New NFL overtime rule proposal has its moment

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We could be looking at one of the all-time sleepy NFL meetings if the one thing that matters this week—the proposal to make overtime fair—doesn’t pass when it comes to a vote in Palm Beach, Fla.

I canvassed a few people at the meetings over the weekend. Some are sure the vote to mandate at least one possession per team in overtime will get the required 24 of 32 team votes and become law in 2023. “I think it passes easy,” one top team executive said.

I hope he’s right. With the rise of powerful offenses and franchise quarterbacks playing deep into the playoffs, the coin flip has grown too influential, when a touchdown on the first possession ends the game. Over the last 10 years, there have been 12 overtime playoff games, and the team that won the coin toss to start overtime has won 10. In seven of those games, the game was won on the first drive of overtime, so the loser of a flip of a coin never touched the ball in seven of the 12 games.

My gut feeling—and that is all it is—is that each team touching the ball in overtime of playoff games is likely to pass. But for regular-season games, I get a conflicting view. I’m hopeful, but less confident, it’ll pass for all 2022 games.

Here are the mechanics of what will happen at the meetings with the overtime rule: The Competition Committee will present its 120-page report on rules and the 2021 season to owners, GMs and coaches on Tuesday. There will be discussion on both overtime proposals. One is simple; each team would get at least one possession in overtime, and if it’s tied after those two possessions, next score wins. Two has a wrinkle; if Team A scores a touchdown and PAT on the first drive of overtime, Team B needs a touchdown and must attempt a two-point conversion after the TD. So game over after the second possession if both score TDs.

This is going to be hard enough to pass with just both teams getting a guaranteed possession in overtime. Owners and team bosses hate gimmicky, and the two-point proposal is a gimmick. I can’t see that having much traction.

I do get the just-play-defense side of thinking of those who opposes changing the rule. But I ask the same question all the time: How often does a team in overtime win the coin flip and choose to play defense? For the last 36 games that have gone to overtime, the answer is zero. For 36 straight NFL overtime games, the coin flip winner has taken the ball first. Why has no coach since Mike Tomlin three years ago—when his quarterback was Duck Hodges—chose to defend a goal and hand the ball to the other team to start overtime?

The commissioner is always influential on key rules changes. But I can’t get a feel which way he’s leaning on this one.

So we’ll see how this one goes. My bet is if it looks like more than eight teams oppose the change, the powers-that-be will propose a playoff-only fix. After two debacle finishes in the last four seasons—Patrick Mahomes not touching it in OT of the 2018 AFC title game, Josh Allen not touching it in the division playoff game at KC in January—I’d be surprised if it doesn’t pass for at least the playoffs.