The NFL will have a new overtime format beginning this coming season, but only for postseason games. Team owners voted at Tuesday’s annual league meeting to ratify a proposal to guarantee each team at least one overtime possession in postseason games that are tied after regulation.
“I like that we’re trying to figure it out,” Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll said earlier Tuesday. “I like that we’re continuing to progress to figure: Is there a better way to do this thing? I would like to see both teams have an equal shot . . .. And it doesn’t feel like that when you go right down the field and score . . .. I still think it should be as balanced as it can be.”
Two overtime-related proposals had been discussed by owners, general managers, coaches, league officials and members of the NFL’s rulemaking competition committee here in recent days. The proposal that was approved was made by the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles. It guarantees each team at least one overtime possession. If the game remains tied after that, the next team to score would win. The exact voting result was not immediately clear. A proposal must be approved by at least 24 of the 32 teams to be enacted.
The Tennessee Titans had proposed requiring a team to get a two-point conversion as well as a touchdown to prevail on the opening possession of overtime.
“I think the largest component in the discussion is searching to be traditional and not alter the structure of it in any way but at the same time make circumstances competitively fair for both teams,” Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said Monday. “And so that’s where the discussions are going to be. We’ve got a couple of proposals on the floor, and I’m sure we’re going to talk through them in great detail.”
Under the format that remains in effect for the regular season, a team can win a game with a touchdown on the opening possession of overtime. If a team gets a field goal on the opening possession, its opponent gets a possession with a chance to tie the score—and prolong the game—with a field goal or win with a touchdown.
Both proposals originally covered regular season and postseason games, but there was sentiment all along for making the change for postseason games only.
The debate over the NFL’s overtime rules was renewed when the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Buffalo Bills with a touchdown on the opening possession of overtime in a highly entertaining divisional-round playoff matchup. That game featured a memorable quarterback duel between the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Bills’ Josh Allen, but Allen never left the sideline in overtime.
The following weekend, the Chiefs lost the AFC championship game to the Cincinnati Bengals despite having the ball first in overtime. That bolstered the argument from some that no change to the format is needed—the team that doesn’t have the ball first in overtime simply needs to play better defense.
The Chiefs-Bills outcome was enough, as it turned out, to prompt a change just three years after the owners considered modifying overtime but opted against it.
The owners have never seemed to favor a college-style format with teams alternating possessions from a certain yard line, considering that too gimmicky. But those in the sport also don’t want to see games essentially decided by an overtime coin flip determining the opening possession.
Since 2010, when the current overtime format was implemented for the postseason, seven of the 12 postseason overtime games have been won with an opening-possession touchdown, and 10 have been won by the team that won the overtime coin toss.
The advantage has been less pronounced during the regular season. The current overtime rules were applied to regular season games beginning in 2012. Since then, the team that won the overtime coin toss has won exactly half of the games—76 of 152. Both teams had at least one possession in overtime in 124 games, or 82 percent.