtime period, but no halftime intermission after the second.
- At the beginning of the third overtime period, the captain who lost the first overtime coin toss will either choose to possess the ball or select which goal his team will defend, unless the team that won the coin toss deferred.
- If there’s still no winner at the end of a fourth overtime period, there will be another coin toss.
When and why was the rule changed?
The rule change came at the end of the 2021-22 season after the instant classic AFC Championship game between Kansas City and Buffalo in which the Chiefs won the overtime coin toss and scored on the ensuing possession to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl, while the Bills were eliminated despite never getting a chance to touch the ball in the extra period. The ending of the game was heavily scrutinized, which ultimately led to the rule change in March 2022.
NFL owners, concerned that the coin toss to begin the extra period ultimately had too great an impact on postseason game results, approved the proposal presented by Philadephia and Indianapolis, which lost to Baltimore in Week 5 of the 2021 regular season under similar circumstances after the Ravens won the coin toss and the Colts offense never took the field.
What will teams opt to do under the new rule?
Teams and coaches will now have the opportunity to change their strategy when it comes to postseason overtime.
We could now see teams deferring in the event of winning the OT coin toss since that team is now guaranteed an offensive possession. Kicking off to the opponent would allow the coin-toss-winning team the opportunity to know exactly what’s needed to win or extend the game. It also would give that team the chance to end the game with a defensive score.
Prior to the rule change, there have been 12 overtime playoff games since 2010, and teams that won the coin toss are 10-2 in those games. Seven of the 12 teams that won the coin toss won on the first possession without the other team possessing the ball at all.
Of those 12 aforementioned overtime games, no team that won the overtime coin toss has elected to kick to its opponent.
What’s the longest overtime game in NFL playoff history?
A divisional playoff matchup between Miami and K.C. on Christmas Day 1971 holds the record, ending in double overtime after 82 minutes and 40 seconds, per The Athletic. What’s more, only six playoff games in NFL playoff history have required multiple overtimes, with the most recent being Baltimore’s 2012 AFC Divisional game win over Denver.
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