The Issue with NFL Overtime



Kyle Rudolph's (82) questionable non-pass interference call against P.J. Williams (26) to win against the Saints in the 2020 NFL Wild Card round. Notice Rudolph's outstretched arm, which many perceived as a push off. The Saints' offense did not see the field because of the touchdown.

Jacob Myers, Sports Writer

The NFL has an issue well beyond injuries and officiating issues. Well, maybe not officiating, because any sports fan knows the disconnect between the referees and everyone else. Especially in the playoffs, the way that the overtime is played in the NFL is unfair and an incorrect system to decide a playoff game winner.

If you don’t know the rules behind NFL overtime, here you go: there is a coin flip to start the period, in which the winning team (almost every time) receives the opening kickoff. If that team drives down the field and scores a touchdown, game over. They win. But, if that team scores a field goal or fails to score at all, the other team gets their chance to score. Then, if the other team scores a touchdown, game over. If both teams fail to score after one drive each, next score wins. In the regular season, if both teams don’t score for ten minutes, it’s a tie. In the playoffs, it just keeps going until a team scores.

The true issue with the NFL overtime rules is that there is a very likely chance that a team’s offense won’t see the field during overtime just because the other team scored a touchdown. Especially in the playoffs, this system fails the team. In almost every other league, if one team scores during an extra period, the other team gets a shot to match them, leaving the NFL alone in their own ways. There have been two very controversial instances in which this rule has played a major part in the NFL playoffs, just in the last two years (through the 2019-2020 wild card round): one in the 2018-19 AFC championship, and the other in the 2019-20 NFC Wild Card round. Both games featured a team that was originally down 10 points in the fourth quarter that made a comeback to send the game to overtime, and in overtime never getting to see their offense hit the field. Also in both games, a disputable penalty call altered the course of the game, leading to a win. 

Specifically looking at last year’s AFC championship, Patrick Mahomes, who went on to win MVP, wasn’t given a chance to see the field. The man who lead the league in touchdowns (50), 20 yard throws (75), rating (113.8), and was second in the league in passing yards, did not get a chance to score and give his team a shot to go to the Super Bowl. Two questionable penalties favoring the Patriots were called, and the Chiefs’ super-powered offense didn’t get a chance. The same applies for this year’s Saints against the Vikings. The Saints were the three seed in the NFC for a reason, winning 13 games on the year. Although Brees didn’t play for a large chunk of the season, his stats were still very impressive: having a rating off 116.3 (2nd in the league) and a 27:4 touchdown to interception ratio. And just as Mahomes never got a shot at the field, the seemingly ageless Brees and record-setting Michael Thomas would suffer the same result, with a very disputable non-PI call against Kyle Rudolph to win the game, which was never reviewed. Two super powered offensive teams falling to the same fate two years in a row certainly brings up the issue with NFL overtime rules. They’re simply not fair. The fact that a team can come from behind in the fourth quarter with all momentum and lose in overtime without ever seeing the offensive field is absurd. So, how can the NFL fix their issue? 

The simple response would be to let the other team have a chance to score after. And sure, that makes enough sense and would seemingly fix the issue. Is it an applicable solution? Sure, and it’s much better than the solution in place at the moment. But, in today’s society, all the leagues, including the NFL, look for publicity and that great green piece of paper that would show their success. So, implementing a simple solution may be the safer idea, the NFL may want to go bold. As you may have seen, the XFL announced its new shootout-style overtime with 21 people on the field for both teams. Why doesn’t the NFL copy the XFL? Well, because with being a new league, the XFL needs to create new ideas to encourage new fans to follow along with the league and hopefully build a strong following for the league. Making some crazy rules with help the league with doing so and creating a strong following. The NFL, on the other hand, doesn’t need to do that, they have a massive following, and making a change that drastic may discourage some die-hard fans of football from watching the overtime periods. 

The solution I have come up with is simple, yet entertaining to watch. Treat the overtime period like a regular period, sort of. The coin toss is still in effect, and the winner can receive the kickoff. The period is 10 minutes, and the leader after those 10 minutes wins, simple enough. Each team gets three timeouts with a two minute warning. But, there’s a catch. To make it more interesting, (and for a reason I’ll get to in a second) remove field goals. Teams can only score touchdowns. 4th and 25 from the 36? Punt the ball or try to get the first down, it makes the game more interesting for the fans. And in addition, scoring teams must go for two after the touchdown, just like in college football after a few periods. It makes the after-touchdown plays more exciting and determining in how the game may end. But, you may be asking: what if there’s a tie? And for this, I will credit the legendary Pat McAfee. After the overtime period, there will be a kicking battle between both sides. Each kicker will take a 50, 55, and 60 yard field goal (while alternating). Whoever makes more of those three will win. The kickers may not be important during the first overtime period, but they will be the most important player on the team if the time rolls around. But you’re probably thinking again, what about if they make the same amount? Then, to finally end the game, each team (in an alternating fashion) will get the ball on the five yard line, goal to go. They each will get one play to score. The first team to score while the other doesn’t will finally win the game. Each team will always get a try no matter what round to have redemption, making the order of the teams critical. The kicking battle will give one last bit of time for players to rest and game plan. 

Sure, the idea I just proposed may not be the most easy to comprehend or even make the most sense. But for pure entertainment value, the NFL needs to change up overtime. At least to make it more fair for the players. The new system would bring up entertainment value, and quite possibly bring up ratings for the games too, helping out the networks who cover them.

And who knows? Maybe the NFL might take such a giant leap. It would certainly be better than what’s in place now.