How the NFL Should Untie Issues with Tie Games

Ian Caffarel, Staff Writer

It’s a brand new season in the NFL. Although the anthem protests that dogged it for the past two seasons have mostly died down, the league continues to be plagued by other issues, on and off the field; the talk is dominated by concussions, new tackling rules–and the changes to overtime.


So far in this season, there have been two games ending in ties in as many weeks; the thing is, there could be a lot more, unless the league decides to make a change.


First, a quick recap of the league’s overtime rules. In the regular season, the teams will play a 10-minute period with three timeouts, and using fourth quarter timing rules. Each team has an opportunity to possess the ball, unless one team scores a touchdown or the defense forces a safety, in which case the game ends. If the first team with the ball gives it up without scoring, the game reverts to sudden death; if the first team has to kick a field goal, the other team will get the ball with a chance to score. A field goal from the other team will extend the game, while a touchdown ends it. If both teams kick field goals, the next points by either team, regardless of the score, win it. If both teams go all 10 minutes without points, the game will end in a tie.


As for the playoffs, overtime is still 15 minutes long, with the same scoring rules. If both teams go the period without points, the game will proceed through more periods until the matter is settled. Hypothetically, a playoff game could go on indefinitely, but no more than two overtime sessions has been necessary to determine a winner.


Between the league’s inception in 1920 and 1973, 258 games ended in ties, including many scoreless ties, the last of which was in the 1940s. When overtime was first introduced in 1974, the rule was sudden death; the first team to score won. In 2010, the rules were changed so that each team had a chance to possess the ball, but this applied only to the postseason. No playoff games that year went into overtime, so the first time the rule was invoked was in 2011, when a wildcard game between the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers went into overtime; Denver quarterback Tim Tebow completed an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime to end it. Between 1974 and 2011, only 17 games ended in ties.


In 2012, the rules were extended to the regular season, when a game between the then-St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers ended in a tie, after both teams missed field goals and the Rams had a field goal negated by penalty. In 2013, a game between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers ended in a 26-all tie after both teams made field goals; so did a game in 2014 against the Cincinnati Bengals and Carolina Panthers. In 2016, two games ended in ties. During this time, 83 regular season games went into overtime; of those, the aforementioned five ended in ties, while about 12 ended when the team that took the opening kickoff made it into the end zone. It’s also worth noting that during this time, several other games took more than 10 minutes to settle.


In 2017, the NFL cut the length of regular season overtime to just 10 minutes, to “reduce player injuries.” That season, no ties were recorded, though at least 12 games went into overtime, of which two were won when the team that took the opening kickoff went the length of the field and scored a touchdown to end the game.


Since 1974, the Green Bay Packers have recorded the most ties with six; their division rival, the Chicago Bears, have 42 overall, including six with Green Bay. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans have never recorded a tie.


Now, the question becomes one of what should the NFL do to cut down on more tie games in the future. In other leagues, such as Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League, teams will play until a winner is determined, no matter how long it takes. In soccer, where scoreless ties are common, if teams go scoreless throughout regulation and overtime, both teams proceed to penalty kicks. In college football, teams will also play indefinitely to decide a winner.


As for the NFL, they should revert to the old overtime rules of sudden death–first team to score wins. To be honest, though, football teams rarely play for ties. It’s likely an American thing, that someone–anyone–come out on top. As Herman Edwards once famously said, “You play to win the game.” The basic fact of the matter is that there exist 3,600 seconds of regulation time. That, in most cases, should be more than enough to win a game.