In the wake of the Kansas City Chiefs’ thrilling, 42-36 win against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC divisional-round game on Jan. 23, the NFL’s overtime system is again facing increased scrutiny. Will the revolutionary “spot and choose” idea floated by Ravens head coach John Harbaugh get another look?
The primary argument against the current system is that the overtime coin flip carries too much weight. If the team that wins the toss scores a touchdown on its opening possession, the game is over without the other team touching the ball.
Indeed, that’s what happened in Kansas City. The Chiefs won the toss, and quarterback Patrick Mahomes marched his offense 75 yards in eight plays against a gassed, stunned Bills defense. Mahomes capped the drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce.
Critics of the current system lament that Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who had answered every blow from Mahomes in a remarkable performance, wasn’t given one more chance to do so.
That has proved to be the case most of the time in the playoffs. According to the NFL’s research department, there have been 11 overtime playoff games since 2010, when the current overtime system was implemented (in which an opening-drive field goal doesn’t end the game, but a touchdown does.) In those 11 games, the team that won the overtime coin flip is 10-1, with seven of those wins coming on the opening drive.
Including all regular-season overtime games since the new system was implemented, the team winning the overtime coin toss has won about 53 percent of the time, according to the NFL’s data.
There has been occasional clamor that the NFL should adopt the system used in college football, in which teams alternate possessions beginning from the opposing 25-yard line. Each team is guaranteed at least one possession. Some have suggested alternating two-point conversion attempts.
Harbaugh has floated a different idea entirely, known as “spot and choose,” likened to the age-old quandary of two children splitting a cookie. One breaks the cookie in half, the other has first pick of which piece he wants. In “spot and choose,” one team decides where the ball is spotted to begin overtime, and the other team chooses whether to play offense or defense from that spot.
Harbaugh and the Ravens proposed two versions of “spot and choose” last year, one that would be sudden death, and an alternative featuring a full, timed extra quarter of 7 minutes, 30 seconds.
“Any luck involved would be the bounce of the ball, not the flip of the coin,” Harbaugh said last year when asked about the concept. “I think that’s something the fans would appreciate. While it’s really intriguing and fun, there’s a lot to it strategically. It’s a very simple concept.”
Any proposed rule changes first are considered by the league’s Competition Committee and ultimately must be approved by the 32 owners.
Both “spot and choose” ideas were soundly defeated in voting by league owners last year, and Harbaugh acknowledged last spring that the idea might be “before its time.”
Harbaugh has yet to hold his season-ending news conference, and it’s unclear whether the Ravens intend to submit a “spot and choose” proposal again this year.
In the wake of the epic Chiefs-Bills game, and a finish that felt incomplete to many, it will be curious to see if the time for “spot and choose” has drawn any nearer.
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