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It’s Time for the NFL to Change Its Overtime Rules

The current NFL overtime rules are depriving teams, and fans, from having a fair shake in the extra period. It’s time for change.

Arrowhead Stadium by IAHilltopper is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It’s Time for the NFL to Change Its Overtime Rules


Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Last night’s AFC Divisional game between the Chiefs and Bills was one of the best football games I’ve watched in a long time. An all-timer of a playoff game, with three lead changes in the final two minutes. Flawless execution by both Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, especially when the money was on the table.

Then the game went to overtime. And you sort of knew the Chiefs were going won the toss. And when they did, you knew it was over.

Just like you knew it was over when the Patriots won the coin toss in overtime of Super Bowl 51. Just like you knew it was over when the Patriots won the coin toss in overtime of the 2018 AFC Championship game in Kansas City.

In those games, and last night, NFL fans were deprived the satisfying ending that they served. That both teams deserved. That those great games deserved.

Why should a touchdown end the game?

Is that the benchmark that determines if a win is convincing enough? No.

A touchdown is more points than a field goal, but are they more important points? If we’re going to let both teams have possession, there should be no caveats. Otherwise, just go back to first score wins.

In some games, a touchdown is a near impossibility. Muddy, gritty, slogs of a game where it’s 3-3 heading into overtime. The team that wins the toss can win with a touchdown, but that’s not much of an advantage is it? 

In other games, like last night, when the teams combined for 25 points in the final 1:52, scoring a touchdown is too easy. Win the toss, drive down the field, game’s over. With the defenses gassed and the offenses flying, you know whichever team wins the toss is scoring a touchdown.

Unfair for the teams, unsatisfying for the fans.

The NFL moved to these new rules in 2010 to offset the advantage that the team who won the overtime coin toss received. It was too easy to get into field goal range and the team who won the toss was just kicking a field goal without the other team getting a chance to possess the ball.

No kidding. Patrick Mahomes got his team in field goal range in 13 seconds.

I’ve got news for you, NFL. It’s become pretty easy to score a touchdown too. It’s no longer a viable measuring stick for when a team has earned the right to walk off with a victory.

No other sport of the Big 4 has a caveat that prevents one team from having an offensive opportunity in overtime.

Outside of hockey, there are no “golden goals” or a “walk-off shots,” even if the shot is a three-pointer and not a layup.  Baseball doesn’t say “both teams get a chance to bat in extra innings, unless the first team hits a grand slam, in which case the game is over.”

European football, of course, plays the full 30 minutes, even if a team scores three goals in extra time. And it’s much harder to score a goal in soccer than to score a touchdown in football.

I Say “Forget the Turns”

Do what every other sport does – just one play one normal extra period. When it’s over, it’s over.

Keep it at 10 minutes instead of 15 if you want, but play it like a normal fourth quarter. If one team can possess the ball for ten minutes and then score, fine – the other team doesn’t touch it. But if the teams still want to go up and down the field, we should be treated to an overtime as good as the final two minutes of last night’s game.

Overtime is a Total Reset

It essentially starts a new game. No matter how many chances either team has had throughout the game, no matter what craziness has occurred or what magic needed to be conjured to tie the game.

If you get your team to the end of regulation tied, you have earned a blank slate for yourself.

That’s what overtime is (or should be). One, glorious, winner-take-all ten minute football game. And you wouldn’t play a game of football with only one team getting to possess the ball. 

Craig has spent the last ten years as a sports information professional, working for several schools across New England at the Division 3 level. A native of Peabody, Mass., Craig is a life-long Boston sports fan. He is also an avid player of fantasy football and baseball, and commissioner of the AKA Family Fantasy Football League. Like most other Turf team members, Craig has a penchant for theater, spending his high school and college years as a set designer, sound designer and theater shop worker. He became a father shortly before the coronavirus pandemic, and as such, hasn't really left his home since last December.

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