Updated: May 8, 2019
By: Zach Zook
Last Sunday for the first time in NFL history, both conference championship games went into overtime. Particularly for the AFC, the Chiefs/Patriots game was the first AFC Championship to require overtime since the Broncos defeated the Browns 23-20 during the 1986 season.
The Chiefs, who were outplayed by nearly every metric, made a miraculous comeback to force the extra period, but because of the NFL overtime rules, New England was able to win the toss, receive, score, and move on to the Super Bowl without ever having to play defense. Seems sort of unfair, right? Now imagine if the Chiefs had won the toss and done the same thing. They would be granted a chance to play in the Super Bowl while Tom Brady's offense - the obvious strength of the Patriots - never touched the ball. The rule structure is completely illogical and unfair.
The result of course sparked heated debate on the topic, with the football purists claiming, "Defense is a part of the game!" and, "If you can't make a stop then you don't deserve to win!" By the title, I'm sure you've already guessed I fall on the opposite end of that argument. I follow a lot of NFL reporters, players, and personnel on Twitter and I haven't seen a single good reason for keeping the rules the same.
Now to be fair, the vast majority appear to share my opinion, and it's also important to note that the league itself in 2010 agreed "sudden death" overtime gave a significant advantage to the team that won the coin toss. Before the rules were changed to require a touchdown on the first possession to end the game, approximately 60% of overtime winners also won the coin toss.
Fast forward eight years. In the interest of safety (and rightfully so), the rules have moved in a direction that have limited jarring hits, contact to the head and neck, and leveling unsuspecting players. With that, the league has NEVER been more geared towards offense than it is right now. This year's top-seeded Chiefs are a perfect example (31st of 32 in total defense).
So why in the world in a league where even below average quarterbacks can throw for 300 yards and a couple touchdowns, would a game be decided on a single offensive possession? It makes about as much sense as having the first team to score in a basketball overtime win. It's so obviously unfair and the NFL's amendment to the previous rule in 2010 literally proves they also agree. It's simply impossible to fairly have a "sudden death" approach in a possession-based sport.
Some will argue for player safety, and that's an argument I can at least understand, but if college athletes can play seven overtimes (LSU/Texas A&M) - I think the professionals who get paid millions to play will be okay. And if player safety is still that much of a concern, you wouldn't necessarily need to adopt the same overtime rules for the regular season as in the postseason. You could end regular season games in a tie and only play the potentially longer overtime in games that require a winner.
Now I realize nobody likes a complainer, especially if you can't offer up a better solution yourself, so below I've listed a few overtime formats I think would be both exciting and fair, which is ultimately what football should be about!
College OT: Simply adopt college football's overtime rules. Stick the ball on the 25 going in, give both teams a possession and watch the chaos ensue.
"Basketball/Soccer" OT: Another simple remedy that professional soccer and basketball uses. Set the clock to fifteen minutes and play it out, regardless of scoring. It would give you a chance to still play football in it's truest form.
College OT with NFL Twist: This is my personal favorite and what I'd most like to see. A lot of NFL stiffs complain that giving the offense the ball with only 25 yards before reaching the end zone isn't "real" football. Put the ball right on the logo at midfield then and play the college format. You're out of field goal range so unlike in college, you need to pick up yards to even attempt one. In addition, you'd need to gain at least 20 yards before you felt pretty comfortable making it (Unless you're the Bears. Ouch, too soon?).
Honestly with the NFL's track record, I'd be surprised if they actually change the rule this offseason. However, those are three viable options that would fairly determine a winner, and keep the game exciting. Remember - change can be good. It's okay to change.