The NFL Usually Gets It Right...But Not This Time
When did the NFL become the NHL? Only the black sheep of professional sports leagues would be goofy enough to have one set of rules in the regular season and another set of rules in the postseason. On the ice regular season overtime games are played with four skaters but during the playoffs teams use the normal five skaters. Makes sense though, after all the NHL is known for starting the season in far away places like Stockholm and once wiped out an entire season due to labor strife. Hey, I like the NHL but sometimes you gotta wonder what the heck they're trying to pull on us.
So after years of debate the NFL finally decided to tweak the rules of sudden death overtime. Teams will no longer be able to end a game on a field goal on the opening possession. But the tweak only applies to postseason games. Huh? To quote a Southwest Airlines add that you might see about 100 times on an NFL Sunday, "why would they do that?" If you're going to change a rule that affects how a game is going to end, then it should affect all games, regular or postseason. Oh I know there is much hand-wringing regarding sudden death. Doesn't the team that wins the coin toss win the game all the time? That certainly wasn't true in 2009. According to the NFL in 13 overtime games last year the team that lost the coin toss in overtime won the contest six times. That doesn't include Chicago's Week 16 win over Minnesota when the Bears won the toss but didn't win the game until after both teams had the ball.
For sure the NFL's sudden death policy is debatable. One thing that is not debatable is the importance of every regular season game in the NFL. That's what makes the NFL the best professional sport, right? There are no throwaway games, every game, every week has meaning. So why tweak the OT rules only for the playoffs. To be sure, playoff games are as big as it gets but the weeks leading up to the playoffs are nearly as big. Nearly every game in Week 17 carried some playoff significance. To say that sudden death shouldn't apply to those late regular season games is just wrong. Those who were opposed to sudden death OT always made the argument of "what if the Super Bowl comes down to a coin toss? How bad would that be?" There's some validity there but how about those teams trying to fight their way into the playoffs in Week 17? How bad would it be for the season to end for a playoff-worthy team because they didn't win the toss and never saw the ball in overtime? Guess what? It's already happened. In 2002 the Miami Dolphins were eliminated from the AFC East title race by the New England Patriots who won the coin toss in overtime and marched right into field goal range (thanks in large part to Miami kicking the ball out-of-bounds to start the overtime period.)
The NFL will reconsider the new overtime rule in May, as they should. The new overtime rule should apply to every game. Besides, who wants to be compared to the NHL?