When the NFL changed its overtime rule in 2012, it was supposed to guarantee both teams the ball, unless the team that received the overtime kickoff scored a touchdown on its first possession. But as the NFL prepares to change its overtime rule again, that “guarantee” is no longer so solid.
The league is expected this week to shorten overtime from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. That means that if the team that receives the opening kickoff marches into field goal range on a long, sustained drive, it could just try to run out the clock until there’s a second or two left in the game, send out the field goal team and win the game with a kickoff at the end of a 10-minute opening possession.
Granted, 10-minute possessions are rare, but they’re not unheard of: According to Pro Football Reference, since 1999 there have been 29 possessions that took 10 or more minutes off the clock and ended in a field goal. An additional seven possessions that took 10 or more minutes off the clock ended in a missed field goal.
There’s never been a 15-minute possession (the longest drive of any kind in the Pro Football Reference database lasted 12:29), so this wasn’t a concern with the longer, 15-minute overtime. But with a 10-minute overtime, it’s a real possibility that a receiving team could win with a field goal, and the kicking team never gets the ball.