NFL Overtime Rule Tweaked at League Meetings

Change Will Apply Only to Postseason Games

Owners Work OT to Adjust One Rule

The NFL is listening.

After the NFL league meeting on Tuesday, owners approved an overtime rule that will apply only to postseason games. Both teams will be guaranteed one possession, thus avoiding a repeat scenario of the AFC Divisional Round matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.

For the regular season, the rule will go unchanged: If a team scores a touchdown on the opening possession of overtime, the game is over.

The Bills failed to get the ball in overtime and saw their dream of winning the franchise’s first Super Bowl end after the Chiefs scored a touchdown on the first possession of overtime in January.

That game in particular seemed to be the final straw on the league’s overtime rule for those within the NFL community and certainly those outside of it.

The original hope was that the overtime rule would be changed for all games, including those in the regular season. When it became clear that the motion was not going to be approved in a vote, a compromise was reached to make the change for postseason games only.

That rule was approved by a 29-3 vote and will be in place for the 2022 NFL calendar.

Overtime History

There have been changes to the overtime rule in the past.

There was a time when a field goal would be enough to end a game in overtime, even if on the opening possession. That was changed so that if the first team to receive the ball in overtime settles for a field goal, the other team will have a chance to get the ball. If the second team scores a touchdown, they win the game. If they tie the game with a field goal, the rule is that the next score wins.

That will remain the rule for regular-season games. However, under the new format in the playoffs, even if the team that wins the coin flip scores a touchdown, there will be a chance for the other team to have a possession.

Why the Compromise?

Research showed that in the decade since the overtime rule was adjusted, the team winning the coin flip won the game in overtime between 50-55 percent of the time during regular-season contests.

When the numbers were crunched, seven of the last 12 overtime games in the playoffs were won by touchdowns being scored on the opening possession. That is only a slight bump to a 58 percent probability of the team getting the ball first winning the game. However, the fact that 10 of the last 12 postseason games in overtime were won by the team winning the coin flip was enough for NFL owners to make this move at the NFL league meetings.

Not a Knee-Jerk Reaction

It would be easy to pinpoint the Tuesday’s rule change to that one Divisional Round game headlined by star quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills. Mahomes’ touchdown pass to Travis Kelce gave the Chiefs the 42-36 overtime win.

However, others suggested that there was a call for a rule change dating back to the 2018 AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and Kansas City. Tom Brady drove New England down for the winning touchdown in overtime, and Mahomes and the Chiefs never got a chance to take a snap in overtime.

There were other ideas being floated around at the NFL meetings, including a team converting on a two-point attempt after scoring a touchdown to win the game. In the end, though, the owners were fine with making this one tweak to the system for the opening of the NFL season.


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