It’s been more than nine months since the NFL passed a new overtime policy, and there’s been very little talk about the new system as we prepare for the start of the playoffs.
We should discuss the rule, however, because this weekend will be the first time it’s ever been implemented.
Back in March, NFL owners voted to change the overtime rules for this year’s playoffs, while leaving the previous system in place for the regular season. Thus, coaches will potentially have to make strategic decisions that they’ve never previously been forced to make, and they’ll make those decisions with their playoff lives on the line.
In case you need a refresher, here’s how the new system will work:
While there is still a sudden-death element of the rule, the first score does not necessarily win the game. Under the new rule, both teams have the opportunity to possess the ball once during the overtime period, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff (we’ll call that team “Team A”) scores a touchdown on its initial possession. In that case, Team A is the winner.
If the team that possesses the ball first on its opening possession scores a field goal, the other team (Team B) will have an opportunity to get a possession as well. If Team B scores a touchdown on its possession, it is the winner. If the game is tied after both teams have a possession (meaning either that neither team scored or each team kicked a field goal), then the next team to score by any method is the winner.
If the score is tied at the end of the 15-minute overtime period, another OT period will begin and the game will continue until a team scores.
So, to summarize, if Team A scores an opening-drive touchdown, they win. An opening-drive field goal by Team A, however, no longer wins the game.
This takes away some of the weight of the coin toss, which in the past, had obviously played a major factor in overtime results.
Turnovers and trick plays could make the new system even a bit more confusing. “The opportunity to possess the ball” means that you are on the field to receive a kickoff. If you fumble the kickoff or if the kicking team recovers an onside kick, that still counts as your opportunity to possess the ball.
It might be important to note - or it might not, really - that only four teams voted against the new rule when it was proposed at the owners meetings, and one of those teams was the Ravens.
Owner Steve Bisciotti said after the vote that the proposal was not compelling enough for him to put his support behind it.
His team will still be subject to the new rules starting this weekend, however, so head coach John Harbaugh and his staff will need to be prepared for any new strategic elements which come into play as a result of the rule change.