New OT rules make surprise onside kick option more enticing

Philadelphia Eagles v Miami Dolphins
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The new overtime rule for the postseason opens the door for an intriguing strategic option to start the extra session.

A surprise onside kick.

Teams aren’t guaranteed a possession but merely an opportunity to possess the ball. Having a chance to recover a kickoff counts as an opportunity to possess the ball. Thus, a surprise onside kick to start overtime, if recovered by the kicking team, would allow the kicking team to win the game with a first-drive field goal.

Now that the kicking team is guaranteed a possession, the downside of not recovering the kick is reduced. Especially in a game like Bills-Chiefs, when the offenses had become unstoppable by the time overtime started.

There’s another wrinkle to consider after the opening drive. If the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown, a surprise onside kick, if recovered by the kicking team, would end the game. Failure would still give the team a chance to play defense and, potentially, to get the ball first in the sudden-death drive of overtime.

With tweaks to the kicking formation in 2021 resulting in an uptick in the success rate of onside kicks (almost all of them happened when both teams expected an onside kick), it’s a proposition that every team needs to factor into the broader analytics-based approach to all questions raised by overtime — including whether to attempt an onside kick at a time when the other team least expects it.

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