Thursday, September 25, 2014

What The NFL Needs Is A Real Overtime Rule

A few years ago, several pundits started complaining about the overtime rules in the NFL. They argued how ridiculous it was for one team to win the toss, then watch as that team does nothing but play for the right to kick a field goal to win it.

So Roger Goodell decides we'll test out a modified overtime rule for the playoffs. Simply put, the team that wins the toss cannot win the game by kicking a field goal on its opening drive, but it can win the game if it scores a touchdown.

I remember telling somebody that the rule should have been changed so that each team was guaranteed at least one possession on offense and then you get rid of most complaints.

Next thing you know, Tim Tebow passes to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime, Thomas takes it to the house, and I'm celebrating that my Denver Broncos just beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs.

Of course, now we have the modified overtime rule applied to all games, and now what? We have Peyton Manning rallying the Denver Broncos to force overtime against the Seattle Seahawks, only for the Seahawks to win the overtime coin toss, followed by Russell Wilson rallying his team down the field for the touchdown.

Sure enough, here come the pundits who complain about how unfair that is to Peyton Manning... but before Seahawks fans get tuned up, you can bet those same pundits would have complained if the Broncos had won the toss and scored the touchdown, because Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson didn't get his turn.

Then again, those same pundits were likely saying nothing when Tebow to Thomas happened, because they were too busy talking about Tebow Time.

Anyway, I still am of the opinion that the modified overtime rule is a bad idea... which means, yes, I believe the Steelers should have had a possession on offense in the Tebow Time playoff matchup.

More to the point, I want an overtime rule that doesn't lead to the predictable outcome of "if we win the toss, we will receive."

So here's my proposal on how the NFL overtime rule should really be:

* There is no time limit. In other words, don't bother running the game clock. The play clock will run, but that's the only clock the offense has to manage.

* Coin flip happens the same way as the one to start regulation. Visiting team calls the toss. Whoever wins the toss gets to decide whether to receive the ball or defer.

* The game ends after both teams have an equal amount of offensive possessions and one team has the lead, with the exception of a team's defense or special teams unit scoring for the lead.

To explain the third point, let's go over some scenarios. I'll stick with the Broncos and Seahawks.

How it works for the offenses: Seattle wins the toss, elects to receive, then scores a touchdown. Seahawks kick the extra point. Broncos will receive a kickoff and must score a touchdown with extra point to tie and keep the game going, or get a two-point conversion to win. However, if each team fails to score on its first possession, then Seattle scores on its second possession, the Broncos get another possession for a chance to score.

How a defense can win the game: Denver wins the toss, elects to receive, but has an interception, which the Seahawks return for a touchdown. Game ends there. If each team has an offensive series and Seattle gets the pick six on Denver's second series, game still ends.

How a special teams unit can win the game: Broncos win the toss, elect to receive, but are forced to punt. Seahawks return the punt for a touchdown. Game ends there. Same thing if each team has one offensive series and Broncos second series ends in a punt, with Seattle getting the TD return.

Another special teams possibility: Broncos win the toss, elect to receive and score a touchdown with the extra point. Seahawks return the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. They can now kick the extra point to tie or go for two to win.

Yet another special teams possibility: Broncos win the toss, elect to receive, but are forced to punt. Seattle drives and is forced to settle for a field goal. But the field goal is blocked by the Broncos and they return the ball for a touchdown. Game over. Again... if Seattle's field goal try came at the end of its second possession and the Broncos get a block returned for a TD, game ends.

By doing it this way, nobody can complain that one team or the other didn't have an opportunity to score. Yeah, in certain cases, the quarterback didn't get to be the one to win the game, but so what? Each team got its turn with the ball for a chance to score, and that's what matters.

This rule takes away the mindset about always electing to receive if you win the overtime coin toss. It might still happen more often, but some teams might take a chance on deferring. Let's say the Broncos win and defer to the Seahawks. If the Seahawks score a touchdown with an extra-point kick, the Broncos know they can win with a touchdown and two-point conversion. In other words, teams might defer to get the last possession, so they know what to do should the opposing offense put points on the board first.

The rule change might also convince more teams to go for it on fourth down. Why risk giving the ball up to the other team, when you can either score the touchdown to take away the opponent's options for winning, or ensure you get the game-winning drive?

There might even be more teams that will go for two. Go back to the Broncos-Seahawks example. If the Seahawks score the touchdown and extra-point kick on the opening drive of overtime, how much more likely will the Broncos be willing to go for two should they score a touchdown? Wouldn't they rather want to win at that point instead of letting the game continue?

And since "playing for overtime and hoping we win the toss" is not as attractive of an option, teams might not want to risk overtime as much. So some teams might go for two more often in regulation, rather than just kicking an extra point to tie. Or they might even want to go for the touchdown to win instead of the field goal to tie.

Changing the overtime rule in this way would make overtime games more exciting and less predictable in terms of what teams will do. It would also mean no games would end in ties, because overtime would last until somebody wins. 

If Roger Goodell really wants to be innovative, then give this overtime rule proposal a try. No more complaining about how a team can win in overtime just by winning the coin toss.

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