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The NFL Needs To Change Its Overtime Format. Here Are Some Ideas.

Today, social and sports media are abuzz with topics such as the three last-second field goals in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs, the futures of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, Ryan Tannehill’s season-ending interception, the Packers’ woes on special teams, Andy Reid’s boneheaded play-calling, questions about whether Josh Allen is actually human, and Patrick Mahomes’ 13-second heroics.

Yet even with all these juicy issues, the NFL’s overtime rules are still the lead story.

The Chiefs defeated the Bills in overtime after winning the coin toss. Because Kansas City scored a touchdown on the first drive, Buffalo never touched the ball in OT. Remember, the Chiefs had not stopped Josh Allen for nearly 30 straight minutes of regulation. So had the Bills won the coin toss, Allen would have likely scored once again and sent the Chiefs home. A 50-50 coin toss decided the outcome of a pivotal playoff game.

Even Chiefs coach Andy Reid, the beneficiary of the overtime format last night, shunned the rules on Monday.

“It was great for us last night, but is it great for the game?” Reid wondered.

When an NFL rule rears its head in the season’s waning moments the league often goes into the offseason considering a change. The pass interference rule change after the 2018 NFC Championship Game is yet another recent example. Ergo, I suspect the NFL will revisit its overtime format after the Super Bowl.

Until 2010, teams could win a playoff game in overtime by scoring a field goal on the opening drive, as the Saints did to win the 2009 NFC Championship Game. In response, the NFL changed its overtime rules to the current format just months later.

The NFL’s current overtime rules are as follows:

If the team that gets the ball first and scores a touchdown, it wins. If the defense forces a safety, the team with the ball loses. If neither a touchdown nor safety occurs, the game becomes sudden death.

The league has several options to consider — all of which are perhaps flawed but probably better than the current iteration.

— The NFL could guarantee that each team has at least one possession, though that still benefits the team that wins the coin toss since they could then win the game on their second possession.

— The NFL could also make overtime a full quarter, and whichever team has the highest score after the additional 15 minutes wins the game. However, an extra full quarter increases the chances of injuries. To address that concern, the NFL could adopt this rule only for the playoffs and leave the regular season as is.

— Of course, there’s the college overtime format. A goofy red zone back-and-forth that’s fun but also undermines the rest of the game.

— Finally, the Ravens proposed another format last season, which the league rejected. Perhaps it’s worth revisiting.

ESPN explained so-called the “Spot and Choose” proposal:

“At the result of the coin toss, one team spots the ball on the field for the start of an overtime period (which begins from there without a kickoff). Then, the other team chooses whether to start on offense or defense from that spot. The overtime proceeds as either sudden death or a timed period (7 minutes, 30 seconds) to determine the winner.

Think Divide and Choose, a children’s game in which one kid breaks a cookie into two pieces and the other gets to choose which piece to take. 

Whatever else happens, we can expect the NFL to look at several options before the start of next season. The league knows it can’t continue to have coin tosses decide championships and legacies.

But which format should it choose? Let us know in the comments below:

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers media, politics, and sports at OutKick.

11 Comments

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  1. Each team is guaranteed ONE offensive possession. Receive a kick-off or a snap from center. After that it’s Sudden Death. Simple. Not some tricked-up MLB “put a runner on 2nd” silliness or the NCAA “go for two” crap. … NEXT QUESTION.

  2. The Chiefs lost to the Patriots in AFC champ via the same overtime rule just 3 years ago. They complained, the league / teams said “nah we’re not changing it”.
    So, maybe it’s all gonna even out. Except for the Pats, who also beat the Falcons this way.

  3. Give each team a chance to play offense. Let’s say the team that wins the coin toss scores a TD and kicks the extra point. Then the other team scores a TD. They can either kick the extra point or go for 2. If they kick the extra point, then the game becomes sudden death. If the first team winds up scoring again, the second team can’t complain because they had the opportunity to go for 2. I think this is the best solution because it brings all sorts of strategy into the decision-making.

  4. Keep the existing format for regular season. Full quarter for first overtime, kickoff and new time outs. If still tied move to the existing format for second overtime period. Most years it won’t be an issue, but for games like last night it would only make great games better.

  5. I gotta credit my wife (a 100% Roll Tide gal!)…

    She called it the “Anti-NFL Overtime”; You better have a defense and a run-game.

    Overtime consists of a coin toss where the winner chooses offense or defense.
    Ball is placed 20 yards from the goal line.
    Each team gets and equal number of possessions.
    10 yards = 1st down
    Crossing the goal line = 1pt.
    No field goals, PAT’s or 2-pt conversions.
    Winner is determined by who has the most points at the end of the rotation.
    No passing allowed, run plays only. Any forward pass results in a turnover.

    Football 101

  6. Modify the college proposal where the team that wins the coin toss (Team A) gets the ball at their own 25 or 40 yard line. If Team A reaches 4th down, then they can’t punt or attempt a field goal, they have to go for it. If Team A fails to convert on 4th down, then Team B takes over at the previous spot. THEN, the game becomes sudden death, however, Team B can’t attempt a field goal until fourth down if they take over from Team A.

  7. The last change was good. No sudden death first possession FG to end it. TD or safety wins it. I think the rules are fine as is, especially for regular season. Yes, unlucky for the Bills but play some fuggin defense. We don’t need to redesign the wheel but if they have to make a changes here’s what they should do:

    – Safety still ends the game
    – Keep sudden death after first possession FG (so coin flip still has some value)
    – If first possessing team scores a TD, 2nd team has to score and go for 2 (no PAT)
    – If the first possessing teams scores a TD and converts a 2pt conversion, game is over
    – If the first possessing team scores a TD and misses a 2pt conversion, other team can kick a PAT to win

    Boom. Solved.

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