The NFL has tweaked its overtime rules over the past few seasons, with the latest adjustment coming for the 2022 playoffs.
Enacted in March 2022, the rule came in response to last year’s instant classic in the divisional round between the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs. In that game, an eventual 42-36 Bills loss, Buffalo and quarterback Josh Allen didn’t have a chance to possess the ball, despite a frenetic end to regulation in which both teams combined for 25 points over the final two minutes of play.
The rule change, a modified version of the proposal made by the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles, was adopted at the 2022 annual meetings in Palm Beach, Florida.
Overtime in the regular season was not affected.
Here’s how the revised overtime rules for the 2022 playoffs will work.
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How does overtime work in the NFL playoffs?
The format will be quite similar to what fans are used to in the regular season, with two significant exceptions: both teams will have the chance to possess the ball and games cannot end in a draw.
There will be a three-minute intermission after the end of regulation, leading to a coin toss at midfield just like the one at the start of games, where the visiting team captain makes the call. The winning team can either choose to receive or kick the ball, choose to defend a particular goal post or postpone the decision. Unlike the regular season, if the receiving team first scores a touchdown on their first possession, the game will continue and the other team will have the chance to possess the ball. If the game remains tied after the other team’s possession ends, sudden-death rules apply, where any score can win the game.
What happens if the game remains tied after one overtime?
If the game is still tied at the end of the first overtime period, or if the second team’s initial possession still has not ended, the teams will play another period. Thereafter, play will continue until an eventual winner is determined, regardless of how many overtime periods are required.
There will be a two-minute break between each overtime period, but there will be no break at the end of the second overtime period. The timing rules that apply to the second and fourth quarters of regular season games — such as two-minute warnings and clock stops when players run off the field — will also apply in the second and fourth overtime periods.
If there is no winner at the end of a fourth overtime period, another coin toss will take place and the game will be restarted.
Why did the NFL make the change?
The playoffs remain the showcase of the NFL season, and extending tied games so both offenses can have the ball is a calculated move that should only add intrigue and value to fans watching games.
Since 2010, when the NFL implemented its previous standard for playoff games, seven of the 12 overtime games have been won on an opening possession, and 10 of 12 have been won by the team that won the coin toss.
“That data was compelling to us and the league,” Falcons president and competition committee chairman Rich McKay said in March 2022. “An amendment was added (to the original proposal by the Colts and Eagles) not to make a change in the regular season , but in the postseason, where our problem mainly lies.”
Contributor: Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz