Maiorana: Here's my idea to fix the NFL's inequitable overtime rules

Sal Maiorana
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

First of all, let’s be honest. If the Buffalo Bills hadn’t botched the final 13 seconds of their AFC Divisional playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, no one this week would be giving a hoot about the NFL’s ridiculous overtime rules.

Once superhero Josh Allen threw his fourth touchdown pass of the night to Gabriel Davis — who played quite a Robin to Allen’s Batman in that game — the issue should have been decided and the Bills should have been preparing to host Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Instead, because of those awful 13 seconds when the Buffalo defense decided to line up in Kansas City, Kansas, as opposed to Kansas City, Missouri, where, you know, Arrowhead Stadium is located, here we are screaming about the unfairness of overtime.

However, it’s good for a scream because the NFL really does need to change how it conducts overtime.

Josh Allen called tails to start overtime, the coin landed on heads, and Allen never touched the ball after that.

“I do think it’s a hot topic; I have my own ideas,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane said, though he wouldn’t elaborate. “At the end of the day, we lost the game the other night. But of course we would’ve loved to … I think the TV audience would’ve loved to have seen Josh and our offense get it back. 

“I would definitely love to see it brought back to the table (at the NFL owners’ meeting). I’m not saying I have the exact idea but I think there’s some ways to do it. Without getting into detail, I think there’s a way you can do it in the regular season that handles that, but let’s do something in the postseason when it’s all on the line.”

There have been a few iterations of NFL overtime through the years since 1974 when it was first decided that ties were undesirable and overtime was instituted to break almost all of them.

Back then, it was straight sudden death; first team to score wins and it was that way for 36 years until the league modified the procedure starting with the 2010 playoffs and later extended that to the regular season in 2012.

The change was that the team getting the ball first can end the game if it scores a touchdown on its first possession. But if that team settles for a field goal, the opposing team gets the chance to either win or tie the game with its own field goal, or win it with a touchdown. If the score is still tied after each team has had the ball once, it’s sudden death and the next score wins. 

The only amendment to these rules came in 2017 when the league — claiming safety for the players — shortened the regular season overtime period to 10 minutes.

With the new rules in place, Bills-Chiefs was the 11th playoff game to go to overtime. The team that won the coin toss went on to win 10 times, and seven — like the Chiefs — won on the first possession.

It’s just dumb.

Baseball plays extra innings and each team gets a chance to bat in however many innings are needed to decide the winner. Basketball plays five full minutes of overtime, and keeps playing five-minute periods until there’s a winner. Hockey plays five minutes of sudden death, but in hockey, each team has an equal chance to win before the game goes to a shootout where things are also equal.

Why does football make it so potentially inequitable, not to mention that a silly coin toss can play such a major factor?

If the NFL owners invited me to their meeting, I’d offer a simple fix: Give each team a possession, whether the first team scores a touchdown or not, and these are the tweaks I would make:

Get rid of the coin toss and the kickoff. The home team automatically gets the choice of whether to take the ball first starting at its own 25 (same as if there was a touchback), or start on defense. This decision would add even more importance and incentive to winning as many regular season games as you can to get homefield advantage in the playoffs.

If Team A scores a touchdown on the first possession, Team B gets the ball at the 25. If it also scores a touchdown, it has to go for a do-or-die two-point conversion. The only exception would be if Team A misses its extra point, then Team B can kick its own PAT for the win.

To me, that’s about as fair as it gets. Team B doesn’t get screwed like Allen and the Bills did, but if Team A scores a touchdown, Team B has to take the added risk of the two-pointer rather than the nearly automatic kick.

There would be strategy involved, too. Many teams might choose to start on defense first because then it would know what it needs to do with its first possession. If the defense prevents a score, it knows it only needs a field goal to win.

Or, if it’s the Bills No. 1 defense against some of the poor quarterbacks it faced in 2021, perhaps they’d put the defense out first, confident of forcing a punt and possibly getting good field position on the possession change.

It works the other way, too. Some teams might prefer to put up a number on offense and then play defense accordingly.

The flip side of that, though, is if Team A chooses to play defense first, and the game is still tied after the two possessions, then Team B gets the first chance to win with its second possession once sudden death kicks in.

That’s my fix. I hope the NFL considers it or, at the very least, just makes it a rule that each team automatically gets one possession.

“It’s just horrible,” said Bills offensive tackle Dion Dawkins. “It’s just like, how could the game come down to one possession? It just sucks. Hopefully they can use us as an example, and since they’re talking about this game so highly, they should definitely reconsider something.”

Sal Maiorana can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.