A Proposed NFL Overtime Rule Change

The NFL’s overtime rules/format is stupid. It’s noncommittal sudden-death. It’s wanting to give everyone a fair chance, but not in any way that could really make things fair. The entire operation is flawed.

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This was on full display last night. In an otherwise incredibly fun football game, the Buffalo Bills lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime. The problem was that Buffalo didn’t even get a chance to win in overtime because they never got the ball. They never got the ball because for whatever reason the NFL’s overtime rules state that if the first team to get the ball scores a touchdown, the game is over. If the first team to get the ball kicks a field goal, then the other team gets a chance to rebut. But if it’s a touchdown, there’s no rebuttal.

Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? Especially considering the new, longer point-after-touchdown field goals, which were ostensibly designed to make PATs exciting by increasing the likelihood of a miss. So what is the NFL so afraid of? Why do they have this terrible rule? And what should the overtime rules be?

Equal Opportunity Football

First and foremost, we need to get rid of the modified sudden death thing and state that each team is guaranteed one possession. Here’s my proposed rule change dealing with that: At the commencement of overtime a coinflip shall determine which team takes possession of the ball first. No matter the outcome of that team’s first possession, the other team shall have a possession.

Nfl Coinflip GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

For the sake of simplicity I’m going to refer to the team that gets possession first in overtime as Team A and the other team will be Team B. So under this rule, if Team A scores at all, Team B still gets a chance to come back. If Team A doesn’t score at all, Team B gets the ball. If Team A turns the ball over, that becomes B’s possession, so we’re still all square under the rule.

No Kickoffs; Alternate Possessions

No more OT kickoffs. Get rid of ’em. Instead, Team A starts their possession with the ball on their own 35 yard line. They have to go 65 yards to score. Our new NFL overtime rules will be like the NCAA rules in this way, except where the NCAA rules start each team in field goal range, in the NFL they’ll have to earn it.

Kickoffs are great for regulation, but we just don’t need them in overtime. If Team A turns the ball over, then Team B begins their possession at the location of the turnover. But if Team A scores on its first possession, then Team B begins its possession at their own 35.

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Now, let’s say that Team A and Team B both fail to score on their possessions. What now? We start the process over, except this time Team B gets the ball first. If the game is still tied after the second overtime, then the process starts again but Team A gets the ball first again. And so on, and so on, until a winner is determined.


Unlike college, which states that after a certain number of overtimes the teams can no longer kick a PAT and have to go for two, the NFL should keep PATs available throughout overtime, but with one catch: The PAT location moves back five yards each overtime. This means in the first overtime PATs would be kicked from the 15-yard line, but in the second OT PATs would be from the 20, from the 25 in the third OT, from the 30 in the fourth OT, etc. Encourage teams to go for two, but don’t take away the option for a normal PAT.

Best Extra Point GIFs | Gfycat


There is one thing that I do want to ban from overtime, and that’s punting. Overtime isn’t for punts. Here’s the caveat, though: if a team is going to be forced to go for it on fourth down, then if they turn the ball over on downs, the other team takes possession at their own 35 and not from the location of the turnover on downs.

Of course, this doesn’t apply if it’s an interception or a fumble. Only a turnover on downs. The idea is this: first of all, I don’t want teams getting coffin-cornered in OT, so I don’t want a stagnating offense to give their defense a boost by pinning the other team inside the five yard line, especially considering the punting team almost assuredly started their possession on their own 35.

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For another thing, we should be encouraging exciting plays, and what’s more exciting than fourth and long with a chance to either win or force another OT? We could potentially see several big fourth-and-longs in the course of one game under this rule, and I think that’s exciting.

This rule will also change defensive strategy a bit on fourth downs. For example, if it’s fourth down the defense knows that if they intercept or fumble the ball, they take over right there, but if they force a turnover on downs, they get the ball at the 35. This discourages interceptions inside the 35 yard line in OT, so defensive backs will have to either be better about batting balls down or making sure if they do intercept a pass that they can return that interception past the 35 or risk starting with worse field position than they would have had anyhow.


There are a few more rules we’ll need for a better overtime:

  1. No Timeouts. Neither team gets any timeouts during overtime and any player who lies on the ground with an injury must come out of the game as soon as possible and sit out two snaps. Hopefully this will discourage people faking injuries to stop the play clock.
  2. 30-Second Play Clock. I believe the play clock in the NFL is generally forty seconds, but in overtime it’s 30. That’s ten fewer seconds of stalling per snap, theoretically.
  3. Every First Down, Turnover, and Scoring Play Reviewed. To make up for the shorter play clock, players will get a rest every time there’s a first down, turnover, or score, because the replay officials will automatically have to review every first down, every turnover, and every scoring play. It shouldn’t take long if someone makes a wide open catch over the middle or a running back breaks off for 25 yards, but it still must be reviewed, even if it’s just the replay official giving a thumbs up to the field referee.
  4. Limited Coaches’ Challenges. Because so much will be automatically reviewed, coaches can only challenge two things: in bounds and reception status. Either coach can challenge whether a player was in or out of bounds, regardless of who the ball carrier is. Additionally, coaches can challenge whether a ball was caught. The caveat is that you get one challenge at the beginning of each overtime and you use it until you’re wrong. One you’re wrong, you don’t get anymore challenges for that overtime.
  5. No Net on Field Goals. This final rule is for the fans. In overtime, the little net that catches balls that have been kicked as attempted field goals does not get used. Let kicked balls make their way into the stands. The NFL can afford plenty of footballs, and if fans are devoted enough to stick around for overtime football, the least we can do to reward them is by letting them keep a ball that makes its way into the stands.

I will admit normally I would take an article like this and turn it into a joke by making rules like “punters and coaches can drink beer on the sidelines” or “all overtimes get a Nickelodeon broadcast so we can see people get slimed” or “starting in the fifth overtime all passes must be thrown with a nondominant hand” or whatever. But I actually believe heavily in this one. The NFL overtime rules have always sucked. Even when I was younger and it was a pure sudden death thing (which famously led to a bad result when a referee misheard Jerome Bettis on a coin toss once) that rule sucked.

And look, the NFL isn’t my favorite thing to watch. I love college football, and I’ll watch the Cowboys when they’re on and maybe the Sunday night game, but I’m rarely going to put some random AFC North game on at my house. But the NFL is, of course, wildly popular and the games certainly can be exciting, but the overtime rules are long overdue for an overhaul.

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No one outside of the Kansas City Chiefs and their immediate fanbase enjoyed how that game ended last night. Everyone believes Josh Allen and the Bills should have gotten an opportunity to score in overtime. And deep down, there are probably a lot of levelheaded, rational Chiefs players and fans who agree that the Bills should have gotten a possession. But those aren’t the rules and we have to chalk that one up to bad rules yielding a bad result.

Either way, the NFL Conference Championship games will be happening next weekend and for the first time in TWELVE YEARS those conference games will not include Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, which is absolutely bananas to me. Have fun debating the OT rules at work today, and have a great week!

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