Last January, NFL fans were treated to not just one of the best football games of the 2021-2022 NFL season, but one of the best sports events of the entire year. In the AFC Divisional Round, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills thrilled fans in a back-and-forth affair. Josh Allen and the Bills scored a go-ahead touchdown with just 13 seconds remaining in regulation, but that was still enough time for Patrick Mahomes to get Kansas City in range for a field goal to force overtime.
Despite the thrilling finish to regulation, the overtime ending left many fans unsettled.
Kansas City won the coin toss and went right down the field against an exhausted Bills defense, scoring a touchdown to advance to the AFC Championship Game. Under the overtime rules in place, all Allen and the Bills offense could do was watch.
In the weeks that followed, as fans clamored for a different overtime format, the NFL listened. Eventually, the league’s owners approved a revised overtime format, guaranteeing that each team would have a possession in overtime.
The format was approved by a 29-3 vote.
Starting with the 2022-2023 season, all playoff games that advance to overtime will follow these revised rules:
- If a game is tied 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.
- Both teams will have an opportunity to possess the football. This is the big change. Previously, as we saw in the 2022 AFC Divisional Round game between Kansas City and Buffalo, if the team that started with the football scored a touchdown, the game was over. Under the new rules, in that scenario Buffalo would get a chance to match with a touchdown of their own, and if they did, the game would continue. Once both teams have a possession, the game then becomes sudden death. In addition, if the team that starts with possession scores and kicks the extra point to take a seven-point lead, the second team can win with a touchdown and a two-point conversion.
- If the score is still tied at the end of an overtime period — or if the second team’s initial possession is still in progress — 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.
- If the game remains tied after two overtime periods, there will be a second half. 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 a third coin toss, and play will continue until a winner is declared.
- There are no instant replay coach’s challenges; all reviews will be initiated by the replay official.
These tweaks could lead to some interesting strategic decisions for coaches. For example, teams that win the first coin toss may elect to defer. As we see with college football overtime rules, since you are guaranteed a possession it makes sense to start on defense, so you know exactly what you need to score on offense to win, or to extend the game.
In addition, the two-point conversion opportunity is another strategic point to monitor. Will teams that score first go for two to force the second team’s hand? That seems unlikely, because in the event of a failed two-point try, the second team would just need a touchdown and an extra point to win.
Speaking of that second team, will teams that score second elect to try a two-point conversion for the win, or will they settle for an extra point and take their chances in sudden death?
You can only imagine that if — or when — we see an overtime game under this new format, these scenarios will be discussed at length.