The NFL just voted to change the playoff overtime rules to something a lot of people have called for, myself included. Both teams will now have at minimum one possession. The game can no longer be won on the opening drive. It’s only for the postseason though, so the NFL is likely running it through as a test. Since the rule was updated from the original sudden death, the team that has gotten possession first is 10-2. 7 of those wins were on the first possession, meaning 7 out of 12 times the game was won without the other team having a chance to possess the ball.

I’m happy with the change but it’s hard to deny that the NFL’s overtime is a convoluted issue. I’ve seen a massive variety of viewpoints on the situation. Some think teams should return to sudden death. Some view overtime as a punishment that shouldn’t be fair in the first place because teams should strive to win in regulation. Some think an entire 5th quarter should be played. Some think the previous/current system is just fine and the NFL is being reactionary to the Bills/Chiefs controversy. Some think the NFL should go to the college system. Some people have some absurd ideas like penalty kicks. Nobody seems unified on what they want, so I figured I’d lay out a bunch of the options and examine them as possibilities.

As I’ve come to see it, the biggest issue with overtime is the coin toss. It’s a system designed to be as impartial as possible, but the issue is the advantage it provides to the winner. There’s no way around the fact that getting the ball first in overtime is a massive advantage. Defenses are tired, and you can see by the sample so far that “WeLl DeFeNsE iS pArT oF fOoTbAlL” is nice in theory but in reality, defenses are very much affected by the end of these games. Not having to play defense is a big advantage. If defense is so important, why shouldn’t both teams have to prove it? Why does the team that wins the coin toss just not have to prove it if the offense scores? That seems wrong to me. If defense is such an important part of the sport (it is), make both teams play it.

But there is more to just the tired defense advantage. By getting the ball first, you’ve likely given yourself more possessions or at least the chance of more should the overtime drag on. You also get the chance to rest your defense should you only kick a field goal or not score at all. By having the ball first, you are creating the pressure, and the other team is largely reacting.

The reason I like the new change is that deferring is now a viable strategy. When was the last time you saw a team defer in overtime? Never, because who the fuck would do that? God just handed you a huge advantage, you take it. But if the opposing team now has a guaranteed possession and the ability to know what to do in response, it may be prudent to kick off first in certain scenarios. I don’t see this happening much, but the point remains: it’s now viable. A risk, but viable. Especially if you can decide the direction in a windy game. The overwhelming advantage is diminished to a more manageable degree.

This, of course, may result in sudden death anyway. We have all assumed that if the Bills got a chance to answer the Chiefs, they would have. We don’t know that, but with the game going the way it was, it is an easy assumption to make. Thing is, I don’t see a problem with this. The main issue with the current system was that a team could be locked out of a chance to answer. With a possession for both sides, that chance occurs. Both teams had to prove it on offense AND defense. Now it’s a free for all. Good. I’m fine with that.

I’ve also seen the argument that with both teams getting the ball, the advantage is now on the second team’s side. They have more information on what they have to do to win. I disagree. The second team is still effectively being reactive (especially if team 1 scores) and information is not execution. If you know you need a touchdown or just a field goal to win, you still have to successfully score those things.

But let’s take a moment to look at some of the proposals on the table and see what sort of options we have anyway.

Sudden Death
They changed this rule for a reason. Having a team win the coin toss, march 40 yards into field goal range, hunker into safe mode and kick a field goal to win a game is boring as shit and still has the problem of another team not getting a chance to answer. The current rule was designed to counter this crap by making a field goal no longer guarantee a win. The main advantage this rule has is that it ends games faster, which is something the networks want and is safer for the players.

Both teams get one possession
Still has issues as it doesn’t eliminate the coin toss advantage, but it doesn’t give both teams a chance to play both sides of the ball and evens the playing field. However, it does drag the game on a bit longer.

Play a full quarter
In spirit, this idea is great. In reality, this is a bad idea. Football is not a safe game and more time spent playing this harsh sport is potentially bad all around. Secondly, networks don’t want to have to plan their other programming around potentially spending another 10-15 minute quarter on every game.

No coin toss, possession is determined through other, game relevant factors
Someone has to get the ball first no matter what, we cannot prevent that advantage. But what if we found a way to stop having that decision rely on chance and made it a factor of the game? My idea was that whoever scored last in regulation gets the ball first since that team effectively forced overtime. The team that allowed the last score is punished for allowing it to get to this point and has to defend. This would work better with the “win with a TD” rule, because now possession isn’t determined by random chance. A team earned that chance.

Home team gets ball first
Kind of the same thing as the previous option, but Baseball rules. This would actually be fine with me, but it won’t work for the Superbowl, so we’d still need another option for that. I’d also still prefer possession to be determined by something more tangible than who happens to be at home. There are plenty of options as to what that factor could be. Who scored last? Who scored first?

No overtime, tie games
Yeah that’s not going to work in the playoffs but more ties in the regular season would shake things up. Ties are better as weird unicorns that happen once per season or so IMO.

Penalty Kicks
This is stupid and penalty kicks/shots exist because at some point someone has to win and football doesn’t have this problem because you can score multiple variations of points. Watching a game come down to a kicker is already tough, making it just kickers eliminates the rest of the team and is dumb. This is dumb.

College system
I hate the college system. It feels like the football version of penalty kicks. It’s also unnecessarily convoluted.

I haven’t actually seen this proposed anywhere, but I thought about it, and I think it might work. Eliminate kicks. No field goals. Only Touchdowns or safeties. Here’s the catch. No kicking at all. That means NO PUNTS. You go for it on 4th and you convert or you turn it over. Sudden death rules. First team to score a TD wins. Determine the first possession by something other than a coin toss.

There are other options of course, but those are the main things I’ve seen floated. I’m happy with the current change, but long term it might not work out. I’m essentially of two thoughts: if you want to keep the coin toss, the playing field needs to be evened out so the first possession advantage is nerfed. The new rule accomplishes this. If you want to eliminate the coin toss, sudden death and the previous/current rule would work well if possession was determined by an actual factor that wasn’t pure luck.