Fixing NFL Overtime

W.J. Astore

We tackle heavy subjects here at Bracing Views: war, militarism, politics, religion. But surely the heaviest of all is the clear inequity and unnecessary complexity of the National Football League’s overtime rules. Especially in the playoffs, the team that wins the coin flip before OT usually wins the game, though not always, as the Kansas City Chiefs proved this past weekend, as they won the coin toss but lost the game. Also, NFL OT rules for playoff games are different than the OT rules for the regular season (the latter games can end in a tie).

Why not one set of rules for OT for both the regular season and the playoffs? A set of rules that is simple and consistent, producing a victor fairly quickly but without changing the game?

Here’s my idea, which is a variation of the rules for OT that currently exist:

  1. OT shall consist of a single ten-minute period. The team with the highest score at the end of this period wins the game.
  2. If the teams are still tied at the end of this OT period, the winner will be determined by two-point conversions (as teams have the option of trying after touchdowns).
  3. If Team A scores on its 2-point conversion, Team B will then get its try. If Team B succeeds, Team A tries again. If Team B fails, Team A wins. (If Team A had failed and then Team B had succeeded, Team B wins.) Tries will continue until one team succeeds and the other fails, thus the winning team will win by 2-points.

Other details can be worked out, such as the number of timeouts each team gets. I’d suggest two. Also, if one team ties the game at the end of regulation, that team would then kickoff at the start of OT. Otherwise the kickoff is determined by a coin flip.

I like this idea because each team should get plenty of time to have the ball in OT and attempt to score — or even to mount a comeback. And if OT ends in a tie, the 2-point conversion tiebreaker contest will be immensely exciting for the fans since it will involve the offenses and defenses — and the best players and plays — of both teams.

Assuming you watch football, readers, what do you think?

Once Kansas City lost possession of the ball in OT, the Bengals marched quickly down the field and kicked a field goal to win. If OT had been a 10-minute period, however, the Bengals would have tried to score a TD, and KC would have had a chance to answer. If KC had scored a TD on its first possession, the Bengals would have lost without ever getting a chance on offense.



  • At the end of regulation, the referee will toss a coin to determine which team will possess the ball first in overtime. The visiting team captain will call the toss.
  • No more than one 10-minute period will follow a three-minute intermission. Each team must possess, or have the opportunity to possess, the ball. The exception: if the team that gets the ball first scores a touchdown on the opening possession.
  • Sudden death play — where the game ends on any score (safety, field goal or touchdown) — continues until a winner is determined.
  • Each team gets two timeouts.
  • The point after try is not attempted if the game ends on a touchdown.
  • If the score is still tied at the end of the overtime period, the result of the game will be recorded as a tie.
  • There are no instant replay coach’s challenges; all reviews will be initiated by the replay official.


Unlike regular season games, postseason games cannot end in a tie, so the overtime rules change slightly for the playoffs.

  • If the score is still tied at the end of an overtime period — or if the second team’s initial possession has not ended — the teams will play another overtime period. Play will continue regardless of how many overtime periods are needed for a winner to be determined.
  • There will be a two-minute intermission between each overtime period. There will not be a halftime intermission after the second period.
  • The captain who lost the first overtime coin toss will either choose to possess the ball or select which goal his team will defend, unless the team that won the coin toss deferred that choice.
  • Each team gets three timeouts during a half.
  • The same timing rules that apply at the end of the second and fourth regulation periods also apply at the end of a second or fourth overtime period.
  • If there is still no winner at the end of a fourth overtime period, there will be another coin toss, and play will continue until a winner is declared.

15 thoughts on “Fixing NFL Overtime

  1. Bill, I am an avid Seattle Seahawks fan. And have watched plenty of Seahawks overtime games. I have never had a problem with the NFL overtime scoring rules. BTW, I am also an avid rugby fan. Especially a fan of our New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. But in my opinion American gridiron football is a much more exciting game than rugby football. Cheers.


  2. I watched both Chiefs games that went into OT the past two weeks. Total knuckle-biters and exiting as hell. Given that rules cut both ways, I’m disinclined to change them simply because some consider the rules unfair somehow. My understanding is that the team receiving the ball in OT only wins 53% of the time, which is a small, arbitrary advantage that the Chiefs capitalized on one week and then capitulated the next. Sudden death rules rather than a 10-min. interval (and then sudden death if still tied as you recommend) is arguably more exiting. They’re games, after all.


  3. As the rules exist today, a team that ties the score at the end of regulation can then win the coin toss and get the ball first in OT. That team has a considerable advantage, facing a tired defense, which is exactly how KC defeated Buffalo in OT this year. Buffalo never got the ball, and thus the key play in OT was the coin toss.

    Again, I think the OT rules should be the same in both the regular and post seasons, and each team should have a chance to have the ball on offense. The other consideration is that you don’t want OT to go on forever (player safety), hence the 10-minute “5th quarter” followed by tie breaking 2-point conversions (if necessary).


    1. You were clear the first time you said all this. We clearly disagree whether winning the OT coin toss is a small or large advantage. Stats point my way, I think. Though impossible to boil down into stats, the momentum and energy of the game (sports psychology) is another major factor. The Chiefs had considerable momentum against the Bills and prevailed but lost momentum (significantly) against the Bengals and failed at multiple scoring opportunities. Both games had me on the edge of my seat. Would your proposed rule changes really make contests more enjoyable?


    2. Brutus: you’re right about OT and the regular season (53%). But the playoffs are different:

      “According to NFL Research via NFL Network‘s Ian Rapoport, there have been 11 playoff games with the current rules in place. Of those 11, the ledger massively favorites one team: The coin-toss winner.

      Per their findings, the team that has won that coin toss has a 10-1 overall record in playoff overtime games. The most recent was the Chiefs over the Bills.”

      That overall record is now 10-2 after the Bengals won this past weekend. That’s a huge advantage for the team that wins the toss.


  4. Doesn’t have to be so complicated. 1. Stick with the coin toss OT but ensure each team has a possession. If no winner by then, true sudden death starts. For instance, a pick-6 on the opening drive would end the game since the other team got a possession–albeit via its defensive unit–and scored. Or 2. Ditch the coin toss. Take an OT warning time out, then simply resume the game where it was with a counting up game clock and next score wins. Like an open-ended 4th quarter for playoff games. This obviously would change end-of-regulation clock management strategy, but would add a different manner of end-game excitement.


    1. Interesting ideas, Mike. My idea was based on the NFL’s current practice of one 10-minute period, a bonus if truncated quarter.

      I don’t think (2) would work as well, i.e. it would kill some of the drama of the late 4th quarter and two minute warning and so on. I think (1) would work, but do you need the coin toss? Maybe whichever team scored last in regulation should kickoff first, with each team guaranteed a possession. If still tied after each OT possession, next score wins. That’s a bit more “sudden death” than my proposal.


  5. How about looking to America’s Pastime for some guidance.
    Just start the overtime clock… (pick a specific time duration for the OT period) Flip the coin and keep playing until the score is different when the clock runs out. Tied at the end of a first OT… Flip a coin change end zones and start the clock.
    Survival of the fittest is a hallmark of all competition.
    It costs so much to attend professional sports that the consumer may eventually get their monies worth………And…..
    The military services get extended time to whore around for more recruits by putting on fabulous displays of military might between the end of the game and the beginning of OT….


      1. Yes — there should be more Black coaches in the NFL. Depending on how it’s counted, roughly 60-70% of the players are African-American.


  6. I agree the overtime rules should be changed but as a Buffalo Bills fan, I can’t help but say HAHA to the KS Chiefs … they won against the Bills exactly in the same fashion that they lost to the Bengals. Karma’s a bitch.


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