Debate: Should NFL alter OT rules?
SI.com senior writers Don Banks and Peter King debate the issue
Banks: There's no fix that would be completely equitable to both teams
King: The OT coin flip plays too large a role in the outcome
The NFL's overtime rules are a hot-button topic right now, fresh off Saturday night's Colts-Chargers wild-card game, won by San Diego in OT. SI.com senior writers Peter King and Don Banks share opposing views and debated the topic this morning. Share your thoughts on overtime here.
BANKS: Peter, I know the overtime debate is one of your favorite pet peeves, and in the past I've been in favor of changing the OT rules to ensure each team one possession in the extra period. But I've come around to the viewpoint that the current sudden-death OT format isn't broken and doesn't need fixing. Mostly because there is no perfect fix.
One possession each in overtime sounds completely equitable. But no overtime format I've heard of would ever be completely equitable. There's always going to be an inherent advantage to the team that has the ball first, because it doesn't have the pressure of trying to match a score to keep the game alive.
Then, on the flip side, how is it completely equitable if you do give up a score first in overtime, you get the ball knowing that you have all four downs to keep the chains moving, rather than having to punt on fourth down, like the situation that the first-possession team faced? The second-possession team has 25 percent more downs to work with in trying to match or beat the other team's score because a punt is never going to be part of the equation for a team trailing in overtime.
Does that sound fair to you? You're never going to find a system that doesn't have some inequity, so take the good with the bad in the current overtime format and deal with it. That's life.
KING: Donnie, Donnie, Donnie. You're getting too far afield here. Forget all the stuff about extrapolating what happens when Team B has to forget about punting, or the pressure that Team B would feel if Team A put a touchdown on the board. There's nothing in football -- except for an 8-8 team playing host to a 12-4 team in a playoff game, which I still can't believe hasn't been fixed by the league -- as unfair as the overtime rule.
Just to state my reasons: In the 35 years since the NFL has had the current overtime system in place, 141 regular-season games have gone to overtime and ended with only one team having possession. So, on average, four times per year, a coin flip plays a major role in the outcome of an NFL game.
My fix is simple. I think a coin should be flipped at the start of overtime, with the winning team having the choice of whether to take the ball first. But then, if neither team has the lead after the second possession of overtime, the game enters sudden death. That's it. Each team is guaranteed one offensive possession, unless the defensive team on the first possession scores.
BANKS: Look, Big Dog, I happen to agree with you on the playoff seeding debate and I've been pounding on that drum since last postseason. But one of the biggest fallacies in the argument for changing the overtime rules is when proponents claim you can't let a coin flip determine the winner of the game. You hear it over and over and over, which always makes it sound like they flip the coin at midfield and one team calls it correctly and immediately marches off to its victorious locker room. That's not exactly how it works.
KING: I don't make the argument that the overtime coin flip determines the outcome of games. I do make the argument that the OT coin flip plays too big of a role in the outcome of overtime games. One third of the overtime games, not including playoffs, have been one-possession affairs. That is placing too much importance on whether the visiting captain calls heads or tails.
BANKS: I can live with one-third of overtime games being one-possession games, and you're still missing the point. The coin flip determines the first possession of overtime, but it's the players and the plays they do or don't make after the silver dollar gets tossed that determines the outcome of the game. And yes, some of those plays that do or don't get made come on defense, or special teams, which are the other two parts of the game that, combined with offense, make up football. You've got to play all three reasonably well to have a successful season, and the same holds true within the confines of a specific game.
KING: Fine. I agree with almost every point you make, Don. But there's still the matter of fairness. If this system is so fair, then why has, on 99 percent of the coin flips to start overtime in the last 35 years, the team that won the coin flip chosen to receive? Because it's a huge advantage to get the ball first.
BANKS: I'll give you that it's an advantage. But like Colts head coach Tony Dungy himself said earlier this year, your defense has the opportunity to make a play and get the ball on every snap in overtime. Just because one team gets the first possession on offense doesn't mean your defense is powerless to affect the game's outcome.
It just means the likelihood of an offense not turning the ball over is greater than the chances it will. Fair enough. But that's football. You're going to win some games with a first possession overtime score, and you're going to lose some others because you surrendered a first-drive score, but it's still equitable because the rules are the same for everybody.
Funny, but when I covered that 2003 first-round playoff game between Seattle and Green Bay at Lambeau Field, I don't remember anyone complaining about the overtime rules when Packers cornerback Al Harris picked off Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in overtime and returned it 52 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
True, Harris's interception came on Seattle's second overtime drive, but a defensive touchdown can happen at any point in overtime, and that's just the risk you accept when you go on offense. The same way the defense knows the game is on the line with every snap of overtime.
KING: Maybe there aren't any perfect fixes out there, but it'd still be eminently more fair if both teams got at least one possession in overtime. Giving each team the ball once at least eliminates the reality that nine out of 15 overtime games this season were one-possession games. That's just too many one-possession overtime games. Something has to be done.
BANKS: OK, but you want to know something that really drives me crazy? It's when I hear you and others complain that the reigning league MVP didn't even get to touch the ball Saturday night in overtime, as if Peyton Manning somehow deserved a chance to win the game in dramatic fashion. The truth is, he had his chance to win the game and be the hero, and it came late in regulation.
Had the Colts been able to execute on that third-and-two from their own nine with 2:30 remaining, they would have been able to run out the clock on the trailing Chargers, who had already burned all three of their timeouts. Instead, Manning double-clutched while searching for a receiver, didn't see blitzing Chargers linebacker Tim Dobbins and wound up taking an eight-yard sack to the Indy one. That forced a Colts punt and set up the Chargers' game-tying field-goal drive.
But to act like Manning was deprived of a chance to affect the outcome of the game when it was on the line is pure fantasy. He had his chance. And had he and the Colts made the most of it, overtime would have never even occurred. Sorry, but no special rules should apply just because your last name is Manning.
KING: You're right, Mr. Brasco. Just because he's Peyton Manning doesn't mean we should engineer some sort of phony baloney rule to make sure that the great Manning is able to touch the ball in overtime. But in a game where the hottest quarterback in the last month of the season (San Diego's Philip Rivers) duels the hottest quarterback in the last half of the season (Manning), I think it's folly that the toss of a coin should play such a big role in one of them touching the ball from that point on and the other not.
But I spent time on about three talk shows Monday saying what happened in the first 60 minutes of the game means absolutely nothing once you get to overtime. It's a new game. If the Colts had won the toss and Manning had driven Indy to the winning points on the opening possession, you could say exactly the same thing about Rivers that you just said about Manning. Three times in the second half Rivers produced zero points after driving the Chargers into Colts territory. So who was the worst quarterback in the second half: Rivers or Manning? And why should that matter?
BANKS: It shouldn't. But if you think the overtime debate would have been just as vocal this week if it were Rivers rather than Manning who never touched the ball in OT, I think you're in the distinct minority. I think because it was Peyton Manning, the league's three-time MVP, who didn't get to step on the field in overtime, that pumped up the volume. Considerably.
KING: Maybe, but I was saying the same thing when Brett Favre and the Jets got the ball in overtime in Week 11 at New England, and the Patriots' Matt Cassel and his 401 yards of passing never saw the field. Same situation. And it needs fixing.
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