Starting in 2012, regular-season overtime will be the same as postseason overtime, and a field goal on the first possession does not end the game.
After seeing it work in overtime of the playoffs in January, the league’s owners voted to change overtime for the regular season as well. Now overtime is not purely sudden death, as the team that receives the overtime kickoff cannot win the game simply by kicking a field goal on its first possession.
As is the case in the playoffs, regular-season overtime will now end immediately if a team scores a touchdown or safety, but the game will not end if a field goal is scored on the opening possession. In those cases, the team kicking the field goal will then kick off, and the other team can either win the game by scoring a touchdown on the ensuing possession or extend the game by kicking a field goal. If that team doesn’t score, the team that kicked the field goal on the opening possession would win.
The reason for the modified approach is that in sudden-death overtime, winning the coin toss becomes a huge advantage, as the team that receives the kick knows it only has to drive into field-goal range to win the game. With the modified sudden-death format, the importance of the coin toss is lessened, and the team that wins the toss has a greater incentive to get more aggressive on offense and try to win the game with a touchdown. If the team that wins the toss kicks a field goal, that team then kicks off, and the other team has a chance to win the game with a touchdown, or to extend the game with a field goal, at which point the game would become pure sudden death, with the victory going to the next team that scores.
That’s how it worked in the playoffs last season, and that’s how it will work going forward in the regular season.