NFL games are a great time to bring friends and family together.
Since they tend to last some time, it’s an ideal opportunity to hang out and socialize.
If you’re planning an NFL party or intend to see the game in the stadium, then you may wonder how long you need to plan for.
Here’s what you need to know about how long NFL games last.
How Long Is An NFL Game?
The average NFL game lasts three hours and 20 minutes.
Without commercials, timeouts, or any other breaks, an NFL game should last for 60 minutes.
Commercials, timeouts, and overtime are some of the reasons the games last longer than 60 minutes.
There are several reasons NFL games last as long as they do even though each quarter is only supposed to run for a certain amount of time.
The key to understanding why NFL games last a long time is knowing what stops the game clock.
Certain situations stop the game clock which means the time of the game pauses.
It’s like pausing a video game or a movie.
All the actual action stops and waits for you to resume the game or movie.
The same goes for an NFL game.
Once the situation clears and the players return to the line of scrimmage, the game clock resumes.
Several situations can pause the game clock and make an NFL game last longer than it would normally.
What Stops The Game Clock?
To determine why an NFL game lasts longer than it should, which is 60 minutes, it’s helpful to know the circumstances which can stop the game clock.
Here are some of the situations and reasons behind stopping the game clock.
Perhaps the biggest culprit behind stopping the game clock and extending game time is timeouts.
Each team has three timeouts that they can use per half.
This means that both teams get three timeouts in the first half and three timeouts in the second half.
When a coach calls for a timeout, it stops the game clock for 60 seconds.
Sometimes, a coach may use a timeout as an opportunity to bring his players in and give them some new plays to try.
They may have noticed something on the field and want to make their players aware of it.
Sometimes, a coach will call a timeout to help disrupt the other team’s focus.
For example, if a team is blazing down the field, then a coach might call for a timeout to cool them down.
It gives their team a chance to regroup and prepare for a better defense against their opponent.
Finally, coaches will also use timeouts to delay the game on purpose.
It gives the players a chance to rest, regroup, and quickly think of a new strategy.
If the team is behind in points, then pausing the game and extending it gives them a better chance to score at least a touchdown or field goal to either tie things up or just inch ahead of the other team.
By using timeouts wisely, coaches and teams can set the game up in their favor.
However, it also means that the game becomes longer to watch.
2. Commercial Timeouts
Coaches aren’t the only ones who can call for a timeout.
There are both random and obligatory timeouts for networks to run ads.
The obligatory timeouts occur at the two-minute mark in each half.
The NFL implemented this for a few reasons.
For one, it adds suspense and drama.
It’s at the two-minute mark that the tension really builds.
At that point, teams determine whether they can squeeze out a win or put some significant distance between them and their opponents.
Leaving the field forces the audience, especially those at home, to sit back and wonder what’s going to happen.
It makes the game just a bit more exciting.
Another reason for the mandatory timeouts is the running of commercials.
The NFL brings in a lot of money for networks through ads.
Since a lot of people watch the game at home as they’re unable to attend in person, they’re also earning the network money by watching ads.
By taking commercial breaks, the network earns a hefty payday.
Besides the two-minute mark, there is a mandatory commercial timeout at the end of the first and third quarters.
There are 20 mandatory commercial breaks throughout an NFL game.
While those described above occur at those moments, others can occur at any time.
In most cases, the network chooses to show ads during a team’s timeout, during injuries, when teams set up for punts or field goals, or when the ball gets passed to the other team for the next offensive attempts.
If it seems like the last half of the game has more ads than the previous half, then there’s probably some truth to it.
Some networks will hold off on playing all their ads until there’s an opportune moment.
If there were fewer opportune moments than they expected there to be, then they suddenly have several ad breaks that they need to cram into the second half.
Ads can run as long as a minute to several minutes.
Since there are 20 of these breaks, it easily adds anywhere from 20 minutes to 100 minutes to the total game time.
Commercial breaks pause the game clock which makes NFL games last longer.
3. Instant Replays
A third thing that stops the game clock and makes the game last longer is instant replays.
Coaches have two challenges per half that they can use to ask the referees to check a play.
It’s a bit of a gamble for coaches because if the referee doesn’t call in favor of their challenge, then they lose a timeout.
However, if the referee does call in favor of their challenge, then the challenge acts as a bonus timeout.
This is to help keep coaches from calling challenges on every single play.
They have to use them strategically to ensure they don’t lose one of their timeouts.
Instant replays can pause the game clock for any amount of time.
It all depends on how long it takes for the referees to review the play and come to a decision.
Sometimes, it’s easy to tell when someone is breaking the rule.
Other times, it’s a bit more complex and some bias might creep into the ruling.
The longer it takes the referees to come to a decision, the longer the game remains paused.
If both coaches use their challenges in each half, this could add some substantial time to a game.
It also helps increase the drama and tension.
What Causes NFL Games To Last So Long?
Besides stopping the game clock, there are also several other reasons NFL games last as long as they do.
Here are a few reasons NFL games last a long time.
1. Previous Game Delays
When you’re a fan of a team, it’s easy to forget that there are also other games being played on the same day that your team is playing.
If your team has a later kickoff time, then there’s a chance that the game might last longer because of delays in the game that’s played before it.
For example, if your team has a kickoff time at 7:30 PM, then there’s likely another game playing on the same network before it.
Since the network doesn’t want to miss out on ads or upset its viewers by missing the beginning of the game, they have to tell the 7:30 game to delay the start of the game.
This might happen when the previous game ends up running longer.
As an example, there are two games that a network is showing on the same day.
Game A starts at 3:00 PM and Game B starts at 7:30 PM.
If something happens in Game A that delays it and makes it last longer than it should, then it means that Game A is creeping into Game B’s time slot.
As such, the network will tell the franchise to delay Game B’s start time until Game A finishes.
Once Game A finishes, then Game B can begin.
Usually, this type of delay lasts anywhere from a few minutes to even 20 minutes.
It all depends on how many delays the previous game had that extended its game time.
Meanwhile, people who are waiting to watch the game have to wait even longer which makes the game last even longer.
Delays that occur in previous games can cause the game you want to watch last longer.
2. Player Injuries
Another reason games sometimes last longer than they’re scheduled for is because of injuries.
Football is a heavy-contact sport.
There are always going to be injuries.
When one occurs, the game clock stops, and medics rush to the field to take care of the player.
Sometimes, the delay is quick.
The player just needs a little help getting to the sidelines.
Other times, the delay is a lot longer.
The medic may find that the player is unable to leave the field under their own power.
A stretcher then arrives and a team of medics helps the player onto it.
They then carry the player off the field.
There are usually a few moments after this while teams put themselves back together and the game resumes.
Depending on how physical the game is, there could be quite a few injuries that occur during a game.
If that’s the case, then you might notice that the game lasts longer than it normally would otherwise.
3. Replays And Reviews
Another thing that makes the game last longer is when referees need to review a play or look at a replay.
The NFL has tried to make the review process a bit more streamlined, but the very nature of it adds time to the game.
Referees have to rewind the game camera to the area that they want to look at.
They’ll often look at the play from several different angles.
Then they’ll confer with one another and announce their call.
If a coach wants to challenge the call and ask for another review, then they can.
This adds even more time to the game since the referees then have to do everything again.
It’s difficult to determine how many reviews you can expect in a game since it depends on the wariness of the referees and the craftiness of the teams.
You can usually always expect a handful, however, which means the game is going to last longer than it should.
The biggest culprit behind a long game is half-time.
On its own, an NFL game only lasts 60 minutes.
When you add half-time, that easily adds anywhere from 15 minutes to a half-hour to the game.
Big games, like the Super Bowl, have a huge half-time show that lasts at least 30 minutes.
While this is fun for fans at the stadium, it usually means that those stuck at home are watching ads during that time.
Except for the Super Bowl, most viewers don’t get to watch the half-time show of regular games.
They’re stuck with a block of ads and in-studio commentary until half-time is over and the game resumes.
For those at home, this can make a game feel as though it’s lasting even longer than it actually is.
Networks try to squeeze as many ads as they can during half-time, too.
Thanks to half-time, NFL games last a long time.
5. Delay Of Game Penalty
While the game clock keeps track of the amount of time left before the game ends, there’s another important clock at work.
The play clock keeps track of the amount of time that a team has before they need to move the ball.
Both the offensive and defensive teams can get a delay of game penalty.
A penalty occurs when the ball is not moved in play in 40 seconds.
For offensive teams, this means that they need to snap the ball within 40 seconds.
For defensive teams, a penalty occurs when a player prevents the offensive team from being able to snap the ball.
An example might be that they block an offensive player from being able to join the line of scrimmage in time.
The penalty for running the play clock down to zero without snapping the ball or preventing an offensive player from joining the line of scrimmage is adding five yards.
For offensive teams, this means that they move back five yards.
They now have an even greater distance to get a first down.
For defensive teams, they also move back five yards.
This makes it easier for the offensive team to get a first down and make their way to the end zone.
The play clock makes the game last longer, however, because it usually gives the offensive team 40 seconds to prepare the play.
Some teams will take their time to slow the game clock down and give themselves more time to score more points.
Others will do it to wind down the clock and give the other team less time with the ball in which to score points.
However they use, the play clock makes a game last longer.
If both teams end up with a tie at the end of the game, then the game goes into overtime.
This adds another 10 minutes to the game clock although it doesn’t necessarily mean that the game is going to last another 10 minutes.
Rather, it means that both teams have 10 minutes in which to score a touchdown.
The NFL uses one sudden-death overtime.
This means that the first team that scores a touchdown is the winner.
That’s why determining who gets to go first during overtime is so important.
If that team is unable to get a touchdown during their turn, then the ball passes to the other team per usual.
They then have a chance to score a touchdown in the remaining time.
If neither team can score a touchdown before the 10 minutes are over, then the NFL declares a tie.
Overtime can be an exciting time for fans, but it means the game will last a lot longer than normal.
The network will likely also try to squeeze in a few more commercials, too, so the game will drag on even longer.
Overtime makes NFL games last for a long time.