What Does an NFL Tie Game Mean to a Team’s Chances to Reach the Super Bowl?

What Does an NFL Tie Game Mean to a Team’s Chances to Reach the Super Bowl?

In the NFL, ties leave players and fans alike with a sense of ambivalence. Not as good as a win but better than a loss. Maybe. You just don’t know until the season plays out.

On Week 1 of the 2022 season, the underdog Houston Texans tied the Indianapolis Colts, 20-20, after blowing a 17-point lead in regulation. Colts kicker Rodrigo Blankenship missed a potential game-winning 42-yard field goal in overtime.

After the missed field goal, the Texans failed to go for the gusto on fourth-and-3 at the Indianapolis 49-yard line with less than a minute to go in OT and instead punted inside the Colts’ 10-yard line, which essentially sealed the tie.

At least in Texas sports betting, the tie should not have cost anyone money since wagering has not been legalized in the state.

Overtime was introduced in the NFL for regular-season games in 1974. Since that season, 28 games have gone into OT and still wound up deadlocked. The fate of teams who have experienced the weirdness of ties has been a mixed bag.

Using Pro Football Reference, we looked at ties since the NFL implemented overtime in 1974. What are the chances for more than one tie this season? The most ties in any season since 1974 has been two, done in 1986, 1997, 2016 and 2018, so there’s a 10.5% chance of two ties happening in any given season. 

Four teams with a tie during the season since 1974 have reached the Super Bowl, with one winning.

Steelers Won Super Bowl After Tie During Season

One of the teams to play in the first OT tie game was Pittsburgh (35-35 with Denver on Sept. 22, 1974), and those Steelers went on to win Super Bowl IX against Minnesota, 16-6.

Since then, no team who finished with a tie during the regular season has won the Super Bowl, although three made it to the championship game and lost.

The 1976 Vikings and 1987 Broncos finished with tie games when the overtimes were still being decided in sudden-death formats, before losing in the Super Bowl. And after 2012 (when regular-season OT rules were modified), the 2012 San Francisco 49ers lost in the Super Bowl to Baltimore, 34-31, when the Brothers Harbaugh, the Ravens’ John and 49ers’ Jim, faced off as head coaches. 

Ties Since 2012 & Where Teams Finished Season

DateScoreTeams’ Season RecordsPostseason
Nov. 11, 2012 49ers 24, Rams 24 49ers 11-4-1; Rams 7-8-1 49ers Lost Super Bowl
Nov. 24, 2013 Vikings 26, Packers 26 Vikings 5-10-1; Packers 8-7-1 Packers lost Wild-Card game
Oct. 12, 2014Bengals 37, Panthers 37 Bengals 10-5-1; Panthers 7-8-1 Bengals lost WC game; Panthers lost Divisional Round game
Oct. 23, 2016 Seahawks 6, Cardinals 6 Seahawks 10-5-1; Cardinals 7-8-1 Seahawks lost Division Round game
Oct. 30, 2016 Redskins 27, Bengals 27 Redskins 8-7-1; Bengals 6-9-1 Neither made playoffs
Sept. 9, 2018 Steelers 21, Browns 21 Steelers 9-6-1; Browns, 7-8-1 Neither made playoffs
Sept. 16, 2018 Vikings 29, Packers 29 Vikings 8-7-1; Packers 6-9-1 Neither made playoffs
Sept. 8, 2019 Lions 27, Cardinals 27 Lions 3-12-1; Cardinals 5-10-1 Neither made playoffs
Sept. 27, 2020 Eagles 23, Bengals 23 Eagles 4-11-1; Bengals 4-11-1 Neither made playoffs
Nov. 14, 2021 Steelers 16, Lions 16 Steelers 9-7-1; Lions, 3-13-1 Steelers lost Wild Card game
Sept. 11, 2022 Texans 20, Colts 20 TBD TBD

OT Rules Modified in 2017

As an aside, the regular-season OT rules were modified again in 2017, and for this season, the OT rules have been modified still again for the post-season — a response to Buffalo’s 42-36 loss to Kansas City in a thrilling but for many fans, unsatisfying Divisional Round playoff game last January.

The last time there was a tie to start the season was 2019, when the Lions and Cards tied, 27-27, on Sept. 8. However, 2022 almost started with two tie games. In addition to Houston-Indianapolis, the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals were also stalled at 20-20 through most of an overtime but the Steelers won that one on a long, late field goal.

Among NFL teams, the Green Bay Packers, at six, have the most ties since 1974.

Before OT Was Adopted in 1974

Prior to 1974, meaning before regular-season overtime was introduced in the NFL, ties were fairly common and Chicago has the record with 42, all before overtime was instituted.

While ties may have a dull, no-count feel to them when they occur, that’s not so true when it comes to figuring out tiebreakers at the end of the season. A tie does count as a half-win and in the calculation of tie-breaking winning percentage, and that .5 of a win can be the difference in either sending a team to the playoffs or keeping it out.

In 2018, the Vikings tied the Green Bay Packers, 29-29, in Game 2 in mid-September. But by the end of the season in late December, the Vikings were in a scramble for an NFC playoff spot. The Vikings finished out of the money at 8-7-1 when they lost their final game at home to Chicago and the Philadelphia Eagles defeated Washington to finish 9-7 and advance.

Meanwhile, the 2014 Carolina Panthers shockingly won the NFC South at 7-8-1 thanks to a tie with the Bengals in Week 6, which saw them finish ahead of the 7-9 New Orleans Saints.

Although Houston gave up the 17-point lead Sunday, there is hope after the Texans' strong 2022 NFL Draft.



Bill Ordine
Senior Journalist

Bill Ordine, senior journalist and columnist for BetTexas.com, was a reporter and editor in news and sports for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Sun for 25 years, and was a lead reporter on a team that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News.

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