NFL's Overtime Rule Change Is Exciting, But Does Not Fix 'Fairness' Issue
By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- For years now, whenever an NFL team wins an overtime game with a touchdown on the opening possession of the extra frame, the complaints fly in fast and furiously that the outcome was unfair. Whether it's Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes or Matt Ryan (LOL!) or Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger who "didn't get the chance to touch the ball in overtime," the complaints were fairly consistent:
While reasonable minds have disagreed, arguing that the sport is called football, not "Patrick Mahomes Gets The Ball No Matter What," the groundswell of support for guaranteeing possession to both teams reached a tipping point after this year's incredible slugfest between the Bills and Chiefs. And now, those that wanted a rule change have gotten their rule change.
There is, however, just one problem with this new rule: It doesn't do a damn thing to fix the purported "fairness" issue.
In fact, the new rule change kinda-sorta counteracts the rule that prevents teams from winning on the opening possession with a field goal.
Here's why: Under the new rule, which for now only applies to playoff games, both teams are now guaranteed "an opportunity to possess the ball in overtime." (One could note that playing defense, forcing a punt, forcing a turnover, or at least forcing the opponent to settle for a field goal all quality as "an opportunity to possess the ball in overtime." But we're not here for that! Stay on track!)
So let's take two teams who might be playing in a postseason game. Let's call one team the "Chiefs" and one team the "Bills." Very saucy.
Now let's say the Chiefs win the overtime coin toss and elect to receive, moments after forcing overtime with a quick-strike, 13-second field goal drive where the Bills completely and utterly failed to play any semblance of defense. Hard to believe? Sure. But it could happen.
Now let's say the Chiefs go down and once again score quickly and with little resistance, getting some assistance from the Bills, who left a linebacker in single coverage against Travis Kelce. Touchdown, Chiefs.
Under the old rules, the Chiefs win. Under the new rules, the Bills get a guaranteed possession. Huzzah! Problem solved! Right?
Well ... now let's say the Chiefs' defense -- equally as porous as the Bills' unit -- likewise allows the opposition to drive like a toasty knife through butter for a touchdown drive. The game is now all tied up once again. More football!
And what happens next? Well, the Chiefs casually drive some 35 yards, set up for a field goal, kick the ball through the uprights, and walk off as winners. The Bills and their quarterback -- we'll call him "Josh Allen" for this exercise -- never get "a chance" to touch the ball and respond to that score.
It makes you wonder ... what exactly did the NFL solve here?
Obviously, in that scenario, the Bills would have the choice to go for two if they scored a touchdown. That's fun and all. But is it fair? Tough to gauge.
There will also be games where Team B -- the "Bills" in my totally imaginary scenario -- don't score on their possession, thus ending the game and making everyone feel all warm and snuggly about "fairness." This rule change will be deemed a glowing success on those nights; when it doesn't work out so smoothly, one wonders if the fairness-wanters will do some soul-searching.
Really, what the NFL accomplished with this rule change isn't bad. In the case of a gangbusters game like that Bills-Chiefs example, the world gets to see more football. Higher stakes. More pressure. Drama through the roof. Nobody's turning that off. We'll all be hooting and hollering in our living rooms from coast to coast. We're only human, after all.
But fairness? Fairness?! No, we've yet to cross that bridge.
Instead, we've got a new TV ratings booster, one more akin to a professional wrestling stunt than a measure to improve the "integrity of the game." It's not necessarily the greatest, most grievous matter plaguing our society these days. The world will surely keep on spinning. (We hope.) But the multi-billion dollar league has gotten its brain trust together and come up with a "solution" that is ... potentially pointless.
You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.
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