how does nfl overtime work

NFL Overtime Rules & How It Works

NFL games are won on tiny margins. In the dying seconds of the game, most trailing teams just need one score to tie or win the game. With these small margins, most teams end up with a tie-in regulation time.

So, how does NFL overtime work? Games go to an overtime period to try and find a winner. The NFL added extra time in 1974 if they ended in a tie-in regulation time.

Initially, overtime was 15 minutes. However, the NFL rules changed in 2017, making overtime 10 minutes. There have been several changes in the overtime rules since 1974. From sudden death to allowing both teams to possess the ball during overtime, there has been an evolution around overtime.

Let’s dig deep and learn more about the overtime rules and how they work in football.

What Is NFL Overtime History?

The NFL overtime history goes back to 1974 when they first started using overtime to win tie games. When overtime was first introduced, teams had 15-minute overtime. The time was like the four quarters that make a full game.

There have been over 574 games in the NFL that have been decided in overtime. However, the rule on the period would change in 2017 to 10 minutes to help improve player safety.

The NFL then had another change in 2022, where both teams are now assured of possession during the overtime period. As you can see, the NFL overtime rules have evolved over time to what we have right now.

How does NFL Overtime Work?

Wondering how the NFL overtime works? Pretty simple!

referee with football teams

Games that end in a tie during the regulation time go into an overtime period. The aim is to find a winner in the end.

The exact rules guiding overtime vary depending on the leagues. Regular season games have different overtime rules from playoffs.

The different rules guide how the games play in the 10-minute overtime and how the winner is found.

Regular Season Overtime Rules

The regular season overtime rules are quite simple. They start with a coin toss from the referee. A coin toss helps decide who starts with the first ball.

Once teams toss a coin, play starts with a 10-minute period. Here, the game ends with sudden death rules. The first team to score the first touchdown becomes the winner.

However, there is an exception to the sudden death rule. If the first team with the ball drives down and scores the first goal, then the game continues with the other team.

Sudden death only applies if the opposing team without the ball first drives and scores with the first offensive drive. 

But the game will end in a tie if neither team scores within the 10-minute overtime period.

Apart from the scores, each team gets two timeouts. Coaches cannot challenge timeouts in the 10-minute overtime period. It’s only the replay official that can review and overturn a timeout call.

Overtime Rules In The NFL Post-Season [New Rule]

While regular season games can end in a tie, postseason NFL games cannot end in a tie. Here are the overtime rules for the NFL postseason.

football team players wearing maroon and white jersey in the field
  • Teams perform a coin toss to decide which team starts with the ball in the first overtime
  • Teams will play another overtime if they are still tied at the end of the overtime period or the second team still has possession
  • Between each overtime period, teams get a two-minute intermission. There is no intermission in the second period
  • The team that lost the coin toss will choose the goal to defend or choose to possess the ball. They can decide between those two unless the team that tossed the coin decides to defer
  • Each team will get an opportunity to possess the ball
  • During a half, each team has three timeouts
  • The same timing rules apply at the second and fourth of regular times and also apply in the second and fourth of overtime
  • If there is no winner at the end of overtime, another coin toss takes place, and play continues until a winner is found.

Why Did the NFL Change Its Overtime Rules?

The NFL changed its overtime rules to help improve player safety and health. Players would last 15 minutes in the overtime period which was considered long considering the short turnaround times between games.

A change to 10 minutes was considered ideal with most teams voting for the change.

Famous Overtime Games in the NFL

There have been several overtime games in NFL history. One famous overtime game happened on Christmas in 1971.

The game between the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City went to two overtimes playing for 82 minutes and 40 seconds. By then, the NFL overtime period was 15 minutes. However, the league would change this 10 ten minutes in 2017.

Another famous overtime in the NFL took place in 2019 in the AFC Championship when the sudden death rule came under a lot of criticism. The New England Patriots scored a touchdown against Kansas City from the start with the Kansas quarterback not touching the ball. 

We also have the New England Patriots scoring a touchdown in overtime and winning the game by six points against the Atlanta Falcons. This was after scoring 19 unanswered points and sending the game into overtime.

NFL Overtime Rules FAQs

daytime football match about to start

How Common Are Ties in the NFL?

Ties in the NFL are not very common. Tie games were common before 1971, when teams did not have overtime. A regular game in the NFL ending in a tie has very minimal chances of 0.2 percent.

Why Was NFL OT Shortened?

The NFL shortened the OT time to help improve player safety. Turnaround times for players in the NFL are usually short. The owners shortened time to improve player safety and help them recover.

Which NFL Teams Voted Against the NFL OT Rule Change

Three NFL teams that voted against the NFL OT rule change were the Vikings, Bengals, and the Dolphins.


There you go! Now you know an NFL overtime is extra 10-minute overtime for teams to find a winner when games end in a tie during regulation time. Different rules apply for overtime in a regular season game and in playoffs.

In a regular season, tie games go to 10-minute overtime, with play ending if the game still remains a tie. However, in season playoffs, tie games at the end of overtime will start again until a winner is found.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *