Both teams assured of a possession in playoff overtime with rules change approved by NFL owners – ESPN

  • Kevin Seifert, ESPN Staff WriterMar 29, 2022, 12:36 PM ETClose
      Kevin Seifert is a staff writer who covers the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL at ESPN. Kevin has covered the NFL for over 20 years, joining ESPN in 2008. He was previously a beat reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Washington Times. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia. You can follow him via Twitter @SeifertESPN.

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PALM BEACH, Fla. — NFL owners approved a modified proposal for overtime Tuesday that will guarantee each team a possession, but only in the postseason.

The rule for regular-season games, which allows the team with the first possession to win if it scores a touchdown, will remain unchanged.

A majority of NFL decision-makers arrived at The Breakers hotel this week willing to adjust overtime in some fashion, largely in reaction to public outcry after the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Buffalo Bills in overtime during the divisional playoff round with an opening-possession touchdown.

The Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles proposed a mandatory possession for both teams in all games, regular season and in the playoffs, but competition committee chairman Rich McKay said there was not enough support among owners to pass the rule unless it was amended to postseason only. Ultimately it passed by a vote of 29-3.

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If the score remains tied in the postseason after each team has had a possession, the game will be decided in traditional sudden death.

Recent data shows that the “problem principally” was found in the postseason overtime, McKay said. Since the current requirement for an opening-possession touchdown was instituted for the 2012 regular season, teams winning the coin toss have won 50% of the time, according to league data. That number has ticked up a bit to 54% since the league shorted overtime from a maximum of 15 to 10 minutes in 2017, but there has been a big jump in the postseason.

Since the previous playoff format was implemented in 2010, seven of 12 overtime games have been won on the opening possession, and 10 of those 12 were won by the team that won the coin toss. A total of 12 games is not a large sample size, McKay acknowledged, but it was significant enough to prompt a change.

“It’s the only postseason overtime games we’ve had,” he said. “It’s 12 years, 12 games. Those 12 games are as important to those franchises as any they are ever going to play in their history. So to us, yes, it’s not a sample size of 25 or 30 games, but it’s the only sample size we have and each one ends somebody’s season. So for us, this was something we thought we needed to change.”

Bills general manager Brandon Beane said he was in favor of the playoff-only modification, and revealed this week that he was mulling it long before the Bills lost to the Chiefs.

“I mean, I think we thought about it before when it came up when Kansas City lost to New England [in the 2018 AFC Championship Game]. I was watching that game going, man, you got a young [Patrick] Mahomes versus a veteran in [Tom] Brady and you never got to see Mahomes get his chance. Brady just took them right down the field. I think it happened in the [Super Bowl LI], when the Patriots won.

“So there was sometimes where you’re like, man, I wonder what would’ve happened if the other team would’ve got the ball. Definitely when it happens to you focus a little bit more on it.”

The Tennessee Titans withdrew a proposal that would have allowed a team to win on the opening possession of overtime if it scored a touchdown and converted a 2-point attempt. But McKay said he has heard discussion this week from coaches who will consider using the 2-point attempt in playoff overtime, either to gain an advantage after the first possession or to win a game on the second.

Owners also approved one additional rule change and one resolution. First, they made permanent a 2021 experiment that adjusted positioning in the setup zone on kickoffs that were designed to increase recovery rates for onside kicks. The tweak corresponded with a rise in the rate of onside kick recoveries from 7.8% in 2020 to 13.5% in 2021, McKay said.

The new resolution, meanwhile, changed the league’s tampering policy to allow teams to retain members of their player personnel staff through the draft. Between that point and June 30, those teams would be required to allow staff members to interview with other teams. The resolution would apply only to non-high-level executives who are pursuing a secondary football executive position.

ESPN’s Alaina Getzenberg contributed to this report.

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