Can NFL Games End In A Tie? (Find Out Here)

Editorial credit: Jai Agnish /

This past February my American friends invited me around to watch the Super Bowl with them. To get a basic idea of NFL football I looked up the scoring system on my phone. My first question to my friends as the game started was what would happen if the game ended in a tie. They started laughing and told me that there is always a winner in the Super Bowl. So I set about finding out whether games can ever be tied in the NFL. This is what I discovered.

Regular season NFL games have less than a 0.5% chance of ending in a tie since the introduction of overtime rules. 10 minutes of overtime is added to games that are tied after normal play. During the playoffs and Super Bowl, additional overtime is played to break any tie ensuring a decisive result.

Let’s take a closer look at exactly how the overtime rules are applied to different games in the NFL to ensure as many decisive games as possible.

Can NFL Games End In A Tie

It is mathematically possible for NFL games to be able to end in a tie. However, thanks to the overtime rule tied games very rarely happen in practice. In fact, since the overtime rule was introduced in 1974 there have been only 28 regular season games that have been tied.

The way this works is that if the score is tied at the end of regular time then an overtime period of 10 minutes is added to the game. For playoff games, the overtime period is extended to 15 minutes which is usually enough to decide the outcome of the game in favor of one of the teams.

What Happens If An NFL Game Ends In A Tie?

Over the years the overtime rules have been changed twice since they were first introduced. The most recent of these was at the start of the 2017 season. During regular season games, if the game is tied at the end of the normal regulation play there will be a single overtime period of 10 minutes. Should the game still be tied at the end of the 10-minute overtime period, the game will be called a tie.

During the playoffs, the overtime rule for tied games is slightly different. In this instance, an overtime period of 15 minutes is played instead of 10. In the very rare instance that the playoff game remains tied at the end of the 15-minute period of overtime, an additional 15 minutes of overtime is played.

Although the most recent change to the overtime rule did not reduce the number of tied games in the NFL to less than an average of one per year, it did reduce total game time by 5 minutes. Cutting the time on the field was done to reduce the injury risk to the players.

How Often Have There Been Ties In NFL Games?

As I mentioned earlier it is mathematically possible for a game to be tied in the NFL. However, during the 3 iterations of the overtime rules that have been instituted, the number of ties has been reduced to an almost insignificant number. Overtime was first introduced in 1974. The second version of the overtime rule was brought in for the start of the 2012 season. The third and most recent iteration of the overtime rule was instituted at the start of the 2017 season.

In total 28 tied games have been played since overtime was first introduced in 1974. During the period from 1974 to the end of the 2011 season, there were a total of 17 ties under the original overtime rules.

Overtime rules changed at the start of the 2012 season and over the five-year period from the beginning of the 2012 season to the end of the 2016 season, there were only five tied games which comes out that’s an average of 1 per season.

The overtime rules with a game changed at the beginning of the 2017 season, reducing the period of overtime from 15 minutes to 10 minutes for regular season games in the interest of player safety. There were only 6 ties in regular season games over the succeeding 5 year period to the end of the 2021 season. While this is only a marginally higher rate of tied games than under the preceding 15-minute overtime rule, shortening game play by 5 minutes has reduced the incidence of concussion-related injuries.

How Statistically Common Are Ties In NFL?

To give you a really clear picture of exactly how uncommon ties are in the NFL let’s look at the numbers. From the beginning of the 2017 season to the end of the 2021 season is a period of 5 years under which the new 10 minutes overtime rule has been applied.

We already know that the NFL has 272 games per season, excluding pre-season and playoffs. If we extrapolate that over the five-year period we see that a total of 1360 regular season games were played.

At the end of regular time, only 71 of those games were tied which means that those 71 games all went into 10 minutes of overtime.

By the end of the 10-minute overtime, only six of those games remained tied. This means that over a five-year period the F NFL had 1354 games with a decisive result and only 6th ties. That makes it a fairly insignificant statistic when look when you look at an NFL season as a whole.

Can NFL Playoff Game End In A Tie?

The nature of the NFL playoffs is that there has to be a winner at the end of each and every single game to be able to progress through to the next round.  as I mentioned earlier regular season NFL games have an overtime period of 10 minutes at the end of regular play in the case of there being a tie.

In order to ensure that the is a decisive result at the end of each playoff game, the NFL has extended the overtime period from 10 minutes to 15 minutes in playoff games as from the 2017 season.

As we’ve already seen that is a very small percentage chance that the game could still end in a tie at the end of the overtime period. In order to compensate for this highly unlikely scenario but the NFL of them is that they have established that if the first period of overtime ends in a tie then they shall be a second 15-minute period of overtime.

Can A Super Bowl End In A Tie?

In the same way that playoff games cannot end in a tie, the very nature of the Superbowl indicates that there needs to be a winner. Only one team can lift the trophy each season.

The Super Bowl has the same overtime rules as the playoffs. If the scores are tied at the end of regulation play then there shall be 15 minutes of overtime. In the unlikely event that the scores are still tied at the end of 15 minutes of overtime, they play an additional 15 minutes of overtime.

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