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NFL overtime proposal takes aim at a problem that doesn't exist

When the Bucs played the Raiders in October, the defense was on the field for more than 90 snaps. With less than two minutes left in overtime, it allowed Derek Carr to complete a 41-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Seth Roberts. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]

When the Bucs played the Raiders in October, the defense was on the field for more than 90 snaps. With less than two minutes left in overtime, it allowed Derek Carr to complete a 41-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Seth Roberts. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]

UPDATE (4 p.m.): Owners have tabled a vote on a proposal that would have put a 10-minute time limit on overtime. It is not clear when they will reconsider the recommendation.

• • •

NFL owners will vote today on a proposal that would limit overtime during the preseason and regular season to 10 minutes.

The league's competition committee says it's concerned about player safety. The Times' Rick Stroud wrote last week about another consideration: Teams that play a full 15-minute overtime period on Sunday could be at a disadvantage when they play the next Thursday.

Guess how many teams faced that exact circumstance last season.

One. That's right. One.

That team? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Out of 256 regular season games, 13 ended in overtime. Overtime lasted more than 10 minutes six times.

Date Result
Oct. 23 Seahawks 6, Cardinals 6
Oct. 30 Washington 27, Bengals 27
Oct. 30 Raiders 30, Bucs 24
Nov. 27 Chiefs 30, Broncos 27
Dec. 24 Dolphins 34, Bills 31
Jan. 1 Steelers 27, Browns 24

Only the Bucs played again four days later. The Falcons beat them soundly 43-28.

You could point to the 94 snaps the defense played against Oakland and argue it was gassed against Atlanta. You also could acknowledge that the Bucs were no match for eventual MVP Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the explosive Falcons offense. Six fewer plays against the Raiders weren't going to help. Atlanta, after all, was a play call away from winning the Super Bowl.

Let's go back to 2015. Overtime lasted more than 10 minutes five times. Again, only one of those teams — the Colts — next played on Thursday Night Football. Indianapolis went to Houston and beat the Texans 27-20.

Over the past five seasons, less than two percent of games have come down to the final minutes of overtime. The number of times a team has had to then play on Thursday? Once a season, except in 2014, when no team faced the supposed disadvantage. And in those Thursday games, teams have gone 2-2.

Date Sunday result Thursday result
Nov. 18, 2012 Texans 43, Jaguars 37 Texans 34, Lions 31 (overtime)
Nov. 24, 2013 Vikings 26, Packers 26 Lions 40, Packers 10
Oct. 4, 2015 Colts 16, Jaguars 13 Colts 27, Texans 20
Oct. 30, 2016 Raiders 30, Bucs 24 Falcons 43, Bucs 28

If the proposal becomes rule, one potential unintended consequence: ties. If last season's Raiders-Bucs, Chiefs-Broncos, Dolphins-Bills and Steelers-Browns games had ended after 10 minutes of overtime, we could have ended up with four more.

Of course, we're making the problematic assumption that those games would not have unfolded differently under different rules. Even so, shorter overtime periods mean fewer opportunities for players and coaches to work toward a conclusive finish. The path to the playoffs is already fraught with variables that are out of teams' control. Ties only make it more difficult to separate the deserving and undeserving teams.

A 10-minute time limit also makes the coin flip at the beginning of a period more important. The team that wins that flip could work the clock, kick a field goal and leave the opponent with relatively little time to respond. Take, for instance, the Browns' first drive in overtime against the Steelers in Week 17. Before it kicked a go-ahead field goal, Cleveland took eight minutes to crawl 65 yards.

Competition committee chairman Rich McKay, the Falcons president and former Bucs general manager, dismissed the idea that shorter overtime periods will result in more ties.

"We don't think it will lead to more ties," he said. "Could it? It could, but we are not concerned with that."

Got that? So it won't, but it could.

Commissioner Roger Goodell was similarly vague in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated's Peter King.

"You might have a lot more tie games. We don't know. We don't think so," he said.

Texans coach Bill O'Brien said he doesn't believe the rule would lead to more ties and thinks the league is more concerned about preserving the sudden death nature of overtime as well as players' health.

"Under the umbrella of player safety, cutting it down to 10 minutes will probably help the players recover for the next week, and I think that's the big thing," he said. "We're averaging 156 plays in a 60-minute game and you go to overtime and if you play that full 15 minutes, it's an awful lot of plays."

If that's the big thing, this proposal is an awfully small step. It pertains only to long overtime games — a subset of a subset of games — and eliminates just a sliver of plays.

Teams averaged 64 plays from scrimmage per game last season. The Bucs (61) and Raiders (85) combined for 146 when they met in October. If their overtime period had ended after 10 minutes, they would have executed 10 fewer plays from scrimmage — a 7 percent savings.

While the league is acknowledging that the quick turnaround between Sunday and Thursday games is a problem, its proposal isn't much of a solution. Instead of considering changes to its schedule (how about adding a bye week before a Thursday game?), it's choosing to focus on the rarest of circumstances and in the process might just create more problems.

Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report. Contact Thomas Bassinger at tbassinger@tampabay.com. Follow @tometrics.

NFL overtime proposal takes aim at a problem that doesn't exist 03/28/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 6:15pm]
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