How does NFL overtime work?

Sunday November 6th, 2016

NFL overtime rules can be a bit confusing. And given that there have been two overtime ties already in the 2016 season, it’s a good time to refresh your memory on how it works.

We’ve tried to simplify things as much as possible here. Also note that the rules differ between the regular season and postseason.

1) Overtime starts with a coin toss to determine possession, with the visiting team allowed to call heads or tails.

2) Overtime runs 15 minutes long at maximum. Each team gets two timeouts. Game-ending touchdowns do not require point after attempts. There are no coaches’ challenges, with officials reviewing close plays.

3) If the team with first possession scores a touchdown on the opening drive of overtime, that team wins the game.

4) A field goal on the opening drive means the other team gets a chance to answer. If the team with second possession scores a touchdown on the ensuing drive, that team wins. If they kick a field goal to tie, possession goes back the other way. From there, scoring is sudden death, with the first team to break the tie deemed the victor.

5) If no team breaks a tie after 15 minutes of game time, the game ends in a tie.

6) In the postseason, if the game is tied after the first overtime, a second overtime begins. Play in theory can continue for an infinite number of overtime periods until a tie is definitively broken.

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