The overtime rules for the postseason aren't nearly as difficult as so many announcers and analysts want you to think they are. In fact, they are so simple that even Donovan McNabb could understand them.... well barring that he knew that games could actually go into overtime this time.
The playoffs feature a slightly different take on overtime than the preseason or regular season does. The first thing that makes sense when you think about it is that postseason games can't end in a tie. So no matter how many overtime periods the teams have to go through, the game keeps going until it ends.
You'll likely remember that the Baltimore Ravens saw a second overtime period against the Denver Broncos back in the 2012 playoffs, better known as the "Mile High Miracle." The Ravens would tie the game on a Joe Flacco pass to wide receiver Jacoby Jones to enter the first overtime. With no scores in the first overtime period, it would enter the second period. The Ravens would end the game with a field goal by then-rookie Justin Tucker to move onto the next round in their eventual Super Bowl winning season.
Much like the regular season overtime rules, it is no longer the first team to score wins. If the opening drive results in a touchdown, then the game is ended. But if the first drive ends in a field goal, the opposing team still has a chance to run their own drive and either tie the game back up with a field goal of their own, or win it by scoring a touchdown. After the first drive is ended with no score, or if both teams put up a field goal to keep it tied, the game then turns into sudden death with the first team to score anything winning.
According to the NFL's own operations site, here are the important rules to note for postseason games:
OVERTIME RULES FOR NFL POSTSEASON GAMES
Unlike preseason and regular season games, postseason games cannot end in a tie, so the overtime rules change slightly for the playoffs.
- 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.
- There will be a two-minute intermission between each overtime period. There will not be a halftime intermission after the second period.
- Another coin toss will be held before the third overtime period. 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.
- Each team gets three timeouts during a half.
- 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.
- 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.
So if the game is tied up, you'll now know what your friends and family next to you probably won't.