Overtime Rules in NFL Playoffs: Should They Be Changed?

Hudson Yu ‘22

Despite the ongoing debates, the overtime rules in the NFL  playoffs are fair as they remain and should not be changed


In the NFL, when teams become tied at the end of the fourth quarter, the match goes into overtime. The rules of playoff overtime are as follows: first  “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’s captain will call the toss. Following this, the team with possession of the ball first,can win the game if they score a touchdown; however, if they fail to score a touchdown, a “sudden death play — where the game ends on any score (safety, field goal or touchdown)” — will continue until a winner is determined. In addition, each team gets two timeouts and “there are no instant replay coach’s challenges; all reviews will be initiated by the replay official” [1].


Many argue that overtime rules appear as unfair because one side has the opportunity to end the game right away when the opposing side never has a chance to touch the ball. However, multiple flaws exist within that logic. First of all, in the prior four quarters, there are multiple chances to score points; if one side’s defense prevents the opponent from scoring or if the offense forces more points, the game would have been decided long before overtime could have happened. Secondly, football consists of a game of offense and defense; one cannot assert that the overtime rules are unfair due to one team having the opportunity to win right away. Overtime tests both the offense’s ability to score touchdowns and the defense’s ability to prevent it. If one team loses in overtime because of a poor defensive performance, then there cannot possibly be anything unfair because the opposition’s offense triumphed the defense. 


Some critics of the current NFL overtime rules state that current rules pose bias because only one side has the ability to show its offense but as shown countless times, football is a game of both defense and offense. So by giving the ball and the opportunity to win to one team’s offense, it will be a test on the opposing side’s defense. They must be able to halt the opponent’s offense. If they are unable to do so, then the loss can be viewed as fully deserved as they were unable to prevent a touchdown in the most crucial and critical situations. This way, the offense-heavy teams will be eliminated, leaving the teams that are more balanced in the playoffs; this, in effect, will also provide for a more entertaining game for viewers.  


An example of the balance of NFL overtime rules can be seen in the 2018-2019 NFL season during the AFC championship between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs. The offense-powerhouse Kansas City Chiefs were knocked out in overtime due to their feeble defense. Many fans were upset because the Patriots got the ball first and ended the game with a touchdown; however, they disregarded the fact that the Chiefs were down 14-0 at half time. If they had only scored a single extra point, the game would not have been dragged into overtime. In addition, the Chiefs defense was unable to prevent a touchdown during the most pivotal moments of the game, highlighting their weakness on the defensive end. By utilizing that this game as an “unfair” example of the overtime rules needing to be changed would be completely ludicrous; the Chiefs lost due to their ineffective defense and lacking offense, not because of the overtime rules. 


In conclusion, the overtime rules in the NFL playoffs pose no such arbitrary treatment against teams. These rules should not be changed as they create a perfect balance in the game of football between a strong defensive effort and a well-grounded offense. To alter these rules would be to alter the game of football itself. 

[1] https://operations.nfl.com/the-rules/nfl-overtime-rules/