Rich McKay: Overtime change was data driven, with the Chiefs-Bills game a big factor


The NFL’s change to its overtime rule in the postseason was based on statistics. Under the format adopted in 2010, the NFL played 12 overtime postseason games. The team that won the coin toss went 10-2, and seven of those games were decided on the first possession.

“That data was compelling to us and to the league,” Falcons president Rich McKay, the chairman of the 10-member Competition Committee, said. “Each one of those ends somebody’s season, and so, to us, this is something we thought needed to be changed.”

The Chiefs-Bills game in the divisional round in the most recent postseason was the tipping point. Kansas City won 42-36 in overtime by scoring a first-possession touchdown after winning the coin toss.

“In the Buffalo game this year, it was the greatest 20, 30 minutes of football that I’ve ever seen. Ever. Just watching a game,” McKay said. “To think that it ended that way definitely brought up the idea of, ‘Hey, is that equitable? Does that work for everybody?’ I have no question that started the discussion. What typically happens in these is they tend to lose momentum as you get further away from the game, and that did not happen in this instance.”

After the Saints had a first-drive, walk-off field goal to beat the Vikings in overtime in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, when true sudden death was the overtime format, owners tweaked the postseason overtime rule. A team with the first possession in overtime could end the game only with a touchdown. A field goal guaranteed the other team a possession.

“In 2010 what happened to us is there was a number of us for a number of years who were concerned about the overtime statistics and the way they were trending, and it was all based on the field goal kickers,” McKay said. “They were getting better. They were making longer kicks with a much higher percentage, and they were impacting overtime. . . . So the theory was, what was concerning to us, was OK, we’re going to have a postseason game where somebody is going to have nice kickoff return to the 35 and there going to throw a pass and kick a field goal and the game’s going to be over. That just didn’t feel equitable, so that drove us toward that change.

“What’s changed in the interim is No. 1 the game has changed. Teams are throwing the ball for more yards. They’re throwing the ball for more yards per play. We’re seeing the trend of the game. That’s No. 1. No. 2, we changed the touchback rule in 2016, moving the touchback from the 20 to the 25. I was on the committee then and just really never thought that was going to impact overtime, and it did a little bit. So that’s what has driven us to these numbers were at now.”

The Colts and Eagles’ proposal called for guaranteeing a possession for each team in overtime in the regular season and the postseason. But not enough teams wanted to change the sudden-death overtime format for the regular season, so the proposal was amended for the postseason only. It received more than the required 24 votes, though McKay would not reveal how many owners voted against the measure.

The new format is expected to change teams’ thinking when they get to overtime in the postseason. The team that wins the coin toss could choose to kickoff, and a team that matches a first possession touchdown by its opponent potentially could choose to win on a two-point conversion rather than having to kick off again and go sudden death.

14 responses to “Rich McKay: Overtime change was data driven, with the Chiefs-Bills game a big factor

  1. Bills voted against overtime changes when the Chiefs proposed it a few seasons ago, so it’s hard to feel too sorry for them for what happened in the Chiefs playoff game.

  2. Does the data say a team that can’t manage to prevent a score with only 13 seconds left on the clock doesn’t deserve a possession in overtime?
    I’ve never been one to agree with people who say the game has gotten soft, but damn does this convince me otherwise if defence isn’t even considered to be an integral part of the game anymore.

  3. Chiefs went through the exact same thing as the Bills in the 2019 ACF Championship Game. Brady got the ball in OT and won without Mahomes every getting a chance. Where was the outcry then?

  4. If this rule had been in place for the Bills-Chiefs game, they might still be playing.

  5. I support Mike Tomlin’s take of being a “Traditionalist”. If teams are so concerned about equally OT possession opportunities, maybe they should have taken care of business during the first 60 minutes of play.

  6. Welcome to 2022. When defenses are so bad, that they have to make rules to help the defense. In this case they do that by letting the others teams offense get another chance, because no one’s defense is capable of stopping anyone. Maybe they should just get rid of defense all together, clearly it’s “not fair” to be expect a team to stop an opponent from scoring.

  7. This is almost certainly financially motivated. The league shortened regular season OT periods to 10 minutes in an effort to reduce injury and minimize fatigue. Now they are extending overtime in the postseason. I don’t think this has anything to do with fairness. I think it has everything to do with extending exciting playoff games to maximize their value.

  8. Just have them play another quarter rather than have this possession based nonsense. 99% of games in the regular season conclude when the clock runs out so not sure why just extending one quarter at a time in the postseason until it comes to its natural conclusion wouldn’t be better and fairer solution.

  9. I don’t see that this is evening the playing field much more than the current system. So now if you win the coin toss, you’ll start on defense. Then you know what you need to do to win or tie the game. If you know you need a touchdown, you’ll have four downs to get a first down instead of three. That’s a pretty big advantage.

  10. What happens if the kicking team recovers an onside kick at the start of OT? And that team scores a TD? Does it count as a possession for the would-be receiving team?

  11. If the goal was “fair”, this is a massive L. Just make it a timed period of play. 10 minutes. 8 minutes. Whatever. This idea that both teams get the ball “for fairness” has created a massive advantage to the team that has the ball second. How exactly do we justify making a change to be fair when the change takes the advantage from the team who has it first to the team who has it second. This is dumb. Team that gets it second gets 4 downs throughout their drive (if they are trailing). They get to go for 2 for the win (if they are down 7). How is that “fair”? We just swapped one unfairness for a different unfairness.

  12. I’m glad there was at least some positive movement here, much of it because I am so sick of the “just play defense” people.

    Under the old rules, one team had to play defense, the other did not. Not sure how anyone thought that was fair.

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