NFL Challenge Rules


Referees aren’t perfect and often important plays can be misjudged. This is why the coach’s challenge exists to prevent bad calls from ruining a game’s outcome. NFL head coaches are allowed a limited number of challenges that they must ration throughout the game. This is why calling a challenge is not only a matter of if it’s the wrong call but if the wrong call is important enough to warrant a challenge. Many playoff NFL games and a few Super Bowls have seen their outcomes be decided by a challenge. Here is how a challenge works and the rules for a challenge.

How many challenges does an NFL team have?

NFL challenge rules allow for two challenges for each team during a game. A third challenge can be awarded to a team only if they are successful in both of their previous challenges. If one or both of those challenges is denied, then the team does not get a third challenge. In college football, coaches get one challenge per game with a second in play if the first is successful.

What is the Replay official?

The Replay official is the official at the stadium who communicates with the Art McNally Gameday Central in New York. They verify the game clock, assist the on-field officials with rule applications, count the number of players on the field and confirm all scoring plays. They are not on the field and instead sit in a specialized booth above the field. At the two minute warning, they are responsible for reviewing all controversial plays,

What is the NFL Challenge Flag?

NFL challenge rules state that the only person who can issue a challenge is the head coach of the team. The head coach does this with a special red flag that he keeps with him throughout the game. The head coach signals that he wants to challenge a play by throwing the red flag onto the field of play. When the officials see the red flag, they blow the whistle and stop the clock. This must be done before the next snap. If the ball is snapped, then a challenge cannot be made. If the challenge is done before the snap, then the next play will be put on hold until a verdict is reached.

What Can Be Challenged in the NFL?

Not every play can be challenged with an instant replay review. Teams cannot contest a penalty call, like pass interference, even if the blown call is obvious. Most reviewable plays involve the possession of the ball, whether a player is down or the spot of the ball on the line of scrimmage in relation to the first down. Since the number of challenges is limited, head coaches usually save their challenges for critical times during a game. A turnover or third down conversion can determine the winner of a game. Often the act of getting into the end zone is challenged whether by catch or if a running back crossed the goal line.

What is the NFL Challenge Procedure

When a challenge flag is thrown, the referee goes to the sidelines and watches replays of the challenged play on a monitor. The referee can watch all the angles that the television cameras captured. He can watch the play in slow motion, backward, forward and in a still frame. NFL challenge rules state that the referee has one minute to review the challenged play, but this sometimes takes longer. The referee must see "indisputable visual evidence" that the call on the field was incorrect. In cases where the replay is too close to tell, the call on the field stands.

Challenge Eligibility

According to NFL challenge rules, a team can only issue a challenge if it has a remaining time out. If the team does not have any more time outs, then it does not matter that the head coach still has a challenge. If a team has run out of timeouts in the first half, they can save their challenges for the second half, when they get more timeouts. A team needs a timeout to call a challenge because the team is penalized a timeout if its challenge is unsuccessful. If the challenge is successful, then the timeout remains for future use. Within the last two minutes of both halves, reviews can only be decided by the replay booth in New York. Every touchdown, fumble, and interception within that time is automatically reviewed.

What are the Overtime challenge rules?

In the Overtime period, all challenges must be initiated by the replay official. Coaches challenges are nullified regardless of timeouts and remaining timeouts. This is why many NFL coaches will use their challenges before the two minute warning of the second half.

How successful are NFL coaches with their challenges?

The success rate of a coach's challenge varies depending on the coach. Rams head coach Sean McVay is 12 for 30 all time with coach’s challenges, while Colts head coach Frank Reich is 10 for 23. Even all time great Patriots HC Bill Belichick has a 51 for 127 record in regular season challenges. Seattle Seahawks HC Pete Carroll is regarded as one of the best with the challenge flag but sits at a 49 for 107 mark. The point is challenging plays is hard and its not expected to win every one of them.