Before the New England Patriots beat the Kansas City Chiefs in this year’s AFC Championship games, Tom Brady thought all odds were stacked against him. But when the game ended in a tie after regulation time, the Patriots won the coin toss. Moments later, Brady and his team won the game, without the Chiefs even touching the ball.
How was that fair for the Chiefs? Everyone that believes in the new rules will point you to the NFC Championship game. The New Orleans Saints won the coin toss after regulation team. The Los Angeles Rams played some great defense and qualified for Super Bowl LIII.
So, once more, are the new overtime rules really unfair?
Both Teams Can Possess the Ball
Contrary to what many against the OT rules say, the NFL gives an opportunity to both teams. Whether your team wins or losses in the coin toss challenge, they have a chance at possessing the ball. The only exemption is if the opponent side scores a touchdown, in which case one team has no chance for a win.
With that in mind, the NFL rules imply that each team has to play some really good defense to avoid losing in over time. Unfortunately, NFL teams that lose in the coin toss challenge end up losing the game 60% of the time.
On the other side, we could argue that if a team is good enough to score a touchdown on its first possession, it deserves to win the game. Besides, assuring the second team of possession doesn’t make things any better.
With only ten minutes in OT, the second team to get possession has some advantage noting their opponent has already had a chance. They can change their strategy and force a touchdown if the other team didn’t win. As such, the proposition wouldn’t be any better.
10/15 Minutes are enough to get a Winner
A section of NFL fans believes things would be fair if the OT period was extended. Their dream rules would be for the overtime to be 30 minutes, each side having 15 minutes. The ball is kicked to start each drive. If the OT ends with no winner, yardage or something else could be used to break the tie.
The problem with that proposal is that it would extend the game by too much time. A total of 30 minutes in OT is the equivalence of 50% extension time. That would probably result in more injuries, more wear and little fairness to either team.
Some would still argue that it would reduce the rising epidemic of ties in the NFL. But didn’t the 10 minute OT period solve the problem? Since OT rules were introduced in 1974, there have been only four years when the season ended with two ties. The latest was last season when the Steelers tied the Browns 21-21 and the Vikings tied the Packers 29-29 within a two-week time frame.
The Rules Work Most of the Time
The NFL’s overtime rules tend to work most times. Both teams get possession of the ball in at least 70% of the cases where OT rules were used. But in the few times the rules messed up a big game, they were criticized thoroughly.
A good example is this year’s NFC game between the Saints and the Rams. Despite winning the coin toss, the New Orleans Saints fans found something to complain about after they lost to the Rams for a place in the Super Bowl. The referees missed a call that cost the Saints the game. Consequently, fans put up billboards, filed lawsuits and complained endlessly on social media.
The NFL allegedly admitted they “blew the call” to Saints coach Sean Payton. But that’s one incident among many where the referees did their job professionally and OT rules saved the day.
Statistics actually prove this. Except for cases where a touchdown was scored, teams that possessed the game second during overtime have won the game 44% of the time. Teams that possessed the ball first won the game during 50% of the time. 5.9% of the cases ended in ties.
Is tossing a Coin really that bad?
One of the biggest complaints about the OT rules is that the team to take first possession is determined through a coin toss. Traditionally, we’ve all be made to believe that tossing a coin result in a 50/50 outcome. It’s probably also what the NFL believes and the reason they use the coin tossing method to date.
So, why is it a problem for some? The NFL is supposed to be fair. Tossing a coin gives one team—at least that’s the word out there. But is that the case? Simply go back to the Saints vs the Rams game. The Saints won the coin tossing challenge but lost the game anyway.
If check back with stats, winning the coin toss hasn’t always led to a win. So, if OT rules are to be changed, blaming the coin toss is simply a way of pivoting from the real issues.
College OT Rules Wouldn’t be allowed in NFL
A common proposition to end the current NFL OT rules is to take a leaf from the NCAA. Under college rules, each team earns a possession at the opposing team’s 25-yard line. It all looks fair. But wait until each team gets possession and the game is carried into a third-extra quarter.
The game changes since one team has to play defense for a second straight time. The risk of injuries increase, time management becomes a challenge and what looked fair is suddenly not anymore. Sure, NCAA rules eliminate dependence on coin flipping, but they are as flawed as the current NFL rules.
After two postseason NFL games ended with controversies in OT last season, overtime rules are suddenly a huge problem in the league. Almost everyone now has an opinion of what is wrong with them. From coin tossing to the sudden death rules, all the rules are under scrutiny. But beneath all the controversy lies one fact. The NFL OT rules work most of the times. And until that time when objectively fair rules are introduced, the current rules should remain.