The NFL is entering its second postseason covered by a separate set of overtime rules, a change we hashed through last year at this time. But because the rules were changed shortly after an NFC North team's overtime loss at the Superdome, and also in acknowledgment that some of us still need to brush up on the particulars, let's review them one more time.
In essence, the NFL likes the sudden-death format of overtime but wants to avoid a playoff game decided by a field goal on the first possession. That's how the New Orleans Saints beat the Minnesota Vikings in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, and the rule guarantees the other team a possession in that scenario. A touchdown on the first possession, a more difficult proposition, would end the game immediately.
For the curious, here are the relevant excerpts from the NFL rule book on how playoff overtime works:
Article 4: For postseason games, following a coin flip and an intermission of no more than three minutes after the end of the regular game, the following shall apply:
(a) Both teams must have the opportunity to possess the ball once during the extra period, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff (Team B) scores a touchdown on its initial possession, in which case it is the winner, or Team A scores a safety on Team B’s initial possession, in which case Team A is the winner.
(b) If the team that possesses the ball first scores a field goal on its initial possession, the other team (Team A) shall have the opportunity to possess the ball. If Team A scores a touchdown on its possession, it is the winner. If the score is tied after Team A’s possession, the team next scoring by any method shall be the winner.
(c) If the score is tied at the end of a 15-minute overtime period, or if Team B’s initial possession has not ended, another overtime period will begin, and play will continue, regardless of how many 15-minute periods are necessary.
(g) The opportunity to possess applies only during kicking plays. A kickoff is the opportunity to possess for the receiving team. If the kicking team legally recovers the kick, the receiving team is considered to have had its opportunity. A punt or field goal that crosses the line of scrimmage and is muffed by the receiving team is considered to be an opportunity to possess for the receiving team. Normal touching rules by the kicking team apply.
(j) All replay reviews will be initiated by the replay official. Coaches’ challenges will not be allowed.