NFL changes overtime rules in playoffs

PALM BEACH, Florida. On Tuesday, NFL owners voted to change the playoff overtime rule to allow both teams to have possession regardless of whether a touchdown was scored on the first possession in overtime.

The change comes two months after the 2021 NFL Playoffs, in which six of the last seven games were decided by three points or less. The previous rule was put to the test again after the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Buffalo Bills with a touchdown on the first overtime possession of their classic playoff game last winter.

Under the previous playoff overtime rule, each team was allowed to have possession in an extra game, unless the club receiving the initial kickoff scores a touchdown. If the kickoff resulted in a field goal, the opposing team would have the opportunity to tie or win with a touchdown. If there had been a transfer, the first team to score would have won. This rule remains in effect for the regular season.

The last time the NFL changed the rule, called Rule 16, was in March 2012, when the league expanded the format from the playoffs to the regular season.

Since 2010, Atlanta Falcons CEO Rich McKay—chairman of the NFL’s competition committee—noted that there were 12 overtimes in the postseason, and the team that won the coin toss won 10 times. Seven of those victories came on the first drive, including the Kansas City Chiefs’ victory over the Bills in January.

The proposal from the Indianapolis Colts and the Philadelphia Eagles was for both teams to have possession in overtime, regardless of whether a touchdown was scored on the first possession.

What do coaches think

While more than a simple majority of league owners agreed to the change — 24 out of 32 owners had to agree to it — NFL head coaches were divided on the overtime change. (The final vote was 29-3.)

When asked about the rule change on Tuesday, Los Angeles Rams Super Bowl-winning head coach Sean McVeigh said, “I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t agree that (Bills quarterback) Josh Allen probably deserved [another] playoff possession. And I know [Chiefs coach Andy Reid] feels the same.”

But Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh disagreed with further changes. “I’m not for them. I don’t think adding draws at the end of the game is the solution,” he said. “I don’t think expanding games is the answer.”

Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera described himself as a “traditionalist” but added that he was “open to these discussions” on Tuesday. San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan didn’t have a strong opinion on the matter.

“I never had too much trouble with it,” Shanahan said. “I’ve lost games where we didn’t get the ball, but we’ve also been able to keep people on the field and then come back and win on touchdowns. So I don’t really have a strong opinion about which way to go.”

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