Opinion: Overtime Rules For NFL Playoffs Are Fine Just The Way They Are

Written By C.J. Pierre on January 24, 2022 - Last Updated on January 30, 2023
NFL Playoffs Chiefs Bills Overtime

Editor’s Note: The following article represents the views of the author.

We may have just witnessed the greatest weekend of NFL football ever.

Four divisional playoff games, all coming down to the final play. With all four ending in walk-off fashion. And it was all capped off with the Kansas City Chiefs beating the Buffalo Bills in a 42-36 overtime thriller.

There are a series of talking points coming out of that game. Is Patrick Mahomes vs. Josh Allen the next generation’s Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning? What the heck were the Bills trying to do on defense? Was that the best game of all time?

However, the most polarizing topic could lead to a significant change. Should the NFL change its overtime rules and allow both teams to play offense?

This writer thinks the answer is simple: Absolutely not.

Chiefs snatch victory from jaws of defeat in NFL playoffs

First, let’s break down what happened. Early in the fourth quarter, Kansas City kicked a field goal to extend its lead to 26-21. Allen and the Bills responded with a 17-play, seven-minute touchdown drive. The Bills then converted a two-point try to take a 29-26 lead with under two minutes to play. What came next may have been the most exciting two minutes in NFL history.

Mahomes hit Tyreek Hill for a 64-yard touchdown pass to help the Chiefs grab a 33-29 lead with just over a minute to go in the game. Not to be outdone, Josh Allen went right back down the field and found Gabriel Davis for their fourth touchdown connection of the game. The Bills went up 36-33 with only 13 seconds left on the clock.

Mahomes came back with two timeouts and hit Hill and Travis Kelce for two huge gains to get into field-goal range. Then, Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker nailed a 49-yard field goal as time expired to send the game into overtime.

Many think the game was decided once the Chiefs won the coin toss and elected to receive. Mahomes got the ball first and drove his team right down the field. He hit Kelce for an 8-yard touchdown pass to send Kansas City to the AFC championship game. Josh Allen never touched the ball in overtime. Some are upset about that. But I say, too bad. It’s football.

Breaking down NFL playoff overtime rules

The current NFL overtime format was established in 2010. It gives both teams the chance to possess the ball at least once in overtime unless the team that receives the overtime kickoff scores a touchdown on its first possession.

The rules were amended in 2017 when the overtime period was shortened from 15 minutes to 10 minutes in the name of player safety. The complete section of the NFL rule book on overtime, which explains all the procedures in full, can be found here.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

After watching what happened to the Bills, there is a new push for the NFL to adopt new rules that will allow both offenses to touch the ball no matter what.

However, in my opinion, changing the overtime rules is unnecessary.

This is not me trying to act like an old grouch. This is based on the opinion of someone who appreciates all phases of the game. Not just offense. Saying Josh Allen deserved a chance to respond is essentially saying we should change a rule for one guy.

Are we saying that the Bills didn’t have a chance to win because they didn’t win the overtime coin toss? If so, then the overtime rules should be the least of our problems. During the 2021 NFL regular season, there were 21 overtime games. Only four of those ended with the first-possession touchdown. That is 1.4% of the 272 games played this year.

Also, there wasn’t a huge cry to change the rules the quarterbacks left on the sidelines in those games. Maybe if Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold and Justin Herbert had more fans, there would have been a louder outcry when they were left on the sidelines.

Football is a “team” game

The last time I checked, the players on the Bills defense also get paid. They had every opportunity to make sure that their teammates on offense had a chance to score. Not only did they let the Chiefs get in field goal range to send the game into overtime with 13 seconds left, but they also couldn’t stop them from going right down the field to score the game-winning touchdown.

Let’s say the NFL changed the rule to allow both teams to touch the ball. In that scenario, fans are just waiting to see which defense will come up with a stop anyway.

Furthermore, changing the rules is basically saying that the Bills defense should be let off the hook for not stopping Mahomes and the Kansas City offense. In other words, Josh Allen should make up for the fact that his defense didn’t do its job.

Bills had chance to push rule change but didn’t

While the Chiefs-Bills 2022 playoff game may live in infamy, the irony of how the game ended is uncanny.

This is not the first time the current NFL overtime rules have been in question. In fact, the last time this issue made news, Patrick Mahomes was on the other side of it.

In the AFC championship game during the 2018 NFL season, it was Mahomes left sitting on the sidelines as Tom Brady led the New England Patriots on a game-winning touchdown drive in the first possession of overtime to send the Patriots to the Super Bowl.

The Chiefs, understandably frustrated, submitted a rule change proposal to the NFL Competition Committee the following spring. Included in the proposal was to allow both teams the opportunity to possess the ball at least one time in overtime, even if the first team to possess the ball in overtime scores a touchdown.

The Chiefs’ proposal was tabled twice in 2019 and eventually dropped. What’s ironic is that the Bills were one of the teams that didn’t want the rules to change. Those same rules have turned around to work Kansas City’s favor in 2022.

Said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid: “I’m glad we didn’t make a change.”

Is Josh Allen this generation’s Brett Favre?

We got to where we are today because of Brett Favre. Many remember the legendary Packers quarterback because of his time in Green Bay. However, many may have forgotten that Favre not getting the ball in a crucial overtime game during his time with the Minnesota Vikings helped change the rules to what they are today.

In the NFC championship game of the 2009 season, the New Orleans Saints beat Favre and the Vikings 31-28 in overtime. It was a wild game full of memorable moments. But it was Drew Brees who got the ball first in overtime and led the Saints down the field to kick the game-winning field goal.

At that time, a first-drive field goal would win the game. But Brett Favre not being able to participate in Super Bowl XLIV caused the NFL to alter its overtime rules then. Will they do the same for Josh Allen?

The list of QBs the NFL didn’t change the rules for

Realistically, the league won’t go into the rulebook with a red pen because such a great playoff game ended the way it did. Who knows, though?

But let’s take a look at other noteworthy quarterbacks who were on the wrong end of these overtime rules.

1. Ben Roethlisberger – 2012: Broncos vs. Steelers

Who won the coin toss? Broncos

Result: Broncos win AFC wild-card game, 29-23

It didn’t take long for the Broncos to end the game. Tim Tebow hit the late Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime for an 80-yard touchdown. Big Ben Roethlisberger, who was already a two-time Super Bowl champion, did not touch the ball in the extra period.

It was the NFL’s first playoff game under the new OT rules, but the result would have been the same under the old sudden death rules.

2. Aaron Rodgers – 2015: Seahawks vs. Packers

Who won the coin toss? Seahawks

Result: Seahawks win NFC championship game, 28-22

This game is remembered for the Packers’ botched attempt to secure an onside kick. After a wild final two minutes, it was all tied up at 22. But Green Bay’s defense couldn’t stop Seattle’s offense in overtime. Russell Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse on a 35-yard touchdown pass to send the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.

Aaron Rodgers never set foot on the field in the overtime. This was the second time an NFL playoff game ended on the first possession under the new OT rules.

3. Aaron Rodgers – 2016: Cardinals vs. Packers

Who won the coin toss? Cardinals

Result: Cardinals win NFC divisional game, 26-20

For the second season in a row, Rodgers and the Packers were knocked out of the playoffs following the first possession of overtime. Let’s not forget, Rodgers hit Jeff Janis on a miraculous 41-yard Hail Mary to send the game into OT. But after a 75-yard catch and run by Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer found “Fitz” again on a quick pitch that resulted in a TD pass. A fond memory for Arizona Cardinals fans.

4. Matt Ryan – 2017: Patriots vs. Falcons

Who won the coin toss? Patriots

Result: Patriots win Super Bowl 51, 34-28

We all know Atlanta let go of a 28-3 lead. But the Falcons still had a chance to win the Super Bowl in overtime. It took Tom Brady and the Patriots nine plays and about four minutes to score the game-winning TD. Matt Ryan, the league’s MVP that season, didn’t touch the ball in overtime. But no rule change was made after the NFL’s biggest game.

5. Patrick Mahomes – 2019: Chiefs vs. Patriots

Who won the coin toss? Patriots

Result: Patriots win AFC championship game, 37-31

As we already discussed, Tom Brady once again left the opposing quarterback on the sidelines in overtime. The Patriots won the coin toss and scored a touchdown on the first overtime possession, not giving Mahomes and the Chiefs the opportunity on offense.

Photo by AP / Charlie Riedel
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C.J. Pierre

CJ Pierre is a multimedia journalist currently residing in the Phoenix-Metro Area in Arizona. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis and an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. CJ has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career. Most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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