The annual NFL owners’ meetings always bring a flurry of storylines, rumors, and occasionally rule changes. This year’s meetings brought some pretty significant changes. Per a release from the NFL, the free kick formation rules that were tested in 2021 will be made permanent starting this year. That’s whatever. It really doesn’t affect much. The second change regards the NFL’s overtime rules.
Well it’s about damn time!
After years of criticism, the NFL has decided to alter its overtime rules. The league has decided that both teams should be allowed a chance to touch the football in overtime...at least in the postseason. The rule change will not be altered for regular-season games — where a game can end with the team winning the coin toss scoring a TD on its first possession but not a field goal — and honestly, I think that’s fair.
Overtime rules should always be made in an effort to end the game as quickly and fairly as possible. Since the NFL abandoned its sudden-death overtime policy in 2012, teams that have received the ball first have won just 52.8 percent of games in the regular season. It’s a different story in the postseason. With top-tier offenses appearing more frequently in the postseason, the team that gets the ball first usually scores and thus, since the NFL adopted this rule change in the 2011 playoffs, 10 of the 12 games that reached overtime in the postseason have been won by the team that received the ball first.
It was clear that a change had to be made, but this is the wrong choice.
As I said, the point of overtime should be to end the game as quickly and fairly as possible. You don’t want to risk any players suffering serious injury, so forcing them to play for any longer than they have to is insanely important. At the same time, you don’t want to jeopardize the integrity of the game. I’d like to incorporate a third caveat into overtime rules, though. Preferably, the overtime rules should incorporate suspense. Every moment should feel like do-or-die, even if it’s not. These new NFL OT rules don’t feel like that. No matter what happens on that first possession, the game goes on. The second possession will certainly feel do-or-die, but you could take a nap during the first possession, wake up when the second team gets the ball, and you would know everything you need to know.
It doesn’t matter what happens on the first possession of overtime. It’s not until the second team gets the ball when the suspense actually starts. The stakes are only set after however long the first team’s possession was. That’s not fun. You want the viewers to be engaged every step of the way. This overtime policy fails to do so.
That’s why I would’ve much preferred the Tennessee Titans’ proposed rule change that would’ve kept the NFL’s overtime policy mostly intact except that the game would only end if the first team scores a touchdown AND successfully converts a two-point attempt. Maybe it’s not perfect, but it adds suspense from the get-go. The second team feels like they need to stop their opponents’ from reaching the end zone because it knows the game could end if it does so, but at the same time, the game doesn’t necessarily end there. Teams don’t even have to go for two if they don’t want to. They could just kick a field goal and hope their defense can hold. However, unlike the new rules, the suspense builds from the start of the overtime period because the game could end on the first possession. Furthermore, let’s say the first team does opt for a two-point conversion. That’s an enormous moment in and of itself, but let’s say they fail. Now, there’s insane pressure on both teams. The offense has to score a touchdown and the defense has to make sure the offense doesn’t. If they get in, all they need is a PAT to win.
It’s *chef’s kiss* beautiful! And pretty fair considering that NFL teams convert two-point plays at around a 49.6 percent clip . You might be thinking, “Okay, but that’s for every team. We should be looking at the best teams in the league and their two-point conversion rates because that’s who’s going to be playing in the playoffs.” Fair enough. In 2021, of the teams that reached the playoffs, exactly seven teams had a two-point conversion rate higher than 50 percent: San Francisco, New England, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Dallas, Tennessee, and Buffalo. That’s exactly half the teams that reached the playoffs. In 2020, guess what? It was seven above 50 percent and seven below. In 2019, it was only four of twelve, which would technically favor the team that goes second.
That’s what makes the NFL’s new overtime rule changes so disappointing in my eyes. Not that the rules were changed, but that given an opportunity to change the rules at all, the NFL opted to go with the safest option that would get the least amount of pushback from the public. There were far better options laid at the NFL owners’ feet, but they chose the most basic, turkey on white bread, an uninteresting choice.