From the Basement | NFL’s overtime rules must change

Jude Papillion, Sports Editor

Fans and football pundits are still mad about the Super League.

At the end of the AFC divisional round game between the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs last month, the captains from both teams headed to midfield for the overtime coin toss. The Chiefs had just driven 44-yards down the field in 13 seconds to tie the game with a 49-yard field goal as time expired. In the fourth quarter alone, the Chiefs converted on an additional field goal and a touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill. Meanwhile, Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen had thrown two touchdowns and successfully attempted a two-point conversion in the quarter. The atmosphere in Arrowhead Stadium was electric.  

However, the Chiefs won the coin toss, drove 75 yards down the field and Mahomes found Travis Kelce in the endzone for a touchdown. That was it. Ballgame. Despite their hot fourth quarter, Allen and the Bills offense never had a chance to win the game. 

According to the NFL’s overtime procedures, “Both teams must have the opportunity to possess the ball once during the extra period, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown on its initial possession, in which case it is the winner.” 

Some might argue the team that starts the overtime period on defense has the responsibility of stopping the other team from scoring a touchdown to give their offense a shot at winning. But in today’s NFL with an increasingly heavy emphasis on offense, defenses face a tall task when trying to stop high-powered offenses in a shootout. 

This overtime rule creates a problem, particularly in high stakes postseason games. Since the NFL last changed its overtime rules in 2010, the team that won the overtime coin toss has won in 10 of 12 instances. Seven of these wins came in first possession touchdowns.

Despite beating Buffalo, the Chiefs are no fan of the NFL’s rules. They lost the coin toss to New England in the 2019 AFC Championship and Tom Brady led the Patriots on a 75-yard touchdown drive to crush Kansas City’s chances at a Super Bowl berth. The Chiefs were red hot in the fourth quarter of that matchup, scoring 24 points to overcome a 17-7 deficit before the fateful coin toss. 

In order to give teams a fair chance at winning, the NFL must modify its sudden-death overtime format to ensure both teams receive possession. If Team A scores on the opening drive and Team B fails to match their score on the ensuing possession, the game is over, and vice versa. If both teams are still tied after they each had possession once, overtime should revert to sudden death, and the first team that scores first should win.

Another idea would be to take a page out of the NCAA’s football rule book, which calls for teams to attempt two-point conversions following touchdowns after each team has possessed the ball twice in overtime. 

Modifying sudden-death is the only equitable way to determine a winner based on how good a team is on both sides of the ball. This change would also prevent teams with talented offenses but less capable defenses from being snubbed out of a potential championship without their offense seeing the field. It’s the playoffs for crying out loud – a 50-50-coin toss should not contribute to any team’s season ending.  

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