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NFL changes playoff overtime rules to give both teams possession

The league is trying to level the playing field after regulation, but it’s anyone’s guess whether it will work.

New York Jets v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

We’ve all seen games in the postseason reach overtime and end without one team even touching the football after regulation, most notably during the Chiefs-Bills shootout of 2022. I can’t think of any occasions involving the Falcons.

Clearly, the league has decided that is an issue, because yesterday the NFL announced new playoff overtime rules that will ensure both teams get a possession. There’s a note about safeties in there we’ll get to.

On first glance, it’s equitable enough. There are a couple of camps when it comes to overtime, the “just get a stop” group and the “it’s more fair if both teams have a shot” set, and the NFL is obviously swayed by the arguments of the latter at the moment. Ensuring a coin flip doesn’t essentially end a game is a plus in my mind, given how gassed defenses tend to be by overtime in the playoffs.

There are some immediate questions that come to mind that we’ll likely see answered when the games are played. The first is what happens after both teams score a field goal or touchdown and then the next team to score wins in sudden death fashion, given that ultimately that effectively just postpones the victory for the team that got the ball first, especially if defense are even more tired by that point. The second is that point about the safety, which feels like exactly the sort of weird unlikely scenario that is going to play out and become controversial at some point in the next few years.

For now, this is only a change in the playoffs, and will only become permanent and part of the regular season if it proves to be wildly popular with the league writ large. Rule changes are tough to make predictions about—you usually have to see them play out in real games before you can decide if they’re any good—but teams smarting from overtime losses or fearful they’ll suffer one without touching the ball are likely to be happy in the here and now.