Unfortunately, it had to end eventually.
That Chiefs-Bills playoff contest Sunday — a reminder of why NFL games are consistently this country’s most-watched events — might have been the best 60-minutes-plus of football we’ll see for the next 10 years.
But it’s the 60-minutes plus that is the point of emphasis here, because two things can be true at once: 1) Fans can feel as though they saw a master class in entertainment and perseverance. 2) Fans can feel as though they still got robbed.
The NFL’s current overtime rules prevented the Bills from getting the ball back after the Chiefs scored a touchdown on their opening drive in the extra period. Had Kansas City kicked a field goal, Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen would have had a chance to lead his team down the field again. Had both teams made field goals, the next score would have won, but in this case a touchdown sealed the win for the Chiefs.
The reaction on social media — and you really never know if that represents how most Americans feel — was not sympathetic to the format. As attorney Exavier Pope tweeted: “We don’t even use coins anymore. Why are we deciding football games with them?”
The implication is that the result of a 50-50 coin toss shouldn’t be more instrumental to the outcome than the prowess of the players. So should there be a rule change?
Let’s first look at some of the data as per NFL research. Since the new overtime rules were implemented in 2010, there have been 163 OT games, including the playoffs. Teams that won the coin toss have a record of 86-67-10 in those games — good for a 52.8 winning percentage.
This indicates that the coin-toss win is still advantageous, but the results aren’t as lopsided as one might think.
But then you have the playoff games. In the 11 postseason contests that have gone to OT, the coin-toss winners have a record of 10-1. The only team to overcome losing the coin toss were the Rams over the Saints in January 2019, which was most remembered for the no-call on a clear pass-interference penalty that likely cost New Orleans the win.
So if the Saints did get that call and scored a TD in overtime, coin-toss winners would be 11-0 in the playoffs. And that’s where we have a problem.
To some extent, this is where the purity vs. succinctness debate comes into play. One could argue that it would be purer for a soccer game to never end in a shootout, but this would also mean they could go on for three hours. Controversial as it was, putting a runner on second during extra innings in Major League Baseball games last year did add excitement and speed things up. By not having tiebreakers in the fifth set, Wimbledon might have been purer than other Grand Slams, but there would also be marathon matches — including one that lasted for 11 hours.
But the difference between these formats and the NFL OT rules is that there is no 50-50 game of chance that gives one side a distinct advantage.
This is not to say the OT rules were ill-conceived. Ostensibly, those in charge wanted to strike a balance between suspense and fairness. By making a touchdown mandatory for victory on the first possession as opposed to a field goal, it put the onus on the coin-toss winning team to “earn it” while mitigating the chances of a tie.
It’s been exciting. And based on the aforementioned numbers in the regular season — not predictable. But the playoffs are different, and this is where common sense should force a rule change.
I’ve heard the argument that if you can’t stop your opponent from scoring a touchdown on the first drive, then you don’t deserve to win. Come on. When you have teams such as the Chiefs and the Bills, whose quarterbacks were playing like first-ballot Hall of Famers on Sunday, it’s incredibly difficult to get a stop.
As for potentially prolonging overtime for an extra few minutes while the two teams duke it out — no fan is going to have a problem with this in the postseason.
Keep the rules for the regular season the same. Change them for the playoffs. Sunday confirmed that. We just saw one of the best games in NFL history. It could — and should — have been even better.