NFL Overtime: How the Changes Will Affect Team Strategies

Paul PreibisiusAnalyst IMarch 25, 2010

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 07:  Head coach Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints celebrates after his team defeated the Indianapolis Colts during Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, 2010 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The NFL has officially taken the first step in amending the rules for its overtime format. 

At present, a team winning the coin toss cannot by virtue of a field goal alone win on its first possession.  To win, a team needs to either score a touchdown on its opening possession or give the opposing team one possession following a field goal.

Changes to this new setup are likely to come within the next few years.  The first is that it is likely to be applied to the regular season, in addition to its current playoff-only form.

Other rules such as giving the other team a possession regardless of whether the initial team scores a touchdown or field are also possibilities.

But beyond how else these changes will be tweaked, how will they affect playcalling on the field?

Will teams become more aggressive?  Conservative?

Here are a few things you can expect to see with the new rules.

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1. The Onside Kick

In a copycat league the notion of using an onside kick in an atypical situation was already to be expected following the success of Sean Payton’s Super Bowl surprise.

Now there is an additional factor to be had in bumping up the number of onside kicks.

 If the team losing the coin toss successfully recovers the onside kick it is technically a change of possession, and therefore the game has once again become sudden death, only this time the coin-toss loser has the upper hand.

If that receiving team can hold onto the football, however, the good field position isn’t quite as harmful to the kicking team since a field goal on that possession will not end the game.

2. Going For It on Fourth Down in the Red Zone

A field goal on an opening drive in overtime will not end it, so a team that is stalled out at say 4th-and-goal from the three has an interesting decision to make.

The simplest idea would be for that team to kick the chip-shot field goal and count on its defense to make the necessary stand.  The team may have to hope its defense can hold for one possession, but if it can the game is over.

The wrinkle may cause teams to step away from the idea, however, and elect to go for the end zone on fourth down. 

This would serve the dual purpose of giving the team one additional chance to end it on that possession, and to potentially pin the opposing team deep if they are unsuccessful.

Failing on fourth down then trying to get a quick stop could result in the team getting the ball back in or near field goal range at a time when those three points would be able to single-handedly end the game.

3. Going Conservative at Midfield

When deciding whether or note to attempt that long field goal on an opening possession, teams now will be much more likely to “pooch” punt the ball and try and pin the opposing team rather than hope the kicker can sock home a 40+ yarder.

If the kicker is successful he won’t put the game away with that long kick, yet if he fails the opposition takes over in a great position to try and knock in a field goal of its own, which would end the game.

In an extension of No. 2, this stems from the idea of pinning the other team back and forcing it back into sudden death rather than cashing in on those three points.

4. Teams More Comfortable Forcing Overtime

Now that overtime is no longer considered as reliant on a luck of the draw coin toss, it might make it far easier for a coach to elect for that game tying extra point over a two-point conversion (or a tying field-goal rather than a final goal-line try for the end zone).

Aggressive coaches will still almost always play to win, but for the conservative crowd taking the safer route becomes a whole lot easier.

The evolution of the game has already started to put the game in the hands of great strategists over simple smashmouth-fundamentals guys.  Now that the league has amended overtime, a whole new evolution in the strategy of the game is sure to occur. 

When it does, look for an already great game to get a whole lot more interesting, and to even more next-day second guesses for each coach's respective solution to the new overtime puzzle.

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