The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have never played a postseason overtime game, but if and when they do for the first time they'll be facing a new set of rules. And that in turn will probably lead to a new overtime strategy.
On Tuesday, team owners gathered in West Palm Beach for the NFL's Annual Meeting approved a change to the rules that govern overtime for postseason games. The rule change is simple: Each team will now be guaranteed a possession during the extra period.
The Buccaneers did play one overtime game during the regular season in 2021, defeating the Buffalo Bills, 33-27, on a 58-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to Breshad Perriman in Week 14. However, it was another game in which Buffalo suffered defeat in overtime that sparked the latest push for a rule change.
In the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs, the Bills and Kansas City Chiefs played to a 36-36 tie at the end of regulation at Arrowhead Stadium. It was a thrilling battle between star quarterbacks Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes, with each of the last five possessions in regulation leading to a score. In overtime, the home team won the coin toss and Mahomes led the Chiefs on a 75-yard touchdown drive on the first possession. Allen never touched the ball again after his 19-yard touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
If the new rule adopted on Tuesday had been in place in 2021, the Bucs-Bills Week 14 outcome would have been unchanged, as it currently only applies to the postseason...and the Bucs' touchdown came on the second possession of overtime anyway. However, Allen and the Bills would have had a chance to match the Chiefs in overtime in that incredible shootout.
Postseason overtime will still begin with a coin toss, but the team that wins that toss will likely make a different decision now. Under the old rules, the winner of the old toss would always take the ball first, knowing they could win the game without playing defense if they were able to score a touchdown on the first possession. Now that each team is guaranteed a possession, the team that wins the toss will likely choose to play on defense first because it will know after its opponent's first possession what it will take to win or tie. If there is any weather advantage to choosing one end zone to defend, that would also benefit the team that chooses to play defense first.
Prior to the 2010 season, the NFL used a "sudden death" approach to overtime, in which the first score by either team ended the game. That gave a significant advantage to the team that won the coin toss in the extra period, as games could often be won with relatively short field goal drives. In 2010, the league adopted a new rule for the postseason only, in which the team that lost the coin toss would be guaranteed a possession unless the team that won the toss scored a touchdown on its opening possession. That rule was later expanded to cover the regular season in 2012.
The rule change in 2010 was intended to make overtime more fair for the team that lost the coin toss. However, since that season teams that have won the coin toss in overtime playoff games have gone on to victory 10 out of 12 times.