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NFL Playoff Overtime Latest Rules 2023

31st January 2024

When an NFL game is granted a rare extra session, the excitement of the contest reaches a new level. The scoreboard: a cruel mirror reflecting the agonizing symmetry of a tie. The gridiron ecstasy is the crucible of NFL overtime, a stage where the fate of a game hinges on a knife’s edge, and the rules, though nuanced, hold the key to victory or defeat.

Whether you’re a seasoned football fanatic or a curious newcomer, navigating the complexities of overtime can be daunting. Fear not, for this post will serve as your compass, guiding you through the labyrinth of regulations and unwritten narratives that govern this most thrilling yet controversial chapter of the NFL.

But overtime isn’t just about Xs and Os; it’s about heart. It’s about witnessing the resilience of a defense that bends but doesn’t break, the heroics of a quarterback leading a last-ditch drive, and the electrifying energy of a stadium on the precipice of pandemonium.

First, let’s dispel the myth that overtime is sudden death. 

While a single score can seal the deal, in most cases, both teams get to strut their stuff on offense. But the dance of possession is far from a simple back-and-forth. The seemingly innocuous coin toss holds the weight of fate, granting one team the initial advantage of starting with the ball. From there, the playbook unfolds, a delicate blend of strategy, execution, and a touch of luck. Sudden Death was the old way of extending tied at the end of regulation NFL contests. The new NFL Overtime Rules is one way for the regular season and a bit different in the postseason.

Regular Season: How does NFL overtime work?

The revised regular-season overtime rule retains the 10 minutes but guarantees each team at least one possession unless the opening drive culminates in a touchdown. If the team that takes the ball first crosses the goal line, it is game over and that squad wins. No score or a field goal on the first offensive series in OT makes the game continue on. After that first mele of offense by each team, if the score is still tied the “sudden death” element returns.  

This seemingly minor tweak carries significant implications. Proponents hail it as a win for fairness, ensuring both teams have a chance regardless of a coin toss. Detractors, however, argue that no matter what even in the case of the fist team garnering a TD, their opponent should have the opportunity to follow suit. Traditionalist sudden death supporters argue priorities of efficiency over suspense, potentially diminishing the heart-stopping tension of sudden-death finishes.

The safety argument also plays a prominent role. Shorter games translate to less physical exertion, potentially reducing injury risk. However, critics point out that fatigue accumulates over time, particularly for defensive units exposed to repeated drives. Ultimately, the impact on player safety remains to be seen, necessitating further data and analysis.

Postseason: Parity of the NFL Playoff Overtime Rules

The postseason rules undergo a more dramatic transformation. Gone is the first touchdown win mantra of the regular season OT rules and, in its place, the guarantee of at least one possession for each team, regardless of initial scoring. This significant shift prioritizes fairness, ensuring both offenses have a chance to showcase their firepower.

But what about the drama? Will extended overtime dilute the electrifying tension of sudden death? Fans accustomed to nail-biting finishes might initially lament the change. However, the potential for extended back-and-forth battles could create its brand of excitement, showcasing offensive prowess and defensive resilience over multiple drives.

The Reasons for Change

The recent wave of revisions to the NFL Overtime Rules is a culmination of frustrated fans from recently played games. Sudden Death seemed like a cheap fix to an otherwise exciting back-and-forth slugfest, and it was a deflating sequence when a kicker of the team that won the OT coin flip and would win on the leg of their kicker without the other having a chance to answer the bell.

13 Seconds: Echoes of Heartbreak in the “Mahomes vs. Allen Epic

2021 AFC Divisional playoff game

2021 Kansas City Chiefs Rosters, Stats, Schedule, Team Draftees, Injury Reports

Record: 12-5-0, 1st in AFC West Division  (Schedule and Results)

Coach: Andy Reid (12-5-0)

Points For: 480 (28.2/g) 4th of 32

Points Against: 364 (21.4/g) 8th of 32

Expected W-L: 11.2-5.8

SRS: 7.38 (5th of 32),  SOS: .56

Won Wild Card 42-21 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Won Divisional Round 42-36 vs. Buffalo Bills
Lost Conference Championship 24-27 vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Offensive Coordinator: Eric Bieniemy

Defensive Coordinator: Steve Spagnuolo

Other Notable Asst.: Ken Flajole (Outside Linebackers) and Mike Kafka (Quarterbacks/PGC)

Stadium: GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium

Chairman/CEO: Clark Hunt

General Manager: Brett Veach

Offensive Scheme: West Coast

Defensive Alignment: 4-3

Preseason Odds: Super Bowl +450; O/U: 12.5

Training Camp: Missouri Western State (St. Joseph, Missouri)

2021 Buffalo Bills Rosters, Stats, Schedule, Team Draftees, Injury Reports

Record: 11-6-0, 1st in AFC East Division  (Schedule and Results)

Coach: Sean McDermott (11-6-0)

Points For: 483 (28.4/g) 3rd of 32

Points Against: 289 (17.0/g) 1st of 32

Expected W-L: 13.1-3.9

SRS: 9.83 (2nd of 32),  SOS: -1.59

Won Wild Card 47-17 vs. New England Patriots
Lost Divisional Round 36-42 vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Offensive Coordinator: Brian Daboll

Defensive Coordinator: Leslie Frazier

Other Notable Asst.: Bob Babich (Linebackers), Rob Boras (Tight Ends), Ken Dorsey (Quarterbacks/PGC) and Eric Washington (Defensive Line)

Stadium: Highmark Stadium

Owner/President: Kim Pegula

Owner/CEO: Terry Pegula

General Manager: Brandon Beane

Offensive Scheme: Erhardt-Perkins

Defensive Alignment: 4-3

Preseason Odds: Super Bowl +1100; O/U: 11.5

Training Camp: ADPRO Sports Training Center (Orchard Park, New York)

The 2021 AFC Divisional playoff game of the Buffalo Bills visiting the Kansas City Chiefs is the main culprit of change, at least for the NFL Playoff Overtime Rules fixes.

The 2021 AFC Divisional Round matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs wasn’t just a playoff game; it was an epic duel etched in football lore. A symphony of offensive fireworks, quarterback heroics, and a gut-wrenching finish, all condensed into 63 minutes that left fans breathless and some with hearts shattered. This thriller had four lead changes and 25 points scored in the final two minutes of the regularly allotted time. Yet, the final 13 seconds of the Fourth Quarter hold a special place in NFL history, forever branded as the “Mahomes vs. Allen Epic” and “13 Seconds” for the legendary narrative they weave.

Josh Allen, the Bills’ gunslinger, had carved his name on the scoreboard with four touchdown passes, defying gravity and logic with his athleticism. Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs’ maestro, countered with laser throws and Houdini-esque escapes, orchestrating his own three-touchdown masterpiece. It was a back-and-forth ballet of offensive brilliance, leaving the Bills up on the score with a 36-33 lead as the clock held only thirteen ticks remaining.

Those 13 seconds seemed like a safe bet for Buffalo’s victory, but they have been a few seconds too many. A Chiefs drive fueled by Mahomes’ magic marched 44-yards to allow KC Kicker Harrison Butker to nail a 49-yard boot through the uprights to send the game into OT.

In the extra session, the home team Chiefs, won the coin toss and marched down the field again, scoring a TD to end the battle without a single possession by the Bills in overtime.

Almost Repeated the Same Day

2021 Los Angeles Rams Rosters, Stats, Schedule, Team Draftees, Injury Reports

Record: 12-5-0, 1st in NFC West Division  (Schedule and Results)

Coach: Sean McVay (12-5-0)

Points For: 460 (27.1/g) 7th of 32

Points Against: 372 (21.9/g) 15th of 32

Expected W-L: 10.6-6.4

SRS: 5.29 (6th of 32),  SOS: .11

Won Wild Card 34-11 vs. Arizona Cardinals
Won Divisional Round 30-27 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Won Conference Championship 20-17 vs. San Francisco 49ers
Won Super Bowl 23-20 vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Offensive Coordinator: Kevin O’Connell

Defensive Coordinator: Raheem Morris

Other Notable Asst.: Thomas Brown (Asst. HC/Running Backs), Ejiro Evero (Def. Passing Game Coordinator/Secondary) and Wes Phillips (Tight Ends/Passing Game Coordinator)

Stadium: SoFi Stadium

Owner/Chairman: Stan Kroenke

General Manager: Les Snead

Offensive Scheme: West Coast

Defensive Alignment: 3-4

Preseason Odds: Super Bowl +1200; O/U: 10.5

Training Camp: University of California-Irvine (Irvine, California)

2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rosters, Stats, Schedule, Team Draftees, Injury Reports

Record: 13-4-0, 1st in NFC South Division  (Schedule and Results)

Coach: Bruce Arians (13-4-0)

Points For: 511 (30.1/g) 2nd of 32

Points Against: 353 (20.8/g) 5th of 32

Expected W-L: 12.0-5.0

SRS: 8.56 (3rd of 32),  SOS: -0.74

Won Wild Card 31-15 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Lost Divisional Round 27-30 vs. Los Angeles Rams

Offensive Coordinator: Byron Leftwich

Defensive Coordinator: Todd Bowles

Other Notable Asst.: Mike Caldwell (Inside Linebackers), Clyde Christensen (Quarterbacks), Larry Foote (Outside Linebackers), Harold Goodwin (Asst. Head Coach/RGC), Tom Moore (Offensive Consultant) and Kacy Rodgers (Defensive Line)

Stadium: Raymond James Stadium

Co-Chairman: Bryan Glazer (Joel Glazer & Edward Glazer also listed)

General Manager: Jason Licht

Offensive Scheme: Air Coryell

Defensive Alignment: 3-4

Preseason Odds: Super Bowl +700; O/U: 12.0

Training Camp: AdventHealth Training Center (Tampa, Florida)

Just hours later, the NFC Divisional Playoff between the Champion Tampa Bay Bucs and the LA Rams almost went down similarly. Tom Brady and his Tampa mates erased a 27-3 Rams lead to tie the game with 42 seconds left. The Rams, on the arm of Matthew Stafford and the soft hands of Cooper Cupp, positioned themselves for a Rams game-winning FG as time expired. Had this game gone to overtime and a victory arose from the first possession of the extra session, it would have been an NFL fandom meltdown. 


So, while the NFL Overtime Rules have expanded and adapted to the sport’s progression, the change is dynamic and hopefully reviewed each year by the NFL Competition Committee to keep the game as exciting of a fair and level playing field for both teams as possible. Let’s hope we get to enjoy more OT in the future, as it extends the game we love, and also hope that it provides equal footing and opportunity for the participants.

How does the NFL Overtime Work?

At the end of regulation, if the score is tied, there is a short break, and then the team captains are called to the center of the field for yet another coin toss. The winner gets the choice of kick, receive, or direction they want to go in the extra session. In the regular season, if the team that gains possession first scores a TD, they win, but if they kick a field goal or do not score at all, then the opposition gets a chance on offense. A defensive score ends the game. After that, the first score wins, and if no one does or FGs are traded on the first mele, the contest ends as a tie in the regular season after time expires. If it is a post-season game, they play off in extra sessions till someone scores and a winner is established.

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