The NFL Deserves a Standing Ovation for Changing Overtime Rules

I'm going to take a little Chiefs' timeout and talk about a subject I've passionately discussed for a few years: the fact that NFL Overtime rules are ridiculously stupid and how the solution for fixing it is so simple. Granted, the Overtime rules today are so bad that saying you can improve it is like saying you could upgrade from Mike Goff at Guard. It's not hard to improve your diet if all you're served is turd sandwiches. The rule hasn't surprised me. What surprises me is that there are so many defenders of the current Overtime. Why?

As a blast of the past, some of you may have followed my work way back when I wrote for AOL's Fanhouse. There, I wrote a long three-piece series on Overtime, why it stinks, and how it could be improved. It seems that Part 1 and Part 3 have been deleted, but Part 2 is still hanging on by a thread. I encourage you to read it, though most of the arguments I'll make in this post will be about the same.


Just as a quick recap, in the new Overtime format, a team cannot win the first possession by kicking a field goal. If they settle for a Field Goal or less, then the second team has the opportunity to tie or win the game. This is a huge step in the right direction. More after the jump.

The numbers have changed slightly since I wrote that original article. Today, 60% of games are won by the winner of the coin toss, with over 30% of teams winning on the first possession. A coin should not decide game outcomes; players should. The first stat is alarming but not surprising, given that with relaxed rules on defensive pass interference, scoring at least a field goal has become significantly easier. The second stat isn't alarming, it's inexcusably lobsided. You're never going to get a perfect overtime system, but when over 30% of games are won without an offense ever touching the ball, to me that's the equivalent of a baseball team losing an extra inning game without being allowed to bat. Even if you fail to score, if you get the ball to the 50 yard line, you can pin the other team within the 10 yard line. Fair? I think not.

And I don't want to hear the idea that any team that can't shut another offense down on the first drive deserves to lose. It's a cop-out excuse for a system that's clearly unfair. Overtimes shouldn't favor defensive powerhouses like the Steelers, nor should it punish offensive powerhouses like the 2003 Chiefs. The pure and simple fact is, the vast majority of the time, offenses score points in Overtime, not defenses. It's hard to think of a single sport where one team's offense doesn't get to even touch the ball in extended play, with the exception of the rare moments when a hockey or soccer player scores on the very first possession. The system is extremely broken and imbalanced.

The new Overtime system reduces the chance that a game will be won on the first possession. But it also adds a whole new fun strategic element to the game. What I've always hated about the current Overtime rules is how boring the strategy is. You flip a coin, you choose to receive, you march the ball downfield, and you play for a field goal. It's no wonder Peter King said that 73% of games are won by field goals.

An Imaginary Scenario: How Overtime Strategy Becomes Fun

Not only does the new Overtime format improve the fairness problem, it also makes Overtime more fun and more dramatic. To prove that point, let's have some fun and play up an imaginary Overtime scenario.

The Chiefs tie the Broncos and the game goes into Overtime. The Chiefs in the 4th quarter started to build offensive momentum and are red hot on offense. The Broncos have been stalling on offense but have played good defense for most of the game. The coin is tossed. Who wins? That's actually really important. If I'm the Chiefs, I would choose to receive the ball, confident that I could score a TD to win the game. If I'm the Broncos, I might actually consider kicking. If I'm confident my defense can shut the other offense down, there is a huge advantage to getting the second possession because you know exactly how many points you need to score to tie or win the game. If you shut the other team out outright, suddenly, all you need to do is kick a chip shot field goal to win the game. It's no longer the coin's decision to ultimately decide which team gets the advantage; now, it's up to the coaches to make the decision as to whether they want to win on offense or with defense.

Let's say the Chiefs win the toss. They drive the ball to the 50 yard line. In the current Overtime format, this becomes Marty Ball zone. You run the ball aggressively, throw a few short passes, and hope you can get within the 30 yard line. If not, you punt the ball and pin the other team within the 10 yard line, and hope you get the ball back in good field position. When you get to within the 30 yard line, you run the ball two more times to inch for a closer field goal and you put the game in the hands of your kicker, who is probably about 80% accurate from that range. Where's the strategy in that? You'd be crazy to go for the end zone in that situation.

In the new Overtime format, Haley is attacking the end zone from the get-go. Every team is thinking touchdown first, field goal second. And if you choose field goal, you better hope your defense is good enough to stop the other team. When it's 3rd and 8 on the 33 yard line, suddenly, Haley must decide: do I attack for the first down? Or do I position my team for a closer field goal? If I choose the latter, do I trust my defense to make the stop?

The new Overtime format rewards teams that go for touchdowns, it forces players not coins to decide the outcomes of games, and it's going to make tiebreaking a hell of a lot more fun. A huge kudos to the NFL for getting this done and I guarantee that it will only take one playoff game to sell fans on the idea that this idea is miles better than the one currently in place. My original post several years ago pushed for a "first to five" proposal, but this is pretty darn good too. Perfect? No. Better? Absolutely.

Now, if only the rule would extend to regular season games....

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