clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NFL overtime rules 2018: How does it work?

Overtime periods are now five minutes shorter starting this season.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL changed and updated a mess of rules this spring. Surprisingly enough, overtime was not one of them. The new system they rolled out permanently in 2017 seems to be working okay, so better get used to it.

Here’s how it works.

Starting in the 2017 season, overtime periods are now just 10 minutes long, compared to the normal 15-minute quarters in regulation. The main reason for this, at least according to the competition committee, was to reduce game times for the players’ safety.

Two games ended in ties in 2016, under the old rules, but there were no ties last year.

Shorter overtimes are a little easier on players too.

"First of all, the number of plays that these guys play, then take that to the next week, is really a competitive disadvantage,” said Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. “Guys get worn out. It's hard to recover from one week to the next.”

The system isn’t tie-proof though. When the rule was changed there was concern that we might see even more ties, with the shorter period leading to fewer scoring opportunities. There’s also a chance, however slight, that the team that wins the coin toss simply squats on the ball for almost the entire 10 minutes before kicking a field goal. But that’s only an extreme theoretical.

Other than shortening the period, the overtime rules are the same as they’ve been in recent years:

  • Teams can only win on the first possession if they score a touchdown — a field goal, punt, or turnover gives the other team a chance to score.
  • If the score is still tied after one possession apiece, then we go into sudden-death rules.
  • If nobody is able to score when the period runs out, then the game ends in a tie.

In 2016, the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks tied 6-6, and a London game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington ended in a 27-27 score.

The rules are about the same in the playoffs, except we go into a second period and beyond until there is a winner. Just like in the regular season, playoff overtime periods will be 10 minutes long. Of course, the New England Patriots didn’t need 10 minutes to finish their miracle comeback against the Atlanta FalconsJames White scored the game-winning touchdown on the opening possession to cap off the first overtime period in Super Bowl history.