NFL fans know by now that there’s a new system of overtime in place for the playoffs, and that a field goal on the first possession can’t end the game. But some fans might not realize that a team doesn’t actually have to possess the ball to get its first (and potentially last) possession.
As Competition Committee co-chair Rich McKay explained on NFL Network, each team is only guaranteed the opportunity to possess the ball. Which means that an onside kick recovered by the kicking team would count as a possession for the receiving team. Ditto for a muffed punt, or a fumble on a punt or kickoff return.
“There’s two instances in which that could really come into play,” McKay said. “One would be the onside kick and the other would be if the team receiving a punt muffed the punt. At that point they’re deemed to have possessed the ball.”
McKay also noted that overtime won’t necessarily end with a scoring play, which is a change from every previous overtime in NFL history. But the NFL seems to want to emphasize that the league views this as a minor tweak to the overtime rules, not a major change.
“It’s just like the old rule, it’s still sudden death. The only modification is when the receiving team takes the ball, drives down and kicks a field goal,” McKay said. “When the team receiving the kickoff kicks a field goal on the first possession, that’s really the major change in the rule.”