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Overtime rules for the NFL playoffs

In the offseason prior to the 2022 season, NFL owners approved a modification to the overtime provisions to essentially give both teams a guaranteed possession in nearly all cases.

The regular season rule remains the same, that overtime is only extended if the first possession of the game ends in a field goal. But postseason will continue past a touchdown as well, and has the ability to go to a second overtime if necessary. Any change of possession will revert the game to standard sudden death overtime. If the possession change is on that second possession with the team trailing, it is the last play of the game, unless the trailing team equalizes the score on that play.

Each overtime period in the postseason is 15 minutes, and both teams have 3 timeouts. After 2 overtime periods, it is a new “half” (with a kickoff) and another set of 3 timeouts.

The overtime scenarios the rules present are interesting in many respects.

If a touchdown is scored on the first possession, the team that was on defense has a chance to tie the game as well. But, if a one-point conversion was scored on the first touchdown of overtime, the second team can go for a two-point conversion and the automatic win. The team that touches the ball second has the advantage of foreknowledge of the scoring plays they can attempt at the end of the drive.

Unlike regular season overtime, postseason overtime can continue into a 2nd overtime if the second possession provided for in the rules has not completed (or hasn’t yet started).

Unusual situations

These unusual situations pertain to overtime in the regular season and postseason.

If the overtime period begins with a successful onside kick, the receiving team is deemed to have had the opportunity to possess the ball, and will not get a retaliatory possession after a score.

If a safety is scored, it always ends the game. If the defense scores the safety on the first possession, it has locked a win. If there is an unusual situation where a trailing team scores a safety while on offense (requires a change of possession on the play), the safety will not provide enough points to win the game.

If there is a double change of possession on the trailing team’s possession, they must at least tie the game on that play. Since it is not a continuation of that team’s possession, the game ends on that play. Anything short of a score on that double change of possession ends the game.

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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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