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NFL Overtime Rules Explained

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: A view of the coin toss prior to Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Super Bowl LII - Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots | Rob Carr/Getty Images

Perhaps nothing in the world is more confusing than the NFL rulebook.

Since the NFL added an overtime period in 1974, 574 regular season games have been decided using the extra period. The rules for overtime have been changed numerous times over the years, however, and fans are often confused by each additional tweak.

The owners last changed the rules in 2017. Time to get up to speed.

Overtime Rules in NFL Regular Season

At the end of regulation, a coin toss will determine which team will possess the ball first. There will be one 10-minute period of play in overtime. Each team gets two timeouts, and all replay reviews will be initiated by the designated booth official.

Both teams must possess the ball at least once; the only exception to this rule is when the first team to control the ball scores a touchdown. In this situation, there is no need for a PAT and the game is over. Anything less than a touchdown on the opening overtime drive, including a field goal, will allow the opposing team to have a possession.

If both teams have controlled the ball once the game is still tied, "sudden death" rules will subsequently apply. Any type of scoring, like a safety, field goal or touchdown, will end the game immediately in favor of the scoring team.

If the score is still tied at the end of the overtime period, the result of the game will be recorded as a tie.

Overtime Rules in NFL Playoffs

To further add to fans' confusion, overtime in the postseason is different than in the regular season. The rules must change because a playoff game cannot end in a tie.

If the first 10-minute overtime period ends tied, there will be another 10-minute period. Teams will play however many of these periods are needed until the deadlock is broken.

Between every 10-minute period will be a two-minute intermission period. There will be no special halftime intermission after the second period. Every two periods is considered a "half" with respect to other related rules.

Teams will get three timeouts per half. The rules regarding possession at the end of the second and fourth quarters in regulation apply to the second and fourth overtime periods.

Possession at the beginning of the first and third overtime periods will be determined by the coin toss at the end of regulation. If there is no winner at the end of four overtime periods, another coin toss will take place. Play will continue until a team scores and therefore wins.

Most Overtime Games in NFL Season

The record for most overtime games played in an NFL season is 25 during the 2002 campaign. There were 23 such games the very next year.