Coin toss: The NFL’s Deciding Factor?


Dalton Hartmann

The discussion on the fairness of the NFL’s OT rules is bound to continue on for years to come. NFL teams in the playoffs are currently 10-2 when they win the toss, although the most recent example, this week’s AFC Championship Game between the Chiefs and Bengals saw the Chiefs win the toss but lose the game after failing to score on their first possession.

Luke Lawhorn, Contributing Writer

The second-seeded Kansas City Chiefs hosted the number three seed Buffalo Bills in the NFL’s AFC Divisional Round of the playoffs Sunday, Jan. 23, in what many this week have now crowned as the best playoff game ever. Both quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, played one of their best games ever, as they both threw for over 300 yards with Josh Allen, in particular, showing the world that he and the Bills are to be reckoned with going forward. But the story was about Mahomes and the Chiefs winning in overtime, 42-36, with Allen not getting a chance under the NFL overtime rules.

Currently, the rules are that if the regular time period ends and both teams are tied in score, there is another 15-minute period played. The first team to get a safety or score a touchdown will automatically win the game, regardless if only one team gets the ball. It is very “sudden death-esque,” which many NFL fans claim is unfair. However hard it may be to watch the Kansas City Chiefs go to the AFC Championship game for the fourth year in a row, or for one to ponder what might have been, it is absolutely unnecessary to change the overtime rules.

An hour of football should be enough time to determine a winner. Sure, the end of the game was wild and had 28 points scored in the fourth quarter and a quick six in overtime. But the Bills had only scored one touchdown each of the first three quarters and had a little over 27 minutes of possession. Meanwhile, the Chiefs had 36 minutes of possession and forced the Bills to punt four times. Those missed opportunities by the Bills to put points on the board gave the Chiefs more opportunities to score. The Bills played one of their best games offensively down the stretch, but still did not take full advantage of a weak Chiefs secondary and having Tyrann Mathieu leave the game early due to a concussion. On the other side of the ball, the Bills defense had to make stops. If they had stopped the Chiefs offense from going down the field with 13 seconds left or had held one of the Chiefs earlier possessions to a punt, maybe the turnout would have been different. But sports are sports, and coming down to one possession in overtime should not determine if a rule is fair or not. It is about which team can manage their time more efficiently – the team who can take the lead and manage the clock the best deserves to win.

Football can also sometimes be dictated by luck. A lucky coin toss, lucky weather, a lucky call, even the way the football bounces can be lucky. The way a football is made is to make it bounce unpredictably, which is exactly why people love football. The better team does not always get luck to go their way, but the better team will make the most of it any given day. Before the opening kickoff, a coin toss determines who gets the ball first and who will receive it after halftime. Depending on the team, that coin can make or break any team’s game plan. The coin toss should not be altered and neither should the shape of the football. There have been plenty of games where a team will gain or lose momentum just from where the ball bounces which can also change the entire game.

The NFL itself does not want to change the rule. In the 2019 playoffs, the same scenario happened to the Chiefs; however, that time their luck was different. They played the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, and the Patriots won the toss and immediately went to score a touchdown without letting the Chiefs get a chance to answer. That offseason, the Chiefs elected to change the rule and every other team voted against it. Since 2010 when the rule was implemented, there have been 11 overtime playoff games, and the team who wins the toss is 10-1. Clearly, the NFL does not want these games to be played too long because when everyone is tired after 60 minutes of running around and beating on each other, games tend to become sloppy. This leads to an increased risk of injuries and fatigue which is not suitable for the players, the teams or revenue. The NFL wants these games played as smoothly as possible. What would it also mean if they changed the rule? Would there be an asterisk by all 10 playoff overtime winners due to “unfairness?” The fun of sports is playing the “What if…?” game. Many teams have won when they were not as talented, just like many teams lost when all the odds were in their favor.

The Bills today feel like the Chiefs did three seasons ago. There will be another team who will feel like the Bills do today. But, again, the owners and commissioner will wisely keep the games safe and high reward, while also keeping luck involved.