The Volokh Conspiracy

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The Overtime Quandary

The NFL really needs to fix its overtime rules


It might seem churlish, after having been treated to what was almost certainly the most exciting weekend of football (or "Amfoo," as a friend of mine calls it, to distinguish it from that other brand of football) ever, to lodge a complaint, but complain we must.

Though all four games were pretty thrilling - it was the first time that all four divisional championship games had been "walk-offs," decided by a score on the final play - the final game of this weekend's quartet, Buffalo v. Kansas City, was the best of the lot, a truly glorious display by two terrific teams.   (Among other highlights, the teams combined for a truly unbelievable 25 points in the last 1:58 of regulation play).

But the game exposed the fact that the NFL has by far the worst method for resolving games that are tied at the end of regulation of all the major sports - yes, even including soccer's much-derided penalty shootouts.  At the end of regulation, a coin toss decides which team will receive the ensuing kickoff to begin the overtime period. If that team manages to score a touchdown, the game is over; the loser of the coin toss doesn't get its "last licks."

Kansas City won the toss, drove down the field for a touchdown, and that was that - as in nine of the previous ten playoff games that went to an overtime, the team winning the coin toss won the game.

It is, quite simply, unfair and indefensible; any nine-year-old in a playground pick-up game would recognize that. The toss of a coin should not have that kind of impact on the outcome of a game, and Bills fans are justifiably angry about having been cheated out of their chance for a victory.  No other sport ends games by giving one team only the opportunity to score. And it is positively bizarre that the NFL, whose rules allow for endless pauses during the game to allow for microscopic video inspection of whether a receiver's left toe scraped the out-of-bounds line a microsecond before, or after, he gained "complete control" over the ball, or whether a running back's knee touched the ground on the 2-yard line or two inches behind the 2-yard line, all ostensibly in pursuit of "getting it right," would get it so wrong on this basic rule.  It should fix this ASAP.

NEXT: The Right to Defy Criminal Demands: The Heckler's Veto

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  1. It's not really true that no other sport allows only one team the chance to score--any sport that enters a sudden death situation has the potential that one team will immediately score and end the game.

    AIUI, sudden death overtime is used in many rugby leagues. It's been used in a number of other sports as well, but most of them have gotten rid of them because it is indeed a pretty bad system.

    1. jb, I sort of like the way I have seen int'l soccer handle it (and I think the way the NFL might have done it years ago).

      There could be a 'mini half' (extra time); whoever has the highest score after extra time, they win. Still tied? Second OT 'half' of 15 minutes. Still tied after two 15 minute OT periods? Sudden death.

      1. In pass happy football defenses are extremely tired at the end of games…so that is why it is so important to be the last one with the ball. In run happy football the defenses wouldn’t have to run nearly as much and the running backs and tight ends and receivers have to block more and get tired.

      2. I would love to see penalty kicks in NFL. You know what the penalty kick evolved into in American football? It's the extra point. The first guy (the placekicker) would probably make his, and probably his backup (usually the punter). Maybe there's one other guy who kicked in high school. The other two? Good luck.
        Do *not* allow the takers to go for a two-point conversion.

    2. Rugby union has abandoned them for almost all games

    3. *Tied after regulation play. In the continuation, no punts and no field goals.
      *Flip a coin to decide first offensive team.
      *They get the ball on the 50 yd line (maybe their own 40)
      The first time they have 1-4 downs to make a first down.
      *The choice of the starting position of the ball and the number of downs for the very first possession would be made by simulations to provide little or no advantage or disadvantage to first possession.
      *After the first possession, teams have the regular four downs to make ten yards.
      *Since neither punting nor field goals are permitted, if a team doesn't gain ten yards in four downs, the other team becomes the offensive team and the game continues until one team scores a touchdown and wins the game.

  2. I stopped watching a few years ago when the NFL decided to go full SJW. Unfortunately can't avoid it all the time and saw a ridiculous commercial that had people of color actors telling how bad they have it. One guy who appeared to be African American said "I will make $10,000 less than a white person when I get hired." That is just a straight up lie and a divisive one too. Organizations that forward that type of propaganda don't deserve support or your hard earned money.

    1. I'm so sorry you had to see and listen to black people. That must have been really upsetting for you.

      1. I don't believe him — it's just vice signaling — but how broken would someone have to be to say, "I like this sport but I won't watch it because someone affiliated with it said something I disagree with"?

        1. Because it's just one form of entertainment, and the totality of the experience is less fun when being bombarded with flawed, divisive messaging?

          I stopped watching when it became clear that the refs are enforcing rules that are beyond the ability of the players to fully comply.

          Players get flagged, and outcomes changed, for doing things that are unreasonable to expect otherwise.

          1. That's actually a complaint about the game though. If you don't like the way the game is being played anymore that is a reasonable and normal reason to stop watching.

            "I have* to see black people talk about their experiences for 15 seconds so I am DONE with the NFL" is something else entirely.

            *He does not actually have to do anything, he can tune out things he doesn't care about that aren't the game. Much like how I don't pay attention to the Super Bowl half time show.

            1. "I have* to see black people talk about their experiences

              Unless they are paid actors spreading a falsehood?

          2. The refs have to stop the game often to satisfy the broadcasters. It's all about the money

      2. It's not an issue of having to see and listen to black people - it's having to see and listen to liars who think nothing of stirring up trouble for their own personal gain.

        Consider the claim from a rational perspective. If an employer could get away with paying a black employee $10k less than an identically-qualified white employee, what business person is his right mind would do anything other than hire a bunch of black people and pocket the profits? There is no opportunity for race-based arbitrage in competitive employment.

        That's not to say there aren't a few bigots out there. Bigots exist on both sides of the debate. But there are nowhere near enough bigots to support that sweeping generalization of a $10k pay differential. It is simply absurd.

        1. If an employer could get away with paying a black employee $10k less than an identically-qualified white employee, what business person is his right mind would do anything other than hire a bunch of black people and pocket the profits?

          Perhaps you haven't noticed, but companies do in fact hire black people all the time. In fact, I bet you could find some posters here who are pretty confident that companies will prefer an equally qualified (or even less qualified!) black candidate over a white man.

      3. LTG, you are a prick, aren't you!

        1. Because I happened to notice that Jimmy’s complaint boils down to bigotry? I can read his other comments over the years. I can read and listen to how other people tend to invoke “anti-SJW” or “anti-wokeness” And it happens to occur a LOT whenever there are black people talking about their experiences or taking a stand.

          Like there’s a reason that those antiCRT groups tend to identify problematic books that are largely by PoC.

      4. "I'm so sorry you had to see and listen to black people."

        Where do you even get off with this dribble? I said I don't like the NFL because of their full blown SJW stance. Hence won't waste my time watching it or giving them my money. Then I pointed out one specific example why which presents false, misleading, and divisive information.

        It isn't about "grinding a political axe" (although the left thoroughly giving us all finger wagging lectures about how we should spend our money depending on something a company said, or how they want to frame it), just I don't waste my time viewing such low value information. If you want to do so, go right ahead. You can lap up that propaganda if that gets your jollies off.

        1. “Where do you even get off with this dribble?”

          Your comment history. Plus reading and listening to what self-professed anti-SJW anti-woke people say as well as paying attention to what they do.

          A clear pattern emerges: black people talking about their experiences, or even merely being visible makes certain people really mad. Mad enough to pull books, sue teachers, or stop watching movie franchises or football.

    2. I don't tend to police my media by having a political axe to grind on the margins.

      Holds for Harry Potter as much as the NFL.

      1. There's political axes and then there's the "SJW/woke-ism" complaint. Which often just boils down to the fact that black people are visible and audible in what were formerly viewed as "white" spaces. I mean, look at how people react to Idris Elba possibly being cast as Bond. Or whenever a black person might be a major character in Star Wars. I mean I guess that is "political" in a sense, but I don't think it should be glossed over how much of his complaint is thinly disguised bigotry.

        1. I don't care about a black Bond or a black Star Wars character. I mind an Indian (someone from India) playing David Copperfield. It makes as much sense as making a movie with a white person playing Harriet Tubman.

          1. Harriet Tubman was a real person

            1. There is a tv show about Anne Boylen [a real person] with a black woman playing her.

              1. Okay. But its still weird to compare actual people to fictional people.

                1. Alexander Hamilton

              2. Anne Boylen [a real person]


        2. The problem with "wokism" is not just black people sharing their experiences. It is the demand that we uncritically accept as fact allegations that are simply impossible for anyone to honestly believe -- starting with, "All economic failure by blacks is a result of malicious racist treatment by whites." I simply refuse to take seriously any person or institution that demands that acceptance.

          1. Look at the numbers—at this point it doesn’t really matter what the underlying cause of descendants of American slaves is. I said this in December 2020–that was the time for a $1 trillion reparations package. Instead we got wasteful spending that is producing inflation and violence among Black youths is out of control and negatively impacting law abiding citizens.

          2. All economic failure by blacks is a result of malicious racist treatment by whites

            Who says this, though?

    3. Another entry in the “I haven’t watched [whatever] since [whenever] but here’s my opinion” sweepstakes. Always a treat.

    4. So Aaron Rogers won't get a jab or Kapernick takes a knee. This sours you on what I guess was a lifetime enjoyment of football. Political insanity spreads easily these days.

  3. I agree with you sort of.

    After the game my wife and i Talked about it. I think the NFL method is better than the college method which effectively eliminates a lot of defense and kicking from the game.

    I think each team should have at least a chance to score.

    The question then becomes how does that actually work?

    Suppose the team with the ball first scores then other team then gets the ball and if they fail to tie the game then the game is over. OK, but what if the second team ties the score and the first team scores again, is the game over then or does the second team get a second chance? Do you play until one team fails to score?

    1. Decide it by who scored more per minute. Or eliminate the point after and the two point thingamjig and simplify it to who scored soonest.

      The coin toss determines who goes first, but both get a shot.

    2. rsteinmetz, the right analogy is extra innings in baseball. No sudden death aspect at all.

      The tied game continues for one, 16-minute "inning." If the team which receives the ball first scores, the other team kicks off again, and the first team tries again to run up its score, continuously, until 8 minutes expire. Then the other team gets 8 minutes to do what it can. If the first team to get the ball did not score, then the other team ends the game with its first score, like a walk-off homer in extra innings. If 16 minutes end with a tie, the process repeats.

      An exception occurs if the during an "inning" the defensive team scores, for instance, by running back an interception, or recovering a fumble and driving for a touchdown. In that case, the team which lost the ball gets only until the expiration of its allotted time to make up the difference.

      Maybe exhausting, but fair. You could have successive "innings" get progressively shorter. You could start out with a shorter initial "inning." Some term other than, "inning," would have to be found.

      1. In baseball an inning is 3 outs per side, they aren't timed.

        The closest thing in football would be a pair of successive possessions.

        Giving each team a possession might work. But if there is a turnover how does that work?

        Suppose team one gets the first possession and scores then team two get a possession and turns the ball over then I would suppose the game could be over.

        Then if team two scores and fails to tie the score then the game could be over.

        But if the score is tied you go to another inning.

        If however team one turns the ball over and then team two also turns the ball over you are still tied when is the game concluded?

        1. I'm not following. Why would it be any different from ending the possession any other way?

      2. Others make points below, about the need to keep the games on schedule, to accommodate television, and about the risk of very long games to the players. Both are important; both probably trump my suggestion above. So shorten the regular game by 10 minutes. That leaves room for a fair overtime, and would be a boon to the players every game.

    3. Yes, rst,
      As long as each side gets at least 1 chance with the ball, then one goes to first side that scores in any manner

    4. Maybe each team gets one play, high score at the end wins. If they're still tied, they get one more play each. It wouldn't take long. Or just have a set length of overtime, high score at the end of it wins.

    5. I think it should be more like extra innings in baseball. Say the Chiefs get the ball first and score a TD +1. Bills get one possession. If they tie it, the ball goes back to the Chiefs for another round. (Of course, they can go for a two-point conversion; if they make it, game over and they win; if they don't, Chiefs win by one).
      It keeps going until one team has more points than another after an equal number of opportunities.
      I suppose the objection is that, as in baseball, it could go on indefinitely, with teams matching each others' scores on and on. I just don't think, though, that that's an especially serious problem in football, where putting points on the board is so much easier, because of (among other things) the field goal option .

  4. One big problem is that the proposed solutions are no better. Say we allow Buffalo to get the ball back. They march down the field and score a TD. Then what? Sudden death? At that point you are in the exact same position as in the current rues. And you cannot keep playing until one team scores and the other does not. Football is not like baseball where the players can keep playing all night -- players will be much more likely to get severely injured as they become more and more exhausted.

    1. Right. The only "fair" systems are to replay the game the next week when almost everyone's healthy again, or to declare a tie (impossible in a non-championship playoff round). ALL overtimes are compromises that resolve the ties involving a fair amount of luck.

      1. You could go to a series of tie breaker, but in what order?

        First downs?
        Total yards gained?
        beyond that I got no ideas.

        1. You could, but I don't see how any other sort of tiebreaker is superior to sudden death. At least sudden death is actual football.

          One thought I had back when they were first reforming the OT rules was that the winner of the toss would have a choice: either start with the ball on their own 10, or have the other team start on their own 10. Then play pure sudden death from there.

        2. DVOA or some other "advanced metric"
          Uniform color
          Which quarterback has the hotter wife or girlfriend?
          Political correctness (the Bills, named after a guy who put on western shows full of stereotypical ethnic characters, against the Chiefs, enough said)
          Which city has nicer weather (Kansas City, but it's really just "less bad")
          Which franchise deserves it (Buffalo- KC has won a couple of Super Bowls, while the Bills have lost 4)

    2. Penalty kicks.

    3. It took the Chiefs 4:15 to score. Put 4:15 on the clock, and give the Bills as many timeouts as the Chiefs used. If they score before time runs out, they win.

      I've always liked the idea of a system where you keep pushing the ball back from the 50 until one side says they'd rather play defense than have the ball. If you get to the 1 yard line and both teams would still rather be on offense, you start moving the first down line further away. In the unlikely scenario you get both teams preferring first and goal from 99 yards away, start moving it to 2nd and goal, 3rd, and goal, etc.

      1. I don't think your first paragraph works, because the team going first gets a longer time limit. They just don't use it all up. The second team is then limited to what the frst team happened to use. The time pressure on each team is quite different.

        However, your second paragraph is the right idea. You have to decide these things with the teams bidding. Whoever bids itself the bigger handicap gets to receive. As well as your suggestions we could have teams bidding to shed players.

        1. I'm not sure if the benefit of knowing exactly what you need to do to win doesn't confer the bigger advantage of the first method I suggested. I had assumed that, like with college overtime, the team that won the toss would elect to kick, but maybe not.

          I agree that the negotiated starting point is best. It preserves punting as part of overtime, unlike college rules, and while it foregoes kickoffs, that's the way football is pretty much going.

    4. No, you are not in the same situation. You just play until a side scores; each side has had its chance after regulation time.

    5. This is the correct answer. Also, all of the arguments treat offenses and defenses the same. If you have a great defense and get a 3-and-out, your offense may get the ball on your own 40, rather than the 25. In fact, I remember a game years ago when Denver chose to kick in OT because it knew its D would stop the other team.

      If you are going to change it, it should be to eliminate kickoffs and have teams start from the 5 or 10 yard line. Or use the bidding process someone suggested earlier.

  5. There is no perfect system that will work for football. At some point an element of chance does enter into the game. If they had a define time period, the coin flip winner would still have an advantage. Coin flip also determine first possession and first possession after the half both advantageous.

    1. What percentage of teams who win the coin flip at the beginning of the game win the game? It may be advantageous, but is it a 90% win rate decided by the opening toss?

      1. I believe it was close to that when if was a pure sudden death. That was part of the reason for the change.

        1. I think it's still around 90%...hence the call for change to the rules.

          I hate the idea (suggested earlier by a few posters) that we time how long it took Team A to score, and Team B has to beat that time. Why on earth should a running team have this huge disadvantage once it gets to overtime? Or, to state it in the opposite way; why should a pass-heavy team have this built-in advantage?

          While no system is perfectly fair--whatever that means--I like the modified soccer rule. Have an extra quarter (ie, 15 minutes). Play it out. We know that both teams will have the ball at least once. Probably at least twice. Much more strategy. (Should we kick an easy field goal, or go for it on 4th down?...knowing that we'll almost certainly be getting the ball back again.) If it's tied after this extra quarter, then the game ends in a tie (regular season), or it's true Sudden Death (playoffs) after that extra quarter.

          1. 52.8%. That's significantly less than the home field advantage.

            The Bills supposedly had the best defense in the NFL. Maybe they should have played like it.

            1. In the playoffs, 63.6% of teams receiving the ball first in OT have scored a TD on their first drive. Another 27.3% have ultimately gone on to win despite not scoring a TD. Only 9.1% have ultimately lost. Maybe there's a better argument based on playoff numbers, but beware the small sample size caveat (11 games total).

              1. Is this all OT games ever, or is this just the ones since they changed the rules so that a FG doesn't win the game?

              2. Playoffs are going to be slightly worse for the second team, though.

                Two teams of equal skill may have equal chances of scoring, but the chance of any team scoring is going to be higher when the two equal teams are on the good end of the scale (like in the playoffs) rather than the regular season, where two bad teams can tie.

  6. It should NEVER have gone into OT. The Bills blew the game by not effectively tackling KC throughout the game. And they should have been able to "kill the clock" with 0:13 remaining in regulation.

    1. Good point.

      I'm a Raider fan and people still complain about the Tuck rule game. But we had a chance at 3 and 1 with 2:41 to go and couldn't pick up a yard. Yeah, it was a crappy rule, but it was (probably) the right call. But if we had picked up that yard, it would have never come to that. See the play here:

      1. Yeah, they technically had opportunity to hang on in that game. But one part of the game that can’t be measured, that must be felt, is “momentum.” And a play like that, in a game like that, swings momentum immediately. The Pasties got a huge burst of adrenaline, the Raiders had all life sucked out of them, and the rest is history.

    2. When any race is so close, then anything which picks a winner is unfair.

      Same with elections. When the result is 51-49, or 50.1 and 49.9, half the electorate thinks they wuz robbed. This especially applies when there are recounts which change 50.001/49.999 to 49.991/50.001. You may as well flip a coin; the recounts add a veneer or legitimacy which is unearned. At least a coin toss would admit up front that there is no clear legitimate winner.

      1. If you don't want to be unfairly called out while stealing second, get there quicker.

      2. ...or just fix the issues with the elections so that the actual results are correct to begin with.

        There is no legitimate reason that elections cannot be fully accurate and auditable. If you want to see what that would look like, just talk to any bank manager and ask what happens when their audit is off by .1 percent.

        1. Yes, that would be preferable to most people. But as I said, when it's that close, half the electorate is pissed off, and politicians would rather stoke that resentment than fix the problem.

          As an aside, I worked at a startup (programmer) where currency amounts were kept as floats, not integers. Blew my mind, but they also kept timestamps in local time, DST and all, instead of UTC. Some things are not obvious until they fail.

        2. "fix the issues with the elections so that the actual results are correct to begin with. "
          Your comment is based on a false premise: That the "true" winner is knowable.
          An election is a measurement of the public's preferences. Like every other measurement, there are legitimate uncertainties and errors. Once the obvious systematic uncertainties are minimized, one still has a finite uncertainty. The "actual" result remains unknowable.

        3. This sounds great and I would have been all for it. Then I saw the 2008 fight between Al Franken and Norm Coleman. The main Minnesota newspaper, the Star Tribune, showed the challenged ballots. Some had dark dots that were well outside the ovals, ambiguously positioned between the names. Some would have ambiguous marks that could have been votes or attempts to correct mis-marked ovals. One famously appeared to vote for "Lizard People."

          The process taught me that in any election, there's a certain margin of error of, say, .2%. Anything within that and you don't know that you've actually picked the winner.

    3. Moreover, if the Chiefs' kicker had not missed a field goal and an extra point, there would not have been overtime. The winner of a game going to overtime is going to be at a disadvantage in the next game. Image how the Chiefs would do against the Bengals if they had to play another series particularly since the Bengals already have an extra day of rest.

  7. I was actually rooting for Buffalo, but screw them. It was their spectacular incompetence that allowed the game to even get into OT. They richly deserved what they got.

    1. I do recall a Bear (Lions?) game where the kickoff was returned for a touchdown. The offense & defense didn't even git on the field.

      Anyway, if DB thinks the other football / hockey shootouts are oaky, would he be willing to have an OT period, then FG shootout? From, say 50 yards out?

      1. I'm (unfortunately) a bears fan so I should probably remember what you're talking about.

        Changes to this system come up every so often and it's always when some high profile game ends in a way that pisses a bunch of people off. IIRC the last change came when a Brett Favre team lost because the other team won the coin toss, then got a FG on the first possession. Now at least they have to get in the end zone.

    2. "I was actually rooting for Buffalo, but screw them. It was their spectacular incompetence that allowed the game to even get into OT. They richly deserved what they got."

      I am attempting to understand the level of stupidity that would enable someone to describe the Bills' performance as "spectacular incompetence," but I am unable to comprehend that level of stupidity.

      I blame my familiarity with football (learned the game from some of the finest coaches).

      1. Complete inability to defend the length of the field with 13 seconds on the clock. I don't care how good Mahomes is, if your defense can't manage that then you should be playing golf next weekend. I'm sure your understudy time with Vince Lombardi makes you vastly more knowledgeable than I, but don't think this one is rocket surgery.

        1. Yup. Kick the ball inside the goal line. Force KC to take 5 seconds to run it back. No brainer. And, this was the PERFECT opportunity for the defense to do what I have been calling for, for years and years, for exactly this situation. "Okay, defensive back and linebackers. At the snap, you grab each and every receiver. Easy to do with the people on the line of scrimmage, tougher to do with the backs coming out of the backfield. But grab them, hold them, and don't let go. Sure, we'll get a penalty for defensive holding and this will stop the clock. But...WE DON'T CARE. The play will eat up 4-6 seconds, there will be no chance for a completion, and the penalty is only for 5 yards. We only need to do this 2 times (If we are idiots and kick the kickoff into the endzone), or 1 time (if we are smart enough to kick into the field of play), and then there will be time only for a 60-yard Hail Mary desperation pass."

          I'm too smart for this one has ever done this obvious (to me) and foolproof ploy, as far as I know.

          1. Under the rules since about 5 years ago, you can do the intentional holding thing once. The second time, the refs are supposed to call it a "palpably unfair act," add the time elapsed back to the clock, and march off a 15 yard penalty.

            1. Ah, interesting. That is indeed a good rule change. (In this past game, doing it even once would have secured the game for the Bills...assuming that it would have taken 7+ seconds off the clock.) And even if it had taken only 4-5 seconds off the clock; it would have 99% secured the game...assuming that the Bills could have kept KC from gaining 20+ yards on the following play. (Getting all the way from the 30 to the 50 would still have meant a 68 yard field goal for the tie.)

              It was an epic choke. A choke and gag for the ages. A pathetic display by a supposedly great defense that will be talked about for years and years.

          2. There was a caller who suggested this yesterday on the NFL satellite show with Pat Kirwin and Jim Miller. They seemed to think that you might get away with it once, but on a second play there might be some sort of unsportsmanlike penalty. But they were kinda vague, like they obviously thought it would be really frowned upon but they didn't have an exact answer. It may be consider unethical enough that nobody is willing to do it, because it would be so obvious that there's no way you could pretend that that's not what you were up to.

          3. Ok, but if they kick to Ty Hill and he runs it back for a TD, we're all complaining about how stupid it was not to kick it out of the endzone.

  8. "to distinguish it from that other brand of football..."

    Rugby? Gaelic football? Aussie rules? Association football?

    1. There are probably affectations more irritating than Americans who insist on calling soccer "football" while talking to other Americans. But there aren't a lot.

      1. NaS,
        Remember that soccer is Association Football, so the usage you complain about is not that far afield.
        But real football without endless commercials is call rugby.
        What is wrong with rugby? Well, for the non-expert rugby penalties are very difficult to discern and have a huge effect on the game..

  9. I mean I get the criticism...but lets not pretend that there was no agency by Buffalo here and that it totally was down to chance.

    KC/Buffalo "ended in a coin-flip" because both defenses had totally collapsed in the last quarter and Mahomes and Allen were able to get to receivers who were very open. Had Buffalo or KC not let that happen, there might not have been overtime.

    Lol it's Murcs law for NFL defense: only the offense has any agency or impact on football games.

    Then again, Bengals/Titans had impressive defensive showings and could have gone to OT so make of that what you will.

    1. My law is that a "prevent defense," prevents you from winning. And it is absolute suicide against a premier quarterback like Mahomes or Brady. I have been watching good quarterbacks pick apart end-game prevent defenses since Sonny Jurgensen played for the Redskins.

      The right defense with a lead and short time on the clock is to contest with the pass rush (mix in blitzes liberally), and contest pass receptions out to about 30 yards from the line of scrimmage. Take your chances with normal defense against the long ball.

    2. "Lol it's Murcs law for NFL defense: only the offense has any agency or impact on football games."

      This was always Madden's (?) opinion, even before the switch. Both teams are on the field in OT!

  10. Josh Allen's only bad call of the game: "tails."

    1. LOL, good one. 🙂

  11. I disagree fully with Post here. No matter what you do, there's always going to be some kind of advantage conferred by dumb luck. Some have said that the other team should always have a chance to match the first team's score and that, if they do, then it becomes sudden death. Well, in that scenario, the "third round" is every bit as influenced by the coin flip as the "first round" was.

    The college method is not actual football in the same sense as the preceding 60 minutes.

    If Buffalo wanted the ball back, they needed to earn it back by keeping Kansas City out of the end zone. Turn them over, force a punt, force a field goal attempt, whatever. But they didn't do it; they did not earn the ball back. One might say that Kansas City did not "earn" the ball from the coin toss, but they sure as hell earned the touchdown.

    Winners need to be determined. And football games cannot be allowed to go on endlessly in the name of 'fairness," especially when each team has a chance to either (a) put the other away; or (b) take the ball back.

    I do agree with Post, however, about replay being terrible.

    1. Yes, there's going to be some degree of advantage. Is it going to be so overwhelming that the coin flip effectively decides the outcome? 90% doesn't mean there's an advantage, it means its the primary deciding factor. If it was 55%, we wouldn't be talking about this.

      1. It was only 90% in this case because both Mahones and Allen were unstoppable at that point. Usually it is far from given that a team can score a touchdown at will.

        1. Usually it is far from given that a team can score a touchdown at will.

          The fact that 7 of the last 11 playoff teams in that situation have done just that might suggest otherwise.

          1. Hopefully this is obvious, but 64% and 90% are not very close to the same value.

            1. Okay?

              The fact remains: in the playoffs, these games do usually end with the receiving team scoring a touchdown on the first possession.

              1. I was taking issue with the proposition that the coin flip was 90% determinative. Seems helpful to the conversation to talk about the real numbers and not made up ones.

                FWIW, in non-playoff situations, the coin flip is more determinative in college football where both sides are guaranteed a possession than in the NFL where they are. There's a significant advantage to going second in the college football setup by knowing if you have to kick a field goal vs. scoring a touchdown. So the coin flip is likely always going to give an advantage.

                1. 64% is still an overwhelming (near 2-1) advantage. It needs to be closer to even. The college rule would be fine. Yes, the team going second has an advantage. It isn't a big one.

                  1. The 64% number comes from playoff games, with a very limited (11 games) sample size. Including non-playoff games, it drops to 52.8%. I suppose it's possible that there's just something different about the playoffs. Seems more likely it's a small numbers artifact.

                  2. But once again, the coin flip advantage in college is bigger than the advantage in the (much larger sample size) regular season NFL. So if it turns out that the current playoff edge in the NFL is an illusion due to a small sample set you may actually make the problem worse if you want to keep the odds to as close to 50/50 as possible.

      2. 90% doesn't mean there's an advantage, it means its the primary deciding factor. If it was 55%, we wouldn't be talking about this.

        According to Prof. Post's link, the winning percentage by the toss-winning team using current OT rules is 52.8%.

        1. That's the regular season OT rules (not sudden death), not the playoff rule (sudden death). The regular season OT rules are fine.

          1. The regular season and OT rules are the same.

            Both are only "sudden death" if the first team scores a touchdown (or safety).

            The only different in post season is that they don't award a tie at the end of the first OT.

  12. The overtime rules are fine.

    The current overtime rules are designed to get the game over as quickly as possible. Every minute that overtime goes on is another minute where an injury to a star could occur. The owners don't want that, and neither do the fans.

    As for the seeming unfairness of the Chiefs winning without the Bills ever getting the football in overtime, remember that there are 3 phases to the game. If the loser of the toss wants the ball back, all they have to do is prevent the winner of the toss from scoring a touchdown. If they manage to do so, their reward is only having to score a field goal on their possession to win the game.

    And if the Bills didn't want to find themselves in the position that they did in overtime, all they had to do was be in the lead when time ran out in regulation. Had they squib-kicked the ball or otherwise put it into play on the kickoff, that is almost certainly what would have happened.

    1. "If the loser of the toss wants the ball back, all they have to do is prevent the winner of the toss from scoring a touchdown. If they manage to do so, their reward is only having to score a field goal on their possession to win the game."

      Not quite. If the toss winner kicks a field goal, the toss loser cannot win the game by doing the same.

  13. Damn near every sport outlet is whining about the same thing right now. People need to be careful what they wish for, as the last time a playoff win/loss had this much chatter, the kneejerk reactions forced upon us a year or two of godawful pass interference reviews.

    The goal of overtime rules is to make sure that statistically heads and tails win around the same amount of times. While I have not seen the numbers since the NFL reduced the OT quarter to 10 mins, prior to that it was pretty close to 50/50 of wins vs. losses (ties have increased significantly since the reduction, but I don't have the numbers in front of me). As long as the wins/losses are about equal, there isn't really an issue. Even if it does favor some teams some of the time, that is going to be the case no matter what you make the rules.

    The other thing one has to consider, which is also what makes it hard to compare to other sports, is television. The NFL is a TV powerhouse, where it stands alone in ratings (in the USA). Baseball can do whatever they want with OT because they are catering to fans in the stands, not to a TV market (and you can here an almost constant cry to make the sport more TV friendly). Basketball games are shorter already, are sporadic in regards to time/channel/day, and have high, rapid scoring, so they can just keep running the game without many issues.

    The NFL has had the singular goal of being TV friendly. You can see this in how the days and times stay consistent and in the way the games butt up to each other with only very short breaks between them. The NFL is going to avoid doing anything which lengthens the games and risks the networks from either not covering the start of a different game or the fans not being able to see a close ending to the current one.

    In this particular instance, you had two quarterbacks who were on fire at the same time and the coin toss decided the outcome. More often; however, is that it makes less difference. Having to only get a field goal to win, choosing with wind direction you want to play into, and getting good field position by via a quick defensive stop are only things that favor "tails" in a lot of games.

    There is not fully equitable system, especially not one that is designed to be TV friendly, so striving to reach 50/50 seems like the smart play.

    1. It's pretty close to 50/50 with the current rules. One of the post-game shows (espn?) said it's 52.7% that the overtime coin toss winner wins the game.

      I don't think you could get it any closer. Fiddling with the rules may make it more tilted to one side or the other instead.

  14. That was such an amazing weekend of football. It's hard to believe that the first three games ended with walkoff field goals, but the fourth game was the best one. Heck, I think you could make a good case that each game was better than the one before it.

    As for Buffalo game ... that was rough. I felt so bad for Josh Allen, for the Bills, and .... most of all, for the long-suffering Buffalo fans.

    I don't know that there is a good solution. An imperfect one that is less bad might be to just have timed OT periods of 15 minutes each for the playoffs only, and keep playing if the score is tied.

    Trouble with that is players will be gassed.

    If you don't do that, you'd need to do something gimmicky- one suggestion was that if the first team scored, the second team has to score in the same number of plays or less. But, again, the trouble with that (like the above) is anytime you allow some kind of "equalizer" there is the remote possibility of the game continuing ...

  15. "unfair and indefensible"

    Wah! Are you 4?

    Its plenty "defensible", play some defense and you can get the ball back. As noted by others, there were plenty of opportunities to win in regulation.

    Its not an automatic win, never has been.

  16. This talk of “unfairness” leaves me flat. I can think of just as many overtime games in which one team won the coin toss, got the football, went three-and-out and punted, only to have the coin toss “loser” win the game on a field goal on the ensuing possession.

    If you don’t think it’s “fair” for one team to win the coin toss and win the game on one possession, here’s my suggestion: DON’T SURRENDER A TOUCHDOWN. Even holding them to a field goal would let you get a possession.

    A final observation: for all the talk of the “greatness” of the quarterbacks who played this past weekend, since when do allegedly championship-quality defenses repeatedly allow the opponents’ receivers to streak wide open downfield and in the end zone in the final two minutes of a close game? Ed Reed, Ronnie Lott, or Troy Polamalu would never have let that happen.

    1. "This talk of “unfairness” leaves me flat. I can think of just as many overtime games in which one team won the coin toss, got the football, went three-and-out and punted, only to have the coin toss “loser” win the game on a field goal on the ensuing possession."


      But in the playoffs, the winner of the coin flip (since the rule change) has won 10 out of 11 games.*

      Given those odds, are you so confident about the fairness?

      There are two possible reasons for this outcome, IMO-
      1. Sample size abnormality. Obviously, this is much better than the overall percentage of all OT games.

      2. Playoffs are different. I'm leaning this direction, given the emphasis on offense in the NFL. 10/11 might be a tad too high, but I wouldn't be surprised if the "true number" is somewhere in the 70s or 80s.

      *The only team to lose was the Saints, to the Rams (ahem). Which goes to show that being the Saints can destroy any glimmer of success.

      1. Was that before, or after, the game could be won on a field goal on the initial possession? And how many times did the coin toss winner win by a touchdown on the initial possession?

        1. After the rule change. So current OT rules.

          10/11 that have won the coin toss have won.
          7 of those ten scored a TD on the opening drive.

          1. In the regular season, with a much much larger sample size, the number drops to 52.8%. I'd trust that figure far more than the small playoff sample size. It's entirely possible there's something different about the playoffs, like a greater likelihood of running into elite offensive teams. But there's also a greater likelihood of running into elite defensive teams.

  17. Basically the only time I have EVER watched football, was when a game went into overtime and ran over a show scheduled afterwards that I actually wanted to watch. Long enough that showing was canceled!

    Elevated my disinterest in football to an active hatred.

    1. Worst part was that the actual game play involved only few seconds, they canceled the show I'd tuned in to watch to TALK ABOUT IT.

      1. So let me get this straight... you hate football because of the NETWORK who has a show you like's behavior? Very nice.

        1. I said that just to be a smartass, but I've always suspected the reality is that this is very on point. The party line for the 10 minute OT has largely been injury risks; however, I've always suspected that it has way more to do with not wanting to piss off the blue-hairs by having 60 Minutes get pushed back past their bedtimes.

          1. To be clear, I'd only have been mildly annoyed if they'd run over with the game play and then cut to my show in progress; As I said, it was only a few seconds of game play. (The whole game is only, what, 15 minutes of actual game play?)

            It was the endless commentary that canceled the show I was going to watch. The idiot game was long over.

            And, why shouldn't they take some consideration for the people who have no interest in football? Is there some valid reason that the inability to complete a game on schedule should excuse screwing with the lives of people who have no interest in it?

            Of course, with dedicated sports channels, I suppose this is no longer an issue.

            1. I am with you, I get annoyed for the same reasons when it is a sport I don't watch (such as any college sport). Much like bad weather, presidential speeches, active shooters, etc., it drives me crazy when they delay or interrupt the broadcast to show something I could care less about. It is even worse when it causes a DVR of the program to clip the end. My point was it is the network who should be blamed, not the sport. The NFL is not the one who is delaying/canceling the program, it is the networks who are responsible for the programming.

              1. Well, sort of. I'm pretty sure there's feedback going both ways, and contracts involved.

                1. I've never like the "contracts" argument. Contracts are 2-way; the network does not have to agree to give the NFL their way, or even host the game to begin with. The fact is, the NFL is a ratings powerhouse and brings in a lot more advertising revenue that whatever show that is being delayed or canceled (last year, something like 3/4 of the top 100 rated shows were NFL games).

                  Regardless, traditionally, the contracts have actually been in favor of leaving the game. Before the OT rules were shortened, it was not uncommon for a network who was showing a game in OT to have to, by contract with the NFL, switch to other programing. The NFL would not allow certain network overlaps between the early/mid or mid/late games to occur. Fox was particularly brash in bitching about it every time it occurred on that network.

                  Anyway... even if you think it IS the NFL who is responsible for the delay because of the length of the game, that has ZERO to do with the post game show. The post game show on the network to talk about the game is 100% the network's doing.

  18. Let each team get a turn. Go back and forth until one team is ahead. No breaks for a half - give them each 3 time outs for the entire OT period. Yeah, it may go 19 OT periods, but so what. (see link, below.)
    In hockey, they used to have great overtime games - the Easter Epic being one of the best. That's the way is should go.

    1. "Yeah, it may go 19 OT periods, but so what."

      The winner has to play the next week. Plus, tired players get injured more often.

  19. I suspect part of it is that football is a brutally physical game and, as the game goes longer, the chance of injury increases (there always seems to be an increase in injury timeouts towards the end of the game).

  20. They get 60 minutes to decide a winner in a very brutal sport. If you’re looking for “fair” she resides in regulation. And during this particular regulation, KC missed a fg and a pat, and Buffalo missed a fg. Any or all of those would’ve made this “issue” moot. Buffalo also had chances both in regulation and ot in which to prevent KC from scoring touchdowns. They didn’t.

    The rule has already been changed to require a first possession touchdown in order to end the game. Otherwise the other team gets a shot. But as is always the case, because people are unhappy with the outcome, The Rules become “unfair.” Bullspit. Nobody ever promised anyone a rose garden.

    But in the spirit of this near-annual nonsense, my vote is adopt the college rule and shut up about it forever (which would last until the next time the outcome doesn’t suit enough people).

    1. "The rule has already been changed to require a first possession touchdown in order to end the game."

      I don't think thats true. I think any first possession score used to end the game, until a few years ago.

      1. nvm. I misread your comment.

  21. Instead of a coin toss let the teams bid for first possession by naming the yard line they are willing to start at. The team that picks the one closer to its own goal line gets the ball first, but starts there.

    I bet that with all the data out there that would end up making OT pretty close to a 50-50 proposition.

    1. bernard11, cool idea. Would be fun to see it tested.

    2. I love it.

    3. Or, one team gets to pick the yard line and the other team gets to decide whether to be on offense or defense.

      1. Also amazing.

    4. Unfair. Then the team with the better analytics department is more likely to win. ;-P

  22. I gave up on the NFL long before the political crap, but I think the real issue here is that the whole "no tie" madness is based on catering to gamblers, who have to have a winner.
    Play the game, and if it ends in a tie, it ends in a tie.

    1. Whether you’ve ever watched football or any sport is very much in question since you believe the reason there are no ties in playoff games is to cater to gamblers.

      1. Not only that, but the NFL is much more likely to cater to The House than the gambler anyway; and The House LOVES the tie. They are the ought and double-ought of the roulette wheel, where The House gets to clean up from both sides.

        1. This is not true.

          I doubt you understand the basics of betting on football games. There is nothing special about an actual tie.

          1. Plus, on a genuine push, you get your bet refunded. It is not like 0 or 00 on a roulette wheel.

            1. Right.

              On average the house hates pushes - not actual ties, raccroc, but ties against the line.

              1. You all are 100% right, I wasn't thinking (or at least I was thinking about something else). I generally avoid the sports book, preferring horses and dogs for my bets, each with its own set of particulars.

                From what I do remember, pushes are not very likely either against the line either, as they are usually set on the .5 so as to avoid them.

    2. There can be no ties in playoff games. Someone needs to advance.

      During the regular season, ties do happen.

  23. The correct answer is to win the game way before overtime.

    The "Give the other team chance" argument, extended indefinitely, doesn't lead to a better solution. What if they each get a chance then they are tied. Go 2 OT quarters, 3, then 4...

    Also, defense in football is a thing. That is, preventing someone from scoring on the first drive.

    If two teams are tied at the end of regulation, they are evenly matched.

    American football is probably the most physically taxing sport. Any any time, someone could be carted off the field with a serious injury. I don't see the value in dragging out a game indefinitely.

    1. Most physically taxing? I dunno. (Excluding individual sports like MMA / Boxing from further discussion, but I'd put MMA / Boxing / Wrestling as much more taxing). I think there are 3 kinds of sports: non-contact (golf, swimming, tennis, track and field, weight lifting), contact (baseball, basketball, where contact, up to a point is legal and, indeed part of the game) and collision (football, hockey, rubgy where contact is meant to stop / change position upto and including full speed hits). N.B., I have soccer as half contact / half collision, it is an odd duck. Their tacking is quite a bit more violent than basketball screening / rebounding / shot blocking, but on the whole less than collision sports ...

      Collision sports all seem VERY detrimental to the human body, but I wouldn't put American Football as more taxing than hockey or rugby, or less over injurious.

      1. Hockey might be a close 2nd. Hockey you are not supposed check/block/tackle the players.

        Rugby, you don't see high speed collisions between a defensive player and a wide receiver.

        As for MMA, not sure I believe MMA is real.

  24. This is an unimportant issue that does not need fixing. I did a Twitter thread on this- I'll refer people to that.

    1. Your thread expressly acknowledges that some overtime systems are better than others, and that the one currently being used by the NFL is one of the worst. You also say that you think there's an alternative system that's better than any form of overtime.

      I'm not sure how you reason from there to concluding that it "does not need fixing."

      1. Because it's not important, because the ideal of "fairness" being chased is illusory, and because I actually don't think the NFL's system is one of the worst (penalty shootouts are the worst by far).

        1. When the possible set of systems includes one in which neither side could claim to have preferred to start in the other team's position, I think "fairness" isn't, in fact, illusory.

  25. and here I thought you had to be a nine year old to put up with the NFL

  26. Of note, the Chiefs had proposed to change this rule a few years back, but couldn't get enough other teams to go along (presumably including the Bills):

  27. So, David's link states that the coin toss winner only wins a little over half the time in the regular season. Anyone have an explanation as to why there's such a discrepancy between the regular season and the playoffs? One possibility is that we're just dealing with small numbers so far in the playoffs, making the number perhaps unreliable as a long-term trend.

    1. Complete spitballing here, but suppose that winning the coin toss is a reap advantage, but a fairly small one.

      Since the regular season games don't take the quality of the team into account, that means you're more likely to have a matchup when one team is much better than the other. In such a situation, the better team can generally overcome the small advantage of the coin toss if they lose it, and obviously only be better positioned if they win: in this situation, you wouldn't expect much correlation between the outcome of the toss and the outcome of the game.

      Since the playoffs are played be the teams that have been screened to be the best, on the other hand, it will be less likely for one team to be dramatically better than the other in any given game. In that situation, perhaps the small advantage of the coin toss becomes much more important.

      Of course, one obvious counterargument would be that games where one team is much better are less likely to go into overtime in the first place. If someone were inclined to investigate this seriously, I suppose they could take a closer look all the OT games in the sample and break them down using whichever proxy for team quality you find most compelling.

      1. I like this argument. It's the ratio of the coin toss advantage to the discrepancy between the teams.

      2. The better team also generally has home field advantage, which is larger than the coin toss advantage.

      3. I think this is close, but I'd focus on QBs. The modern NFL is a pass-happy, no defense league (especially against the pass). So QBs become disproportionately valuable. Sure, great defenses can sometimes get you a good regular-season record, but in the playoffs, you generally need a great QB to lead your team. (LV, for example had the #26 defense and got in playoffs; Broncos and Saints had #3 and #4 and were out.)

        That being the case, the playoffs are more likely to involve the best QBs playing defenses that may or may not be great. This gives offenses an even greater advantage than you see in the regular season. Therefore, it tilts more pro-flip-winner in the playoffs.

  28. In what way is it "not fair"? Do teams from red states win the toss more frequently than teams from blue states? Is it that East Coast teams win the toss more frequently than West Coast teams?

    Suppose that the win was based *solely* on the toss. Whoever win the toss, wins the game. Would that be "unfair"? Why?

    The teams have an equal chance of winning the toss. That's pretty much the definition of "fair".

    Unrepresentative of the teams' relative skills, sure. Unfair, no.

  29. Any change, including simply giving the victory immediately to the team that wins the coin toss, will be better than the current system. A full (or perhaps 10 minute) period for first OT is best, but adopting the college system (perhaps with the teams starting on their own 40) would be an improvement. Heck, penalty kicks would be better than now.

  30. 1. It is hugely ironic that this happened after the 2018 season with the Chiefs and Patriots. Pats score and KC doesn't touch the ball. Proposals to change OT rules went nowhere.
    2. What would you propose? There are very few good suggestions to fix this issue. 2 proposals I have seen would be that home team, at least in playoffs, receives the ball in OT because home field advantage results from a better record. Another proposal would be that the winner of the coin flip at the beginning of the game gets to decide.
    3. You cite recent playoff games but since the rule was changed, the team winning the coin toss has won about 53% of the total games. There is a distinct advantage to winning the coin toss in the playoffs, though. Maybe that is because the teams in playoffs are generally better, I do not know the answer. But if we are going to discuss changing OT rules, we should consider all OT games, not just playoffs.

    1. Honestly, I like the home team gets the ball rule for playoffs. I hadn't recalled that proposal.

      To the extent there is an advantage, it rewards the better record, so it's something you earn over a season of play.

  31. Before we make any changes, I think we need to understand WHY the winner of the coin toss is victorious in 53% of games overall, but 90% of playoff games.

    Previously it was more lopsided, and the new rules "fixed" that.

    And if the argument is that playoff Offenses are simply unstoppable in OT, then ... there's no equitable solution beyond ... a coin toss.

    1. If, in the playoffs, teams played a full extra OT period (ie, similar to soccer), then does that not satisfy your search for a more equitable solution?

      1. Not really. What happens when the Chiefs get 2 possessions in the OT and the Bills only get 1?

        1. I actually really like the idea of a shootout. Get rid of the small numbers issue. Even the number of possessions. I don't really care how you do it, but something like 5 attempts at a 2 point conversion could be fun.

          1. Maybe the "South Park" version of Roshambo? Each starting quarterback takes turns kicking the other in the nuts, till one gives up. Or, do this with each head coach...OT would end more quickly, as I guess these coaches don't wear cups.

    2. I don't think we can be in position to know why because the playoff sample size is just so small. Maybe, as you say, the best playoff offenses are just so good that they are just bound to score a TD? I don't know if that holds up - the Chiefs only scored TDs on 4 of their 10 drives in regulation, after all. Or maybe it's just noise. We'd probably need 20 years to figure that out.

    3. My bet is most of it is due to small sample size for the playoffs, and long-term it will be closer to 53% than 90%.

  32. Just have the coaches run a 100 yard dash from one end zone to the other, winner wins the game.

  33. You're absolutely right, it is unfair. Getting a tie in the face of the other team's home field advantage is better performance than only managing a tie when you had home field advantage, so a tie should simply be awarded outright to the away team, without bothering with any overtime.

  34. Let's focus on the important issue here!

    ""Amfoo," as a friend of mine calls it, to distinguish it from that other brand of football"

    I like to call it "American Hand Egg" instead of "American Football".

    They mostly use their hands, and the pigskin is more egg-shaped than ball-shaped.

  35. "Bills fans are justifiably angry about having been cheated out of their chance for a victory."
    COME ON! I was rooting for the Bills in that game, but they were NOT "cheated" out of ANYTHING. All they had to do was play good enough defense to hold the Chiefs to a field goal. If they can't do that defensively, they don't deserve to win. They weren't cheated, they didn't play defense well enough to win the game. Period.

  36. With two equally matched teams, the game was essentially decided on the coin toss. So let it be the coin three out of five?

  37. Really, this whole thing is a microcosm of our entire society right now. "If I'm not successful it's because the system is rigged against me, not because I'm not doing what I need to do. We need to change the rules of the system and change the system to take away from those who have earned their success to make me successful in spite of the fact that I have not actually earned it."

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