Can An American Football Game End In A Draw / Tie?

american football gameAmerican football, a beloved and thrilling sport that captivates millions of fans, is known for its intensity, strategy and dramatic moments. Whilst many games are decided by narrow margins, the possibility of a draw, though rare, exists in certain circumstances.

If you’re thinking of having a flutter on an American football game, it is handy to know the overtime rules, the scenarios in which ties can occur and the implications of draws, especially during play-off games. On top of that, it is worth exploring how betting factors into the potential for draws in American football games.

Whereas football as most British people understand it often sees draws play out, American audiences don’t tend to like sports that have the possibility of not reaching a conclusion. When ‘soccer’ played in the United States of America in the 1990s, for example, the MLS introduced shootouts to put an end to the possibility of draws. It is little surprise, therefore, that the sports that are fully American already work hard to avoid there being no conclusion at the end of a game. They can happen, though, so it’s worth having a look at how and when they might occur.

Overtime Rules & The Potential For Draws

commerorative american football for the longest ncaa game
PCN02WPS, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Unlike some other sports, American football does not allow for a drawn game during regular season play. A regulation game consists of four quarters, each lasting 15 minutes ( or 12 minutes in high school and college games). If the scores are level at the end of the fourth quarter, overtime periods come into play. During overtime, the game follows a unique set of rules. Each team has a chance to possess the ball and score, starting at the opponent’s 25-yard line. If one team scores a touchdown or a safety whilst the other fails to score at all, the game ends and the scoring team emerges as the winner.

However, if both teams score an equal number of points, the overtime period concludes and the game is officially recorded as a tie. This isn’t something that happens all that often, but that isn’t the same as saying that it doesn’t happen at all. The entire reason for overtime is to stop the draw from dominating matches, but there does have to be some sort of time limit put in place in order to stop it from going on forever.

The fact that the game has gone into overtime at all means that the sides taking part in it are quite evenly matched, so it’s not outrageous to suggest that they might fail to find an outcome in overtime.

The Rarity Of Tied Games

double result in american football market showing high odds of a tie
Note the high odds of a tied result

Tied games in American football are exceedingly rare. The introduction of overtime in 1974 by the National Football League drastically reduced the likelihood of draws.

Overtime rules vary across different levels of the sport, but the essence remains the same, which is to produce a definitive result. Because of that, tied games have become increasingly uncommon, contributing to the excitement and unpredictability of the sport. To give you a sense of just how rare it is, however, it is worth looking at the fact. Since the introduction of overtime until October 2022, just 28 regular season games have ended in a tie.

The overtime rules have been changed twice since their first introduction. At the start of the 2017 season, for example, the period of time used for overtime was reduced from 15 minutes, which is the length of time for a quarter in normal play, down to ten minutes. Ahead of the 2022 campaign, another change was brought in. This time, both teams were assured of the fact that they would get at least a single possession of the play during the overtime period. With two changes in five years, it is impossible to rule out further alterations in the coming years, although they look unlikely.

The Exception: Play-Off Games

exception to the rulesWhilst tied games in the regular season are rare, the intensity of play-off games and the high stakes involved create the potential for extended drama. In the NFL play-offs, if the score is tied at the end of the fourth quarter, additional 15-minute overtime periods are played until a winner is determined. This format ensures that play-off games produce a decisive result, no matter how many overtimes are required. Play-off games with multiple overtimes are a spectacle, testing the resilience and endurance of the players. Each possession becomes a critical moment and the pressure to make game-changing plays amplifies with every passing minute.

If more than one overtime period is needed, which isn’t out of the realms of the possible, then there will be a two minute gap between them. There is no half-time intermission during play-off overtimes, whilst the two teams will be given three time-outs apiece during the play. Should there still be no winner at the end of the fourth overtime period, another coin toss takes place to decide which team will start with possession and the play will simply keep on going until a winner can be found. That is how much Americans hate draws or the possibility of a replay further down the line.

Betting & The Impact Of Draws

american football handicap betting market including tie

The possibility of a tie game has significant implications, particularly in the context of betting on American football matches. Sportsbooks and betting platforms offer various wagering options, such as moneyline bets, point spread bets and Over/Under wagers. Most of these bet types are determined based on the result at the end of the fourth quarter.

As such, if the game ends in a tie after overtime, some bets may result in a draw. For example, if a bettor places a moneyline bet on a team to win outright and the game ends in a tie after the regulation four quarters, the bet will be settled as a push.

This means that neither the bettor nor the sportsbook wins or loses and the wagered amount is refunded to the bettor. Given the fact that it happens so rarely, you’d have to be considered extremely unlucky to see your bet treated as a push by the company you’re placing your wager with.

That being said, it is important to know why it is that it is happened, should you find yourself in a position where your stake money has been returned to you and you’re not sure why. The best thing to do is to have a look at whether it was a draw at the end of the fourth quarter and went to overtime.