In last year’s playoffs, the Bills and Chiefs played one of the greatest games in NFL history, but it was a game that left many fans feeling unfulfilled: It ended with the Chiefs receiving the overtime kickoff and scoring the game-winning touchdown on the opening possession. Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who had played a brilliant game, never touched the ball in overtime.
This year, that won’t happen: The NFL changed its playoff overtime rules in the offseason, and now postseason games won’t end with a touchdown on the opening possession of overtime.
Now if a team scores a touchdown on the first possession of overtime, it will line up to kick an extra point or attempt a two-point conversion. Then that team will kick off, and the other team will get a chance to score a touchdown. If that team does score a touchdown, it will line up for an extra point or two-point conversion of its own. It’s possible that the game can end at that point: For instance, if the first team kicked an extra point, the second team can try a game-ending two-point conversion attempt. But if the score remains tied after both teams’ touchdowns, at that point the team that scored the second touchdown would kick off again, and from there on it would be sudden-death overtime.
The new rules could lead to some new strategies: Some coaches may actually prefer to kick off to begin overtime, on the thinking that they’d rather know what the other team has done when they get the ball, and know if they need to play for a touchdown or can settle for a field goal. Some coaches may be more aggressive about going for two after a touchdown.
There is still one scenario in which both teams don’t get a possession in overtime: If the team kicking off
to start overtime scores a safety on the receiving team’s initial possession, the team that kicked off is the winner without ever possessing the ball. For instance, if the kickoff returner gets tackled deep in his own territory, and then on the next play the quarterback is sacked in his own end zone, that safety ends the game.
Unlike regular-season overtime, which is 10 minutes long, playoff overtime is essentially starting a new game: Teams will play 15-minute periods until there is a winner. If there’s been no winner after two 15-minute periods, there will be another kickoff to start the third overtime period, although there won’t be a halftime break between periods. Needing to go to a third overtime period has never happened in NFL history.