The greatest NFL playoff game in history will have an asterisk next to it because the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Buffalo Bills in overtime without giving the Bills the chance of possessing the ball on offense. That’s why we’re suggesting that the NFL alters its overtime rules to adopt the MLB’s old extra-inning rule, which guarantees that both teams get equal possessions, including “last licks” by the home team.

Buffalo Bills Kansas City CHiegs NFL Playoffs Overtime OT Rules
Josh Allen from the Buffalo Bills calls out an audible against the Kansas City Chiefs in the first half of their classic playoff game that ended in overtime. (Image: Jamie Squire/Getty)

Overtime can usually be determined by the simple flip of a coin, which seems absurd, especially in the playoffs. In the case of the Buffalo Bills, it meant the abrupt of a magical season for a team on a mission to win its first Super Bowl.

“Those guys are hurt,” said Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “We’re disappointed, we’re all disappointed. We’re all hurt, sick to our stomach. It stings. I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. It stings.”

“The rules are what they are,” said Bills QB Josh Allen. “I can’t complain about that because if it was the other way around, we’d be celebrating too. It is what it is at this point. We just didn’t make enough plays tonight.”

Coin flip sparks Buffalo’s blues

The Chiefs and Bills battled it out in a classic shootout that spilled into overtime. Upcoming generations of football fans will discuss the Chiefs/Bills playoff game with fondness and watch clips with awe and excitement, while many members of Bills Mafia will carry a bit of sorrow and contempt for the unfair overtime rules that robbed them of a potential trip to the Super Bowl. The two teams combined for 78 points, with 25 points scored in the final two minutes of regulation and overtime.

“When it’s grim, be the Grim Reaper and go get it,” said Kansas City head coach Andy Reid to Patrick Mahomes before he led the Chiefs to a game-tying drive to send it into overtime.

In overtime, the Chiefs won the coin toss and got the ball first. Mahomes guided the Chiefs to a 75-yard scoring drive in eight plays that took up only 4:15 of game time. On the eighth play of overtime, tight end Travis Kelce caught an eight-yard pass from Mahomes in the end zone and the Chiefs won 42-36.

Under the current rules, a team with the ball first in overtime can’t win the game with a field goal, but they can prevail if they score a touchdown. If they score a field goal, the opposing team gets one possession to win, lose, or tie.

The overtime rules needed to be tweaked by the NFL via its rules committee. The old format utilized sudden death, meaning the first team to score would win. That antiquated OT format alienated everyone when it came down to the winner of the coinflip kicking a quick field goal to win a game. That’s why the NFL initially tweaked the overtime rules to eliminate teams from winning via field goal on the first possession of OT.

Will extra innings come to the NFL playoffs?

In a revised set of NFL playoffs overtime rules, both teams should get the ball at least once in OT. Baseball’s extra innings come to mind. The visiting teams bats first, and the home team bats second. Both teams play out an inning and the game ends when someone is ahead at the conclusion of an inning. Otherwise, they play another inning.

We propose that the visiting team in the NFL gets the first possession in overtime. They can kick a field goal or opt for a touchdown. It doesn’t matter because the home team will get possession, no matter what happens.

If the score is tied at the end of the possession resulting in a punt, turnover, or turnover on downs, then both teams embrace another round of possessions. You simply follow MLB’s extra-innings format until you have a winner at the end of the home team’s possession.

The coinflip ceremony for overtime only determines what side of the field the teams will defend. If, by chance, time runs out in a deadlocked stalemate, then the teams swap sides at the end of 15 minutes. In the regular season, you can declare a tie. But in the postseason, you keep playing.

Equal possessions in OT

In the case of the Chiefs and Bills, the Bills would have gotten the ball first under the extra-innings rule. If the Bills had one possession, we would have seen if they still had momentum. Could Josh Allen get them in the end zone, or would they settle on a field goal, or turn the ball over? And then, Mahomes and the Chiefs would get their possession and last licks as the home team, which we all know ended in a Mahomes touchdown pass to Kelce.

Perhaps in a world with equal overtime possessions, the Bills and Chiefs both scored touchdowns, and then we’d be treated to a second overtime. The way those two offenses couldn’t be stopped — and with how tired both defenses looked — this playoff game could have gone back and forth for another full quarter before someone finally prevailed.

Those “what ifs” will haunt the Bills until they finally get off the schneid and win a Super Bowl. In the meantime, the NFL rules committee will be bombarded with a deluge of op-eds and public declarations that it’s time the league addressed its fatal flaw in determining postseason games that end up in a tie at the end of regulation.

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