In almost two-thirds of the NFL games in 2014, the team trailing in the fourth quarter was within just one score of tying the game or taking the lead. Inevitably, with so many games so close, some will end with a tie score at the end of regulation.
The NFL in 1974 added an overtime period to resolve preseason and regular season games that end regulation time with a tie score. Since then, 526 regular season games have been decided in overtime.
As with many NFL rules, the rules governing overtime have evolved over time.
Learn the rules of the game in the searchable 2015 NFL Rulebook.
For the 2010 postseason, the league installed a modified sudden-death overtime system to help determine a winner in a tie game. In 2012, the league expanded those rules to cover all NFL games.
The current rules give both teams the opportunity to possess the ball at least once in overtime unless the team that receives the overtime kickoff scores a touchdown on its first possession.
See the complete NFL overtime rules.
Overtime Rules for NFL Preseason and Regular Season
- At the end of regulation, the referee will toss a coin to determine which team will possess the ball first in overtime. The visiting team captain will call the toss.
- No more than one 15-minute period will follow a three-minute intermission. Each team must possess, or have the opportunity to possess, the ball. The exception: if 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 determined.
- 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.
Overtime Rules for NFL Postseason Games
Unlike preseason and regular season games, postseason games cannot end in a tie, so the overtime rules change slightly for the playoffs.
- If the score is still tied at the end of an overtime period — or if the second team’s initial possession has not ended — the teams will play another overtime period. Play will continue regardless of how many overtime periods are needed for a winner to be determined.
- There will be a two-minute intermission between each overtime period. There will not be a halftime intermission after the second period.
- Another coin toss will be held before 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 that choice.
- Each team gets three timeouts during a half.
- The same timing rules that apply at the end of the second and fourth regulation periods also apply at the end of a second or fourth overtime period.
- If there is still no winner at the end of a fourth overtime period, there will be another coin toss, and play will continue until a winner is declared.