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New NFL Playoff Overtime Rules Begin Today

Change made after Chiefs overtime win against the Bills last postseason

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Playoffs begin today and so do the new playoff overtime rules.

As Vikings fans may remember, the previous overtime rule, allowing both teams to possess the ball if the receiving team doesn’t score a touchdown on their opening overtime drive, resulted from the infamous Vikings-Saints NFC Championship game in 2009.

After the Bills-Chiefs playoff game last season, a high-scoring barnburner won by the Chiefs after winning the coin toss and scoring a touchdown on their first drive, the NFL made another change allowing both teams to possess the ball in overtime, with the only exception being if there is a safety on the first drive. Here is a breakdown of the now current NFL playoff overtime rules, per NFL Football Operations:

  • Each team will have an opportunity to possess the ball in overtime. The one exception is if the opening drive results in a safety, in which case the game would end.
  • If the score is still tied at the end of an overtime period — or if the second team’s initial possession has not ended — the teams will play another overtime period. Play will continue regardless of how many overtime periods are needed for a winner to be determined.
  • The captain who lost the first overtime coin toss will either choose to possess the ball or select which goal his team will defend, unless the team that won the coin toss deferred that choice.
  • Overtime periods are 15 minutes (not ten minutes like in regular season overtime)
  • Each team gets three timeouts during a half. (Two 15-miniute overtime periods)
  • The same timing rules that apply at the end of the second and fourth regulation periods also apply at the end of a second or fourth overtime period. (i.e. two-minute warning)
  • If there is still no winner at the end of a fourth overtime period, there will be another coin toss, and play will continue until a winner is declared.

Other rules from regular season overtime games not addressed above also apply:

  • At the end of regulation, the referee will toss a coin to determine which team will possess the ball first in overtime. The visiting team captain will call the toss.
  • There are no instant replay coach’s challenges; all reviews will be initiated by the replay official.
  • Once both teams have possessed the ball, it’s sudden death and the game will end on a score that doesn’t result in a tie (the second team to possess the ball could score but that result could be a tie game, so the game continues).

New Rules will Affect Overtime Strategy

With the new overtime rules guaranteeing both teams a possession, that is likely to change team overtime strategy. In particular, the team that wins the coin toss in overtime may now likely choose to kickoff, rather than choose to receive the ball as has happened automatically in overtime games in the past.

The rationale behind choosing to kickoff rather than receive is that the team that won the coin toss will know the result of the opening drive- whether punt, field goal, touchdown or turnover. Defensive scores on the first drive still end the game, but if that doesn’t happen, the team that won the coin toss will know what its offense needs to do to win (or tie)- whether a field goal, touchdown and extra point, or touchdown and 2-point conversion.

Additionally, given that both teams are guaranteed a possession (absent a safety), a team may choose to kickoff hoping for a defensive stop that gives their offense better starting field position than they would have receiving a kickoff.

So, if the Vikings end up in another close game in the playoffs that goes to overtime, don’t be surprised if they kick off after winning the toss.


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