The New NFL Playoff Overtime Rules, Explained

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This past January, NFL fans were treated to not only one of the best football games of the 2021-2022 NFL season, but also one of the best sporting events of the entire year. In the AFC Divisional Round, the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills thrilled fans in a back-and-forth affair. Josh Allen and the Bills scored a go-ahead touchdown with just 13 seconds left in regulation, but that was enough time for Patrick Mahomes to put Kansas City within field goal range to force overtime.

Despite the exciting end of regulation time, the end of extra time left many fans uneasy.

Kansas City won the coin toss and ran down the field against an exhausted Bills defense, scoring a touchdown to advance to the AFC Championship Game. Under current overtime rules, all Allen and the Bills’ offense could do was watch.

In the weeks that followed, as fans clamored for a different overtime format, the NFL listened. Eventually, the league owners approved a revised overtime format, guaranteeing that each team would have one possession in overtime.

The format was approved by a vote of 29-3.

Beginning with the 2022-2023 season, all playoff games that advance to overtime will follow these revised rules:

  • If a game is tied at the end of regulation time, the referee will toss a coin to determine which team will possess the ball first in overtime. The captain of the visiting team will announce the draw.
  • Both teams will have the opportunity to possess the ball. This is the big change. Previously, as we saw in the 2022 AFC Divisional Round game between Kansas City and Buffalo, if the team that started with the ball scored a touchdown, the game was over. Under the new rules, in that scenario, Buffalo would have a chance to tie it with a touchdown of their own, and if they did, the game would continue. Once both teams have possession, the game becomes sudden death. Also, if the team that starts with possession scores and kicks the extra point to take a seven-point lead, the second team can win with a touchdown and two-point conversion.
  • If the score is still tied at the end of an overtime period, or if the second team’s opening possession is still in progress, the teams will play another overtime period. Play will continue regardless of how many overtime periods it takes to determine a winner.
  • There will be a two-minute intermission between each extra time. There will be no halftime intermission after the second period.
  • If the game is still tied after two overtime periods, there will be a second half. The captain who lost the first coin toss in extra time will choose to either possess the ball or select the goal that his team will defend, unless the team that won the toss defers that choice.
  • Each team has three timeouts during a half.
  • The same time rules that apply at the end of the second and fourth regulation periods also apply at the end of the second or fourth overtime period.
  • If there is still no winner at the end of a fourth overtime period, there will be a third coin toss and play will continue until a winner is declared.
  • There are no instant replay trainer challenges; all reviews will be initiated by the replay officer.

These adjustments could lead to some interesting strategic decisions for managers. For example, the teams that win the first coin toss may choose to defer. As we see with college football overtime rules, since you’re guaranteed possession, it makes sense to start on defense, so you know exactly what you need to score on offense to win or to extend the game.

Also, the two-point conversion opportunity is another strategic point to monitor. Will the teams that score first go for two to force the second team’s hand? That seems unlikely, because in the case of a failed two-point attempt, the second team would only need a touchdown and an extra point to win.

Speaking of that second team, will the second-scoring teams choose to go for a two-point conversion to win, or will they settle for an extra point and risk sudden death?

You can only imagine that if, or when, we see an overtime game under this new format, these scenarios will be discussed at length.

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