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How to Understand the NFL's New Overtime Rules

In 2010, the National Football League instituted new rules for overtime play, giving both teams a chance to possess the ball at least once. Here's how to understand the NFL's new policies.


  • Step 1: Know that if neither team scores on its initial possession, the game switches to sudden death.
  • Step 2: Is the game tied at the end of 15 minutes of overtime play? If so, a new 15-minute sudden-death period will begin, and play will continue until someone scores, no matter how many 15-minute periods are necessary. Remember: it's the playoffs, and the league needs a winner!
  • FACT: The NFL first established overtime rules in 1974.
  • Step 3: Under the NFL’s new overtime rules, if the first team to receive the football scores a field goal on their initial possession, they'll then kick off to the other team. If that team scores a touchdown, they win automatically; if they kick a field goal, the game goes into sudden death, and the next team to score any points wins.
  • TIP: This is the only scenario in which only 1 team gets possession.
  • TIP: According to the 2010 rule change, the NFL's new overtime rules only apply to playoff games, not the regular season.
  • Step 4: See who gets the football first during overtime; if that team scores a touchdown on their initial possession, they win automatically and the game is over.
  • Step 5: Watch for a tie at the end of regulation play. If this occurs, teams will participate in a coin toss to decide which squad gets first possession during overtime.

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