Breaking down the NFL’s overtime rule and why fans want to see it changed
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCCI) -
Kansas City Chiefs 42, Buffalo Bills 36. An instant classic that’ll be remembered for years to come.
Whether it be for the big-name players, the remarkable quarterback play, or for the dramatic back-and-forth nature of it, their playoff encounter will live long in the memory.
However, for some, the game’s ending did leave somewhat of a sour taste in the mouth.
Having won the coin toss at the beginning of overtime, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes connected with Travis Kelce for a walk-off touchdown on the first possession of extra time.
Such are the rules of overtime in the NFL, Josh Allen and his red-hot offense never got the chance to reply, annoying many neutral spectators.
Some called it the “worst rule in sports,” while others jokingly called for President Joe Biden to step in and fix the rule.
And while Allen, shortly after suffering the crushing defeat, was magnanimous about the current OT rules, it’s raised the question: should they be changed to allow both teams the opportunity to score?
According to NFL rules, in the 10-minute overtime period: “Each team must possess, or have the opportunity to possess, the ball. The exception: if the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown on the opening possession.”
In essence, if the receiving team does not score a touchdown on its first possession (or if the kicking team does not score a touchdown on a turnover), the game continues.
The current system has been in place since the 2011 postseason.
According to the Stathead database, there have been a little over 160 overtime games under the current rules for winning in overtime (including the postseason). The team that got the ball first has won 52% of the time. The team that kicked off has won 42% of the time. The rest were ties, which happens in regular-season games when no one scores during the now 10-minute overtime period.
These rules differ from those in college football; rules which are arguably fairer than the NFL’s.
In college football, each team — regardless of who wins the overtime coin toss — gets a chance to go on offense from the other’s 25 yard-line in the first overtime.
Whereas in the NFL, teams hope to win the coin toss and win the game at the first time of asking, in the collegiate game, the team that wins the toss usually decides to go on defense first because they will know if the other team scored a touchdown, a field goal or failed to score. Based on that, the team that goes second can choose to be more or less aggressive when they get on offense.
According to data from Oklahoma State’s Rick Wilson, a professor at the Spears School of Business, and through some research of box scores from Sports Reference, there have been nearly 300 overtime games involving Division I Football Bowl Subdivision teams from 2013-2021.
The team that received the ball second won 49.7% of the time since 2013, or right about 50% of the time.
While the NFL is unlikely to make changes off the back of one game, the wheels of motion might have been kicked into gear.
While Allen didn’t immediately express disappointment at the overtime rules, there wasn’t a shortage of players, past and present, chiming in in his absence.
“Great game by both teams but the overtime rules have got to change!! No coin flip should have that much power,” Detroit Lions wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said.
Former Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen also expressed his frustration at the rule.
“If you are still arguing, in a game like that, it’s not in the best interest of everyone that both Mahomes and Allen get the ball in (overtime) I don’t know what to tell you,” he said on Twitter.
“In a game where neither team could stop the other at the end, a literal coin flip determined the ending.”
In fact, in 2019, after the Chiefs lost to the New England Patriots in overtime without even touching the ball, Kelce weighed in: “I’m definitely in favor of [both sides getting the ball in overtime],” he said.
“Being in that situation, really having no control, no rebuttal or no retaliation on playing against an amazing offense like that — it kind of sucked.”
In the months following that, NFL Insider Ian Rapoport reported that the Chiefs put forward a proposal that would’ve forced both teams to possess the ball.
The proposal reportedly did not gain enough support and so was thrown out, but the future could have been very different if it had.
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