The NFL’s overtime rules have changed quite a bit since 2010, but that hasn’t stopped NFL teams from attempting to tweak them in recent offseasons.
The NFL employs an overtime format that is unique among major North American sports. There is a sudden-death element to the overtime period, as the team that first receives the ball can end the game if they score a touchdown.
However, in recent years, teams like the Chiefs, Eagles and Ravens have made proposals to change up that rule. The proposals differ, but they all have at least one thing in common. At a minimum, they want to mitigate the impact that the overtime coin toss has on the outcome of the game. Some even strive to guarantee that both sides will possess the ball in the extra period.
Since 2010, there have been a few major changes to the NFL’s overtime rules, but there have been even more proposals that have fallen by the wayside. But after the Chiefs-Bills game during the divisional round of the 2022 NFL playoffs, it feels like we’re bound to get some more rule change requests in the coming months and years.
Below is a recap of the major NFL overtime rule changes — both enacted and proposed — since the league implemented its new postseason overtime rules in 2010.
RIVERA: Revisiting the 11 NFL postseason OT games since 2010
NFL overtime rules, proposed changes since 2010
2010: NFL changes postseason overtime rules
The NFL first changed its sudden-death overtime rules in 2010. At that time, the NFL adopted new overtime rules for the postseason alone. The major change was that a made field goal no longer ended overtime; only a touchdown on the first possession would end the extra period.
The new rule was passed by a vote of 28-4, and it was recommended by the NFL’s competition committee at a 6-2 clip. The main reason was thatRich McKay the team that won the overtime coin toss won the game nearly 60 percent of the time and 34.4 percent of the time on the first possession.
“Plenty of people on the committee, myself included, are so-called traditionalists,” then-Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian said, per ESPN. “I am proud to be one. But once you saw the statistics, it became obvious we had to do something.”
Then co-chairman of the competition committee, Rich McKay, also explained that the proposal was popular because it maintained the sudden-death aspect that is unique to NFL overtime.
The rule change came in wake of the Saints’ overtime win over the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game in 2010, but it wasn’t directly tied to the rule change. In fact, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, reportedly voted against the change.
“You need consistency of the regular season and the postseason,” Wilf said.
2012: NFL implements postseason OT rules in regular season
Two years later, Wilf got the consistency he thought was important in the implementation of any rule change. The NFL expanded its new postseason overtime rules to the regular season beginning in 2012.
This came after two postseason games were played with the new overtime rules. The first was the 2011 Broncos-Steelers game, which Tim Tebow ended immediately by throwing a game-winning touchdown to Demaryius Thomas on the first offensive play of the overtime period. The second was the 49ers-Giants game in 2012, which saw the Giants win despite being stopped on their opening drive. They stopped the 49ers and drove down for the game-winning field goal.
The sample size was small, but the playoff overtime rule change was popular enough among NFL ownership that they moved it to the regular season. The possibility always existed when they first implemented the rule change that it would expand in that capacity, and after a two-year test run, they evidently felt comfortable enough to roll with it.
2017: NFL shortens overtime
In 2017, the NFL’s competition committee recommended that the NFL shorten its overtime period to 10 minutes. It had previously been the same length as a normal quarter, 15 minutes. The league obliged, thus creating 10-minute overtime periods.
Why did the NFL agree to do this? According to commissioner Roger Goodell, it was all in the name of player safety.
“We think this is an important change, particularly for teams that may be into an overtime situation and a lengthy overtime situation that may have to come back and play on a Thursday night, so this is another positive change,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, per NFL.com.
In the five years prior to the rule change, there had been 83 overtime games played in the NFL. Only 22 of them (26.5 percent) lasted at least 10 minutes into overtime. Thus, the league shortened the overtime period to prevent injuries and extra plays from occurring, at the cost of slightly more frequent ties.
BENDER: 13 games that caused NFL’s overtime changes
2019: Chiefs proposal for both teams to receive ball fails
The Chiefs made a major overtime rule change proposal in 2019 after they lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. In that contest, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense never saw the ball in extra time, as Tom Brady and the Patriots drove 75 yards for a touchdown on their first possession, enacting the sudden-death touchdown rule.
As such, the Chiefs set out to change that. They proposed a rule that would allow each team at least one possession in overtime, even if the team that first possessed the ball scored a touchdown. The proposal also set out to eliminate the coin flip and just to rely on the pre-game coin flip to decide which team gets to whether to receive or kick in overtime.
“I think everybody wants a chance for guys to do what they do,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach told Pro Football Talk when asked about the rule change proposal in March of 2019. “I don’t really see the downside of having that. Especially when you have a player like Pat Mahomes. It would have been a lot of fun. I think people, if they weren’t already tuned in for a great game, would have turned on that overtime.”
However, the NFL owners didn’t agree with Veach, Andy Reid and the Chiefs. Kansas City’s motion got little support during the meetings and was tabled due to a “lack of support” for the change, per Boston.com. The owners didn’t even vote on the issue.
Ironically, those very unchanged rules ended up benefitting the Chiefs three years later during their playoff win over the Bills.
2020: Eagles look to change coin-toss rules, are denied
The Eagles crafted a proposal in 2020 that looked to “minimize the impact of the overtime coin toss.” How? Well, it involved using total touchdowns to determine who got the ball in overtime, as described by SB Nation.
At the end of regulation playing time, whichever team has scored more touchdowns during regulation will have the same options as a team that wins the pregame coin toss. If the teams have scored an equal number of touchdowns, the Referee shall immediately toss a coin at the center of the field, in accordance with rules pertaining to a usual pregame toss. The visiting team captain is to again call the toss.
The Eagles cited “competitive equity” and “fan engagement” for the primary reasons for their requested rule change.
To recap, the team that was better offensively and recorded more touchdowns would get the ball first. So, instead of relying on a coin to choose which team would go first, they are relying on a stat related to the game.
Of course, as the proposal noted, that rule change wouldn’t entirely eliminate the need for a coin toss. It would still be necessary if the teams had an equal number of touchdowns.
That’s part of why the proposal never made it to the voting process as a potential NFL rule change. And it may also be part of the reason that the Eagles switched to support another potential overtime rule change in 2021.
2021: Ravens and Eagles’ “spot and choose” overtime proposal shut down
The Ravens and Eagles took an unorthodox approach to change the NFL’s overtime rules. They designed a proposal to give the overtime coin toss less of a clear competitive edge in the extra period.
Here’s how overtime would have looked under the proposal. The winner of the coin toss can choose one of two things. They can choose to start the ball on offense or defense or they can choose where to spot the ball to begin overtime.
For example, a team could choose to receive the ball, but then their opponent could choose to spot the ball at their own 1-yard line, making it necessary for the team on offense to drive the length of the field to score. Conversely, a team could choose to spot the ball on their own 15-yard line and that would force their opponent to make the difficult choice about whether they’d like to be on offense or defense.
This would create a true sudden-death format that would minimize the impact of the overtime coin toss. Why? Because the winning team wouldn’t automatically benefit from winning the toss, as if they elect to receive, they could see the ball placed deep in their own territory. And if they elect to spot the ball, they would have to play on defense.
“We think the main thing is the spot-and-choose aspect of it is to make it fair,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, per Ravens.com. “Any luck involved would be the bounce of the ball, not the flip of the coin. I think that’s something the fans would appreciate.”
MORE: Current NFL overtime rules, explained
“While it’s really intriguing and fun, there’s a lot to it strategically. It’s a very simple concept,” he added. “Easy to understand, I think, once you get your arms around it. It’s a lot fewer lines in the rule book, I can tell you that.”
Still, the NFL owners weren’t ready to embrace that rule in 2021. The proposal was rejected as it “did not receive enough support” from the competition committee. Nor did the team’s proposal for a 7 1/2 minute non-sudden-death overtime.
That said, competition committee chairman Rich McKay praised the Ravens’ proposal of the idea and noted that it could “take a long time” to fully understand.
“That was an out-of-the-box idea,” McKay said in a conference call with reporters. “I thought Baltimore did a really nice job in explaining it. I think ideas like that take a long time to marinate and understand. It didn’t have a lot of support, but I’ve been around rules before that didn’t have a lot of support over the years and all of a sudden passed. I think it’s good they brought it up.”
The league did make one overtime change before 2021. They finally eliminated overtime for preseason games in 2021 after several years of teams proposing that go away. It’s simply not needed in exhibition games where third- and fourth-string players are often playing at the end of regulation.