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Four Ways to Fix the NFL’s Overtime Rules

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NFL overtime is garbage. Which alternative is best?

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

What a game we all witnessed on Sunday night between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons. It had everything: an underdog, a dynasty, a halftime involving Lady Gaga jumping off the roof of NRG Stadium, and an epic comeback that led to the first overtime in Super Bowl history.

New England of course won the coin toss, chose to receive the kickoff in the overtime period, marched down the field and won the game. Atlanta never got to see the field in OT, leaving many fans wanting for a change to the NFL’s overtime rules.

In the NFL, a touchdown on the first possession ends the game (like we saw on Sunday). A field goal scored on the first possession gives the other team the ball back with a chance to score a touchdown to win, a field goal to then go to “next-score-wins”, or be held scoreless and lose. If both teams socre field goals on their first possession or don’t score at all, they play out the remainder of the 15-minute quarter, sometimes to a tie, which also sucks.

So here are a few overtime rules suggestions for the NFL…

1. NCAA rules, sort of

In college football, each time starts with the ball at the 25-yard line for at least one possession. If at the conclusion of these equal possessions one team has more points than the other, the game is over (i.e. one team scores a field goal then the other team scores a touchdown, or one team is held scoreless while the other scores a touchdown).

This is dramatic, but almost ensures that both teams will score points in some form or fashion given that they start each possession in field goal range.

The NFL could adopt this format but begin possessions at the 50-yard line. This would introduce the element of going for it on 4th down if you’re out of field goal range (i.e. 4th down & 5 yards to go from the 45-yard line) and much more difficult field goals from the 30, 35, or 40-yard line as opposed to within the 25-yard line in college.

2. Basketball rules

In both college basketball and the NBA, an additional period of time is added for the teams to play. They play until time expires regardless of who scores first, how many points they score, etc. This seems way too easy, but the NFL could just play one more quarter and whoever has more points wins.

The downside of this is that there’s no guarantee that either team will have more points after 15 more minutes, and it’s asking a lot for teams to play 75 or 90-minute (in the event of double OT) football games. It’s a brutal sport, and that’s borderline unhealthy.

3. Soccer rules

This version could either be implemented after the first overtime period outlined above, or directly succeeding regulation. In soccer, a game can end in a penalty shootout. Each team shoots five shots from the penalty area, alternating with each one. Whoever has netted more shots at the end wins, and if it’s tied it goes to a sudden death sixth, seventh, etc. shot until someone wins.

It isn’t physically taxing on players like 15 or 30 extra minutes of football would be, but it’s also not the purest form of the sport. Some fans don’t like that.

Anyway, the NFL could just start each team’s kicker with a 30-yard field goal. If they make it, bump them back to 35, then 40, etc. until one team misses and the other makes it from the same distance. There would be no ties, the result would be finalized fairly quickly, and you don’t risk injury by playing two or three overtime periods.

4. One play each until someone scores

This is the most unique format, and quite honestly I’d be intrigued to see it implemented.

Flip a coin to see who gets possession first from the 50-yard line. Team A runs one play. No matter how many yards they get, they only run one play. It’s an untimed, unmeasured down. Then, Team B runs one play from where Team A was stopped.

For instance, Team A completes a 10-yard pass. Team B then runs a play from their own 40-yard line. They rush for 8 yards. Team A gets the ball at the opposing 48-yard line. They complete a 20-yard pass, and Team B gets the ball back at their own 28-yard line.

This seems like it could take a while. But if either team commits a bunch of penalties or can’t complete a pass in two, three, or four attempts, eventually the other team will be in the red zone within striking distance.

I should also add that field goals wouldn’t be allowed in this format. Otherwise Team A could gain 15 yards from the first play of overtime, Team B throws incomplete from their own 35-yard line, then Team A kicks a field goal from the 35-yard line to win it. That’s no fun. The game has to end on a touchdown or safety.

The only way this format could end without one team getting the ball is if they lose the coin toss and surrender a 50-yard touchdown on the first play of OT. In that case, they don’t deserve to win anyway.

And that’s probably the same philosophy behind the current NFL OT rules. If the Falcons can’t keep the Patriots from going 75 yards right down the field, they deserve to lose. On Sunday, Atlanta’s defense was probably gassed from being on the field so much in the 4th quarter, but still.

Let’s take a poll to see what everyone thinks. Nobody likes the current rules, so what would you rather see instead?

  1. NCAA rules but starting possessions from the 50-yard line.
  2. Basketball rules (just adding an additional period of play).
  3. Soccer penalty shootout, but with field goals of increasing distance.
  4. One for each team from where the previous play ended until a touchdown is scored.