Overtime’s squeaky wheel: Is it time for a change?

Is this the best way to decide a football game?


Overtime rules are a little like zoning laws – none of us cares about them until we’re directly affected.

That’s why it’s only this week that you’re seeing Twitter aflame in righteous indignation over the hideous injustice of an NFL overtime system that allows for sudden death if a touchdown is scored on the opening possession.

And ordinarily, I couldn’t care less. The rules are the rules. Deal with it.

But I had to admit, after watching one of the greatest NFL playoff games ever, that I felt cheated by the overtime finish to the Chiefs-Bills game. It was clear, after watching 24 points scored in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter, that whoever won the coin toss was going to win the game. And for once, that just didn’t seem right.

Make a stop, you say. And ordinarily I’d agree with you. But neither of these defenses had a prayer against these two quarterbacks on this night. Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen are the two best young quarterbacks in the game and they were both at their best. Neither was going to be denied.

And so I found myself, for once, agreeing with those who screamed: Both of them should have had a chance to at least get their hands on the ball in overtime.

The problem is how to do it.

Just play another quarter, some say. But that seems a bit much, in this era of CTE and exploding Achilles tendons. And the way this game went, it might not have solved anything. And what then?

Use the college model, others say. But starting each possession at the 25 in the NFL seems like a recipe for early-morning football. Those 74-72 college games are awesome, in part, because they are rare. They’d be decidedly less so in the NFL.

Others suggest that the coin toss is the real issue, proposing alternate solutions such as awarding the ball to the team with home-field advantage or utilizing the XFL’s loose-ball scramble to determine possession, as though we were still on a playground in the fifth grade.

But the use of a coin isn’t the problem – it’s the structure of the playoff itself.  

The most straight-forward solution seems to be to simply guarantee both teams get one possession. If the score is still tied after those initial possessions, it goes to sudden death.

Of course, you’d still have complaints that the game was “decided by a coin toss,” but you wouldn’t have to worry about one team never getting to touch the ball.

In a case like Chiefs-Bills, however, what you’d likely end up with is a 2-point conversion play for the win. If the team that gets the ball first in OT scores a touchdown and kicks the extra point, the opponent in such a game – where the defenses aren’t stopping much of anything – would be wise to go for 2 if they score on their possession and try to end the game before it goes to sudden death. In this scenario, you’d also likely see teams deferring in overtime, much like in college, in order to know what they’re facing after their opponent’s possession.

In games where the defenses are playing well, it’d still probably be wise to defer.

Kansas City proposed this solution in 2019 after an overtime playoff loss to the Patriots. The owners probably should have listened. It’s not perfect, but it certainly seems better than the current structure.

But then there’s this, from former NFL offensive tackle Jumbo Elliott on Twitter:

“Last word on OT topic. Football is a violent collision sport. Comparing to other sports is silly. Having played 14yrs in the league I assure you many vets are barely holding together. Shot up. Painkillers. Sucking it up. Extending play is a mistake.”

Which brings us back to square one.

It’s easy to see Elliott’s point when considering an entire extra quarter, but simply guaranteeing a possession for both teams would usually mean two extra series – and probably, if teams went for 2 like I think they would, only one.

There is no perfect solution here. The NFL wants to see exciting overtime periods as much as you do. The fact that they adopted the current structure after years of pure sudden death shows the owners aren’t immovable. The Chiefs-Bills game, and our reactions to it, may be enough to bring them back to the table.

Categories: NFL

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