The NFL’s overtime rules have received some serious criticism in the past weeks, including many unhappy fans demanding for a rule book change. While there have been many requests as of late, the overtime rules have seen various changes in the past decade, including several proposals for a new format.
History of the NFL Overtime Rules
In 2010, the NFL changed their overtime rules for the playoffs so that the team with possession of the ball first would have to score a touchdown to end the game. Previously, if the team who won the overtime coin toss had scored a field goal, the game would have ended.
Proposed by Rich McKay and the NFL’s competition committee, this new rule was passed at an overwhelming 28-4 vote. Prior to the rule, teams that won the overtime coin toss won 60% of the games and per ESPN, former Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian said, “once you saw the statistics, it became obvious we had to do something.” In 2012, the same rule was implemented into the regular season well.
In 2017, the NFL’s competition committee decided to reduce the overtime period from 15 minutes to 10 minutes in an effort to highlight player safety.
In 2019, the controversial aspect of this new rule was born as the Kansas City Chiefs proposed a change to the rule after a devastating overtime loss to QB Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. QB Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense did not even see the ball in overtime as Brady’s Patriots won the coin toss and proceeded to score a touchdown on their opening drive.
The Chiefs proposed a rule allowing each team to possess the ball at least once on offense, despite the outcome of the opposing team’s opening drive. Their proposal also suggested that the overtime coin toss would be eliminated by allowing the winner of the pre-game coin toss to decide who would start with the ball in overtime.
When asked about their rule proposal, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach argued, “I don’t really see a downside of having that, especially when you have a player like Pat Mahomes. It would have been a lot of fun.” Unfortunately for Kansas City, their proposal was denied.
In 2020, the Philadelphia Eagles proposed an interesting rule change which was centered around fan engagement and competitive equity. They also argued that their proposal would “minimize the impact of the overtime coin toss.” Here is what the Eagles’ proposal stated:
“At the end of regulation playing time, whichever team has scored more touchdowns during regulation will have the same options as a team that wins the pregame coin toss. If the teams have scored an equal number of touchdowns, the Referee shall immediately toss a coin at the center of the field, in accordance with rules pertaining to a usual pregame toss. The visiting team captain is to again call the toss” (Credit: Jacob Camenker- The Sporting News).
Essentially, the Eagles proposed that the better offensive team during regulation should possess the ball first in overtime. The Eagles felt that by relying on something related to the actual game like statistics, the outcome of overtime would not lie in the hands of a coin. However, this proposal did not exactly create a solution to the problem of the coin toss as it also states that if both teams scored an equal number of touchdowns in regulation, a coin toss would be required for overtime. Predictably, this proposal was denied by the NFL and did not even reach the voting process.
Finally, in 2021, both the Ravens and Eagles came together to propose what is easily my favorite idea if the NFL decides to implement new overtime rules. Their joint concept actually included the coin toss and they simply expanded on the significance of winning the coin toss. Here was the proposal:
The winner of the overtime coin toss could choose one of two things: either choose to begin on offense or defense or choose where the ball will be spotted to begin overtime. I will now refer to two different teams in a hypothetical scenario as “Team A” and “Team B” to explain the remainder of this proposal.
So, if Team A wins the toss and elects to receive, Team B could spot the ball on the 1-yard line and Team A would have to drive 99 yards and score a touchdown to end the game. Additionally, if Team A wins the toss and elects to spot the ball on the 10 or 15-yard line, Team B would have a tough decision on their hands whether to begin on offense or defense.
This idea would require some savvy strategy considering the result of the coin toss does not play as much of a role in the outcome of the game, as both choices seem to be equally beneficial. This concept seems to be a great way of minimizing the impact of the coin toss, while preserving a sudden-death overtime format.
Ravens HC John Harbaugh argued, “”While it’s really intriguing and fun, there’s a lot to it strategically. It’s a very simple concept… Easy to understand, I think, once you get your arms around it. It’s a lot fewer lines in the rule book, I can tell you that.”
Harbaugh makes a great point here that although the rule seems confusing, not only is it simple in concept for the fans but it requires extreme strategy at the same time for the players and coaches.
Rich McKay praised Harbaugh as he stated, “”That was an out-of-the-box idea… I thought Baltimore did a really nice job in explaining it. I think ideas like that take a long time to marinate and understand… I’ve been around rules before that didn’t have a lot of support over the years and all of a sudden passed. I think it’s good they brought it up.”
Why the NFL should NOT change the rules
Aside from Harbaugh’s idea, which I think has a great concept to it and preserves both the coin toss and sudden-death, the NFL should not listen to any of these proposals suggesting that “the overtime coin flip decides the outcome of the game.”
Do we not value defense at all anymore?
While Commissioner Roger Goodell will likely be influenced by the overwhelming complaints from the Bills vs. Chiefs AFC Divisional game, I do not believe it is right to be a prisoner of the moment. Any change he decides to make would suggest a lack of credibility for the defensive side of the ball in professional football.
Every NFL fan outside of Kansas City, Missouri was calling for a change in the rulebook after QB Patrick Mahomes threw a walk-off touchdown pass to TE Travis Kelce (ironically taking advantage of the rule that sent them home in 2019). What these ungrateful NFL fans fail to acknowledge is that in regulation, the Bills defense had 13 seconds to stop Mahomes and the Chiefs from scoring a field goal in which they began said drive on their own 25-yard line.
Whether it be poor play-calling from the coaches or poor execution on behalf of the players, the NFL Gods decided to send that sorry defense back out on the field to begin overtime. With their backs against the wall and their season on the line, that defense laid an egg and failed to give QB Josh Allen a chance at the end zone.
So, how valiant or “manly” is it to blame the game on a coin toss when your defense is given a chance to save and possibly win the game? Now, if the Bills defense had stopped the Chiefs and QB Josh Allen put K Tyler Bass in position to win the game with a field goal, would we still hear all of this commotion?
A near identical reality to this hypothetical scenario took place just one week later in the Bengals vs. Chiefs AFC Championship Game. Like the Divisional round, the Chiefs won the coin toss and elected to receive, but the result was not the same. The Bengals forced two incompletions and then an interception on 3rd down to put the ball in the hands of QB Joe Burrow who put K Evan McPherson in field goals range as they won a thriller in overtime.
Ultimately, by comparing the two most recent playoff games which both went to overtime, there were two very different outcomes with one notable common denominator. Interestingly enough, while the coin toss was very much in effect and decided that the same Kansas City Chiefs offense would start with the ball in both games, the Chiefs did not win both games.
So in other words, you are allowed to play defense. 😊