2024 Super Bowl: Postseason overtime rules mean it’s better to give than to get

The NFL debuted its new postseason overtime rules in the 2023 playoffs, and coaches who win the toss will now consider whether to take the unusual step of kicking an opponent into overtime.

The league made major changes to its overtime rules during the 2022 offseason due to the Bills-Chiefs divisional round game ending. The Chiefs won 42–36 after winning the coin toss and scoring first in overtime, meaning Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense never touched the ball in the overtime period.

For playoffs only, both teams must have a chance to possess the ball. Gone are the days of winning the toss, scoring a touchdown and finishing the game.

And that strategy should change the coach’s approach. Guaranteed offensive possession in overtime should lead coaches to suspend their captain if he wins the overtime coin toss.

Kicking the opposition will give the team winning the toss an opportunity to know what it needs to win or extend the game. It would also give the team a chance to end the game with a defensive score. And that will likely give the team good starting field position through defensive stops and the ensuing punt on kickoffs.

Winning the toss and electing to kick is almost always done in college football. But still, you’re guaranteed to start your offensive possession at the 25-yard line. By winning and kicking in NFL overtime (very likely) the team winning the toss will benefit from improved starting field position compared to the opponent.

Since 2010, there have been 12 overtime playoff games. Teams winning the coin toss are 10–2 in those games, although only seven of the 12 coin toss winners won on their first possession without the other team taking possession of the ball.

The league used those numbers — 10-2 and seven of 12 — to justify changes to the overtime rules. In fact, it was the exciting Bills-Chiefs game that forced the change.

The Chiefs won the overtime coin toss in the AFC title game against the Bengals and still lost the game. In the controversial NFC Championship Game between the Saints and Rams following the 2018 regular season, the Saints won the overtime coin toss and still lost the game.

In 12 overtime games since 2010, not once has a team won the overtime coin toss and elected to kick its opponent. And according to TruMedia, only one team since 2017 has chosen that route in the regular season.

In 2019, Mike Tomlin opted for this in the Steelers’ Week 5 matchup against the Ravens. Mason Rudolph, who stepped into the starting role earlier in the season with an injury to Ben Roethlisberger, suffered a concussion midway through the third quarter and was replaced by Devlin Hodges. The Steelers mustered just six more points for the remainder of regulation.

With a strong wind and a struggling offense in Pittsburgh, Tomlin decided to kick the Ravens and have them play into the wind after winning the OT coin toss. That meant a defensive stop would give the Steelers better field position and the ball back with the wind at their back. After finally getting a stop, the Steelers fumbled near midfield and the Ravens scored a 46-yard field goal to win the game.

The new playoff overtime rules include a 15-minute period instead of the 10-minute overtime period in the regular season. If the team receiving the ball first does not score a touchdown or if the score is tied after each team has possession of the ball, the next score wins. (If the team holding the ball commits a safety on the first initial possession, the kickoff team wins.)

There will be three timeouts per “half” for each team. Although not technically halves as in regulation, two overtime periods shall be considered halves for all intents and purposes. It also means a two-minute warning will be taken at the end of the second overtime, although it’s unlikely a winner will be decided by then. Coaches’ challenges will also not be allowed in overtime.

Four overtime games have been played since the 2019 season, so the league averages more than one a season. With the league having seen the most games decided by just six points or less, as well as the most games with one score in the fourth quarter, these overtime rules are likely to come into play this postseason.

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