Breaking down options for revamped NFL overtime rule

After the Saints scored a field goal to cap the opening drive of overtime in the NFC championship game, my mother-in-law called the house and wanted to know why the Vikings didn’t get a chance to match the three points.

Casual fans wondered why NFC title game ended on Garrett Hartley's kick.
Casual fans wondered why NFC title game ended on Garrett Hartley’s kick.

That was the moment when it became more clear than ever that the NFL’s overtime rules need to change.

Casual NFL fans assume, on a fundamental level, that the rules of the game are fair. Casual NFL fans who also are ardent college football fans (like my mother-in-law) have an even greater reason to assume that fairness in overtime includes each team getting a crack at the ball.

And if a Super Bowl ever were won on the first drive of overtime, millions of once-a-year NFL fans would feel like all of those baseball fans felt the morning after the All-Star Game ended in a tie.

The good news is that NFL finally has broached the subject of overtime reform, (but for the playoffs only), which could mean that change is inevitable (for the playoffs, at least).

So let’s take a look at the pros and cons of various options:

1. The current proposal.

Reportedly, the proposal the NFL is considering would hinge overtime victory to scoring a touchdown. But if the receiving team doesn’t score, any score by the team that kicks off to start overtime would be sufficient.

The biggest benefit comes from the elimination of the 30-yard kick return plus a couple of first downs leading to a 40-yard field goal for the win. But it still doesn’t guarantee that each team will have a possession.

That said, this alternative bolsters the "just play defense" argument, which the status quo crowd currently uses to shout down those of us who clamor for change. And requiring the team that kicks off to defend its end zone instead of its goal post represents an improvement.

Still, the overtime debate took on new life in the 2008 playoffs, when the Chargers kept Peyton Manning on the sidelines as they worked over the Colts’ defense en route to a one-drive win. Under the new proposal the league is considering, however, Manning still wouldn’t have re-entered the field of play because the Chargers scored a touchdown on their opening drive.

2. Right to match, then sudden death.

My preference entails an opportunity for the kicking team to match or beat the outcome of the first drive of overtime. If the game is still tied after each team has had a possession, the game then converts to sudden death.

The system achieves genuine fairness; each team gets a crack at the ball. Though eventually the sudden-death concept applies, the kicking team can’t complain as much. Unless the receiving team scores a touchdown and successfully converts a two-point conversion, the kicking team has a chance to win before the first-to-score rule is activated.

The downside? The game is extended, and if the league ever applied such a rule in the regular season, there would be more occasions involving sisters getting kissed and/or Eagles quarterbacks getting confused, because there would be less time remaining after each team has had the ball.

3. The college rule.

The approach involving each team getting the ball at its opponents’ 25-yard line with alternating possessions represents a completely fair outcome, with one team always having a chance to match or best the score generated by the opponent. But since it’s the system used by the NCAA, the NFL might not wish to adopt it for that reason alone.

Also, there’s a concern that the 25-yard box concept bastardizes the sport, taking the return game out of play and making overtime more like a high-stakes, short-field scrimmage.

But if fairness is the goal, fairness is achieved.

It’s just not really football.

4. Modified college rule — football’s version of the shootout

If the league is inclined to consider the college rule, and if the goal is to achieve fairness while at the same time limiting extra reps, why not craft the football version of a hockey shootout?

First-and-goal from the 10.

And instead of deferring the mandatory two-point try until the third overtime as they do in college, the requirement to try to put the ball in the end zone from the extra-point line would apply from the outset of overtime.

In theory, a game could be resolved in eight snaps or fewer. In most cases, the overtime ultimately wouldn’t last very long — and it would be far more thrilling.

In fact, the more I think about this option, the more I like it. Sure, the old-school types would have to warm up to it — which could take about 30 years — but it could produce some memorable moments in meaningful games.

Most important, no one could claim they didn’t get a fair shake to win. And the overriding goal here is to bring fairness to overtime, before an unfair outcome occurs in the most important game of the year.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

After the Saints scored a field goal to cap the opening drive of overtime in the NFC championship game, my mother-in-law called the house and wanted to know why the Vikings didn’t get a chance to match the three points.

Casual fans wondered why NFC title game ended on Garrett Hartley's kick.
Casual fans wondered why NFC title game ended on Garrett Hartley’s kick.

That was the moment when it became more clear than ever that the NFL’s overtime rules need to change.

Casual NFL fans assume, on a fundamental level, that the rules of the game are fair. Casual NFL fans who also are ardent college football fans (like my mother-in-law) have an even greater reason to assume that fairness in overtime includes each team getting a crack at the ball.

And if a Super Bowl ever were won on the first drive of overtime, millions of once-a-year NFL fans would feel like all of those baseball fans felt the morning after the All-Star Game ended in a tie.

The good news is that NFL finally has broached the subject of overtime reform, (but for the playoffs only), which could mean that change is inevitable (for the playoffs, at least).

So let’s take a look at the pros and cons of various options:

1. The current proposal.

Reportedly, the proposal the NFL is considering would hinge overtime victory to scoring a touchdown. But if the receiving team doesn’t score, any score by the team that kicks off to start overtime would be sufficient.

The biggest benefit comes from the elimination of the 30-yard kick return plus a couple of first downs leading to a 40-yard field goal for the win. But it still doesn’t guarantee that each team will have a possession.

That said, this alternative bolsters the "just play defense" argument, which the status quo crowd currently uses to shout down those of us who clamor for change. And requiring the team that kicks off to defend its end zone instead of its goal post represents an improvement.

Still, the overtime debate took on new life in the 2008 playoffs, when the Chargers kept Peyton Manning on the sidelines as they worked over the Colts’ defense en route to a one-drive win. Under the new proposal the league is considering, however, Manning still wouldn’t have re-entered the field of play because the Chargers scored a touchdown on their opening drive.

2. Right to match, then sudden death.

My preference entails an opportunity for the kicking team to match or beat the outcome of the first drive of overtime. If the game is still tied after each team has had a possession, the game then converts to sudden death.

The system achieves genuine fairness; each team gets a crack at the ball. Though eventually the sudden-death concept applies, the kicking team can’t complain as much. Unless the receiving team scores a touchdown and successfully converts a two-point conversion, the kicking team has a chance to win before the first-to-score rule is activated.

The downside? The game is extended, and if the league ever applied such a rule in the regular season, there would be more occasions involving sisters getting kissed and/or Eagles quarterbacks getting confused, because there would be less time remaining after each team has had the ball.

3. The college rule.

The approach involving each team getting the ball at its opponents’ 25-yard line with alternating possessions represents a completely fair outcome, with one team always having a chance to match or best the score generated by the opponent. But since it’s the system used by the NCAA, the NFL might not wish to adopt it for that reason alone.

Also, there’s a concern that the 25-yard box concept bastardizes the sport, taking the return game out of play and making overtime more like a high-stakes, short-field scrimmage.

But if fairness is the goal, fairness is achieved.

It’s just not really football.

4. Modified college rule — football’s version of the shootout

If the league is inclined to consider the college rule, and if the goal is to achieve fairness while at the same time limiting extra reps, why not craft the football version of a hockey shootout?

First-and-goal from the 10.

And instead of deferring the mandatory two-point try until the third overtime as they do in college, the requirement to try to put the ball in the end zone from the extra-point line would apply from the outset of overtime.

In theory, a game could be resolved in eight snaps or fewer. In most cases, the overtime ultimately wouldn’t last very long — and it would be far more thrilling.

In fact, the more I think about this option, the more I like it. Sure, the old-school types would have to warm up to it — which could take about 30 years — but it could produce some memorable moments in meaningful games.

Most important, no one could claim they didn’t get a fair shake to win. And the overriding goal here is to bring fairness to overtime, before an unfair outcome occurs in the most important game of the year.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

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