NFL overtime rules explained: Possession, scoring, timeouts, more

Carson Wentz and Joe Burrow

Everyone loves a last-minute drive down the field to win the game. But when an NFL game ends in a tie, the rules of overtime can be confusing and contentious, especially when a spot in the next round of the playoffs is on the line. Here’s everything you need to know about NFL overtime ahead of the 2021 season:

How long is NFL overtime?

As of 2017, regular-season NFL games that are tied at the end of regulation only have one overtime period of 10 minutes. 

In the playoffs, an overtime period is 15 minutes instead of 10. Because a postseason game requires one team to win, multiple 15-minute overtime periods are played if needed until one team scores to win the game.

When does NFL overtime end?

If the first team to possess the ball in overtime scores a touchdown, the game is over -- without the second team even having an opportunity on offense. 

This gives the team that wins the coin toss a huge advantage. Teams that have come out on the losing end of this proposition, like the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2019 AFC Championship, have suggested various rule changes, to no avail so far.


While the rule that a touchdown ends the game is unpopular, it used to be even worse: The game would end if the team that won the coin toss scored a field goal, too. 

As of 2012, if the first team doesn’t score a touchdown, the second team gets possession and the opportunity to end the game.

Here are all the different options depending on who scored what in the first two possessions:

  • If Team 1 had a touchdown, Team 1 wins.
  • If Team 1 had a field goal, and Team 2 had a field goal, the next score wins it.
  • If Team 1 had a field goal or safety, and Team 2 had a touchdown, Team 2 wins. 
  • If Team 1 had a field goal, and Team 2 didn’t score, Team 1 wins. 
  • If Team 1 didn’t score, the next score of any kind wins it.

In the regular season, the game ends in a tie if no one has won by the end of the 10 minutes.

What other rules apply in NFL overtimes?

Each team receives two timeouts during a regular-season overtime and three timeouts in a postseason overtime. 

If the game ends on a touchdown, the extra point is not attempted.

Coaches are not allowed to challenge instant replay calls during overtime. The replay official is the only one who can call for an instant replay review.

The full list of rules for overtime are available here.

How common are ties in the NFL?

Most of the time, the overtime rules lead to one team securing the win. Since the overtime period was shortened in 2017, only four regular-season games have ended in ties, most recently last season when the Cincinnati Bengals visited the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3.