NFL Overtime rule costed Kansas City, needs change

Nearly two weeks ago, fans of American football gathered to watch a pair of games to decide which two teams would advance to Super Bowl LIII. Yet, despite the hype, the two games were best remembered for the controversy that decided them. Although the most discussed moment of the weekend was the missed call in the NFC Championship game, the more long-term and pertinent issue to take from the games was what happened in the AFC Championship: the idea that winning overtime games might only come down to the flip of a coin.

In the current NFL overtime rules, the team that wins the coin toss elects to receive the ball or defend it. If at any point in the game a team scores a touchdown, that team wins, regardless of the situation.

If the first team with the ball does not score a touchdown but instead kicks a successful field goal, the other team has a chance to win the game (with a touchdown) or tie it with another field goal, and if they do, then the game ends with the next score.

Both the NFC and AFC Championship matches went into overtime. We saw both offenses take the field in the NFC title game because of a Drew Brees interception, but things were different on the AFC side of the bracket, where the New England Patriots traveled to Kansas City to face the top-ranked Chiefs.

In the overtime period, New England won the coin toss and elected to take the ball to go on offense. The Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady executed a drive, and when running back Rex Burkhead ran into the endzone for the touchdown, the game had ended. New England had won.

But imagine if Mahomes had received the ball to begin overtime. He could have executed the touchdown drive and could have scored the six points to win the game, all while Brady was sitting on the sidelines hoping that his defense would be able to stop the Chiefs’ offense. This would be a very plausible scenario, but it all would depend on which way the coin fell.

I am not here to say that Mahomes would have scored a touchdown, but I am saying that he should have had his chance to try after Brady. For those who would argue that Kansas City should have just played better defense, why shouldn’t the Patriots’ defense have had the same responsibility? In order to promote balanced football, the NFL should make overtime require both offense and defense to win the game for both sides.

There are a couple of ways to make overtime more balanced. The first way is to adopt a system similar to college football and only end the game in two situations: the first is when the first team with the ball scores, and the other team either fails to match that score, losing the game, or exceeds the score, winning the game, and the second is when the first team with the ball fails to score, and the other team scores.

For example, let’s suppose that the Patriots won through a balanced effort in which their offense scored their touchdown, and their defense was able to stop Mahomes to win the game. College overtime rules have their own issues, but at least both teams get to touch the ball.

Another method is to play overtime in a fixed amount of time, similar to how overtime works in professional soccer. In this way, a team can only win the game by having the lead when time expires. Although this would take too much time during the regular season, one could argue that those games don’t even need to go to overtime, as some of them already end in ties anyway.

An often popular debate is the question of which quarterback is more talented: Brady or Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Excluding this season and ignoring injuries, Brady has been a starter for 17 years and has won five super bowls, while Rodgers has been a starter for 10 years and has won one super bowl.

According to NFL records, in postseason overtime games (before the Kansas City game), Brady has a record of 2-0 and a coin toss win record of 2-0, while Rodgers has a record of 0-3 and a coin toss win record of 0-3, and he never touched the ball during any of those three games.

Coincidence or not, the fundamental fact that a team can win without ever playing defense or lose without ever playing offense is unsettling. In tight thrillers between equally matched teams, no one wants to see the result come down to a coin flip, which is why every time it happens, the overtime debate will be a hot topic. Coincidence or not, the NFL overtime rules need to change.