NFL Playoff Overtime Rule Changes: Stop the Insanity

Barking CarnivalAnalyst IMarch 25, 2010

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 07:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts looks to pass against the New Orleans Saints during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, we explained why it would be a big mistake for the NFL to adopt the goofy proposed overtime rule changes. We didn’t think the proposal would actually pass—certainly the NFL brass would consider it carefully, reject it, and come up with a better solution, right?

Wrong.

Today, it was announced that the changes have been approved by the owners and will be put in place for next year’s NFL playoffs. This is so disturbing and tragic that we will not be able to live with ourselves unless we put our opposition on the record one last time.  

Here’s the NFL’s solution: In overtime, the kicking team will get the ball at least once—unless the receiving team scores a touchdown, in which case, the game would be over.

If the receiving team kicks a field goal, the other team will (1) win if it responds with a TD, (2) force sudden death with its own FG, or (3) lose if it fails to score.

This change initially seems fair. Most of the time, each team gets the ball once. But it’s a really bad idea.

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In any sport, the primary goal of overtime should be to determine the most deserving winner of the game. A really good way to do that is to make the game play in the overtime period closely resemble that of regulation time.

Basketball’s overtime and baseball’s extra innings are great examples—they simply extend the game. NHL hockey and playoff/tournament soccer have simple overtimes too—that is, until they get impatient and impose the bizarre shootout concept.

But the NFL is now officially the worst of the bunch, after attempting to fix its overtime “problem” with Scotch tape and Elmer’s glue.

Get ready for odd coaching decisions and strategies to be introduced in the overtime period that weren’t in the mix during regulation.

In a sense, the teams will be playing a different game in overtime. And that’s no way to determine the deserving winner, especially in a playoff game.

Here’s why it’s a bad idea:

Inconsistent Logic

If the theory is that both teams should have a chance to score, it’s unclear why there should be an exception for first strike touchdowns. Are we to believe a quick TD would prove the scoring team’s unquestionable dominance?

Punting Amnesty

If the receiving team does kick a field goal, the other guys will have to at least match. Therefore, punting will be removed from their list of options—which means their odds of scoring points on their possession will actually be greater than those of the team that had the ball first.

For example, if faced with a 4th-and-6 from their own 24, they will have to go for it. What if, God forbid, they convert that fluky fourth-down and then score a touchdown later on that drive to win the game? They will have been forced into a punt-free parallel universe that may actually reward them with a victory. How is that fair?

First-Up Conservatism

The team that kicks off first will have an unearned strategic advantage similar to having last ups in a baseball game—unless they are exposed as undeserving losers by giving up a quick TD.

This will force the team that receives the first kickoff into some new situations and odd strategic decisions.

Suppose the receiving team drives all the way down to the 10-yard line, and the drive stalls out. What should it do on 4th-and-goal from the 10—kick the FG and then kick off and await its fate? Or go for the TD, knowing if it makes it, it wins, and if it fails, the other guys will have the long field?

How about a fourth-down at the 28—should a team try a 45-yard field goal that might not help much, even if it’s good. Should it punt and try to pin the other guys inside their 10? 

I don’t know the answers to these questions. The fact they would be asked at all shows the teams would be playing a new and weird version of football.

Defensive Strategy

If the receiving team does kick a FG, the other team will have to kick a field goal to stay in the game. The clock won’t be a factor. The defense will then be in a position where a turnover—even on downs—would end the game.

Will the defense be wise to gamble like crazy in the next series? Or play conservative to possibly give up the FG but not the TD? 

Again, these are interesting questions, but it’s not football as we know it. It’s PlayStation.

I’m not saying the proposed system won’t be fun and interesting; it probably will be. But playoff overtime is not the time to introduce frivolous strategies and decisions to the game.

Now that Congress has addressed health care, can we get this on the agenda?

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