Should NFL overtime rules be changed?
- The NFL initiated a “modified sudden-death overtime system” for the 2010 postseason in the event of a tie score at the end of a game. Slightly amended over the years, “The current rules give both teams the opportunity to possess the ball at least once in overtime.”
- As of January 2022, there have been 163 games that went into overtime and utilized the current NFL overtime rules, 11 of which were playoff games.
- Of the 11 playoff games that utilized the overtime rules, 10 of the 11 teams that won the coin toss claimed victory.
- A BroncosWire/USAToday poll from January 2022 found that over 88% of readers agree that the NFL should change overtime rules.
Since the Rams' victory over the Bengals at Super Bowl LVI, the fairness of the NFL's overtime rules has been called into question. Unlike other sports, the NFL doesn't give both teams an equal chance to score during overtime. Currently, the team with first possession—determined by a coin toss—wins if they score a touchdown. However, the outcome of this coin toss is significant, as it largely determines who will prevail when the game runs into overtime.
In the last eleven overtime playoff games, the winner of the coin toss won the game ten times. This disparity has caused most fans to agree that the overtime rules are unreasonable. In a recent survey of over 700 fans, 92% believed a change to the overtime rules was warranted in some fashion—either for all games or only for playoff games.
Notably, the overtime rules have been changed before for similar reasons. After the 2009 NFC championship game in which the Saints beat the Vikings 31-28, the rules were changed to prevent a first-drive field goal from winning the game during overtime. According to chairman Rich McKay on the matter, 'Statistically, we felt [the rule] needed to be changed. It wasn't creating the fairest result as far as field goal accuracy, field goal distance and drive starts.' The spirit of this change should apply to this issue as well.
Football wins are supposed to be based on a team's skill, talent, and strategy. It's not in the spirit of the sport to leave something so important up to chance.
The NFL's overtime rules have led to much debate, but the fact remains that they keep American football competitive and enjoyable. Critics say that the current rules are unfair and one-sided in favor of the team that has first possession and scores on it during overtime. However, according to the NFL rulebook, the defending team still has a chance--they just need to get possession to keep the game alive during the 10-minute overtime period.
Notably, the current rules have also incorporated coach feedback about prioritizing player safety, avoiding needlessly drawn-out games, and risk of injuries.
It’s no surprise that sportswriters like Michael Hurley have lent their support to them. Hurley says that the NFL's overtime rules are 'fantastic and should never be changed,' as doing so could rob the game of its competitive beauty. If anything, the rules compel all three phases of the defending team to strategize and plan their defense.
Critics unfairly say that a coin toss gets to decide the outcome of a game. If that were indeed the case, all teams that had gotten first possession during overtime would have won, but as writer Nihad Zunic points out, much more than a coin toss determines victory. An opposing team's defense still has to stop the offense, as we saw when the Buffalo Bills failed to control the Kansas City Chiefs and QB Patrick Mahomes.
Finally, sports enthusiasts need to keep in mind that these rules are why we get to see career-defining offensive or defensive plays by superstars. After all, sports are about being composed under pressure.