Last November, Bob Costas warned the NFL to change its unfair overtime procedures before a team gets screwed by losing the coin toss in the Super Bowl. While that didn’t happen last Sunday (overtime seemed inevitable until Cincinnati’s final drive suddenly petered out), the NFL’s current rules marred the epic Bills-Chiefs divisional round game.
“Just play defense” doesn’t have the same appeal it once did, especially not in a game during which the offenses were unstoppable. Even the spot-and-choose alternative would have short-circuited at Arrowhead Stadium on that remarkable Sunday night nearly four weeks ago. If the Bills had specified that the first drive of overtime would start on the one-yard line, the Chiefs would have gladly taken possession 99 yards from pay dirt — and likely would have scored a touchdown on the opening drive.
Costas, in November, renewed his argument that, for the postseason, each team should be guaranteed one possession, at a minimum. (Costas prefers using a full 10-minute overtime period, and then another one for as long as the game remains tied.) As the NFL’s offseason begins to move toward rule proposals and the March meetings at which changes if any are made, the most likely change (if a change happens) would consist of exactly what Costas has long proposed.
For the regular season, it stays as it is. For the postseason, both teams are guaranteed one possession (or, more technically, the opportunity to possess the ball). If the game remains tied after each team has had an opportunity to possess the ball, it becomes sudden death.
As a source with knowledge of the rule-making dynamics recently told PFT, the league doesn’t want gimmicks. It doesn’t want anything other than normal, usual football, with minimal differences between regular-season and postseason procedures.
The one-possession-each approach would be extremely simple on the surface. It also would unlock some intriguing strategic options.
Most obviously, if the Chiefs had scored seven points to start overtime and the Bills had responded with a touchdown, Buffalo would have had to choose between going for two to win (or lose) then and there, or to kick to the Chiefs, knowing that even a field goal would have ended the game.
At a deeper level, would a team be more willing to kick off and perhaps take the wind? With knowledge that there’s a guaranteed possession (and with the reality that the full field becomes four-down territory if the receiving team scores), kicking off to start overtime becomes a far more viable option than it currently is. (Maybe, then, there’s still hope for Marty Mornhinweg.)
A surprise onside kick to start overtime becomes more viable, too, since the kicking team knows it will still get the ball even if a short-field touchdown is scored. Or what if the team that scores a first-drive touchdown opts for a surprise onside kick? Recover it, and it’s game over.
Above all else, guaranteeing one possession each is fair. That’s all that should matter. The current approach isn’t. Guaranteeing one possession each is.