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Modified sudden death rules for OT

It is no secret that we are very much opposed to the NFL’s modified sudden death format. (Rather than repeat, see our rant from the 2010 season and our other posts.)

Here are the overtime rules for all preseason, regular season, and postseason games:

  • Modified sudden death only applies when the team receiving the opening kickoff scores a field goal on the opening drive. In all other cases, standard sudden death will apply (a touchdown, a safety, or a field goal after first possession).
  • If there is any change of possession (punt, turnover, loss on downs) or the receiving team does not recover the kickoff, they have surrendered the first possession, and standard sudden death applies.
  • If a field goal is scored, the trailing team will receive the ensuing kickoff. Then, if the trailing team…
    • …scores a touchdown, the game ends, and the touchdown decides the result.
    • …loses possession, including on downs, the game ends immediately.
    • …scores a tying field goal, the overtime reverts to a standard sudden death.

Remember that once the second team has possession with the score tied, it is standard sudden death from that point forward.

Updated, 8/28/12: Revised to reflect the rule change that modified sudden death format is now in effect for the preseason and regular season.

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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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2 thoughts on “Modified sudden death rules for OT

  1. What happens if, on the opening kickoff of OT, the receiving team fumbles the ball, the kicking team picks it up and begins to return it, and then they fumble it back to the receiving team? Does that then allow the receiving team to win it on a single field goal?

    Scenarios like this are why this new format stinks.

  2. Once a team turns over the ball, the modified sudden death is completely off the table. Standard OT rules in that case. A double-fumble play does not matter that the receivers ended the play retaining possession. It is considered a new possession of the ball when they get the ball back, even if it happens in the same play.

    The rule is that you have to have the “opportunity to possess,” so if the opening kickoff is a successful onside kick, the other team can still lose without touching the ball.

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