This NFL overtime proposal is a winner

The Gettysburg Address is 277 words, and finds elemental, eternal truths from the most complex of human endeavors.

The NFL’s overtime rules run more than four times as long, 1120 words, and turn the simplest dang thing possible — how to figure out who wins a football game — into a bewildering array of directives and sub-articles so complicated that the IRS nods its approval.

Put it this way: when you’ve got different sets of rules for regular season and playoffs — or when you have to put the rules onscreen before every overtime, just to explain yet again to the viewers at home what the hell’s happening — you’ve got a flawed system.

Let’s raise a glass to the Baltimore Ravens, then, who might just save us all from the perpetual “wait, how does this work now?” foolishness that hangs over current overtime rules. Per Pro Football Talk, the Ravens are reportedly planning to introduce an overtime overhaul, a plan with the catchy name of “Spot and Choose.”

Spot and Choose. What does it mean? In short: one team picks where the ball’s spotted, and the other team gets to decide if it wants to play offense or defense. The coin flip would only determine which role each team plays — “Spot” or “Choose.”

Team A will pick a SPOT on the field — say, the offense’s 35-yard line. Team B would then get to CHOOSE whether to play offense and try to drive 65 yards for a touchdown OR play defense and hold Team A from driving those 65 yards.

Team A can’t just pick the defense’s 1-yard line, because then Team B would just flip the script and say, thank you very much, we’re on offense now with a short field. But if Team A decides to try to crush Team B deep in the offense’s own territory, Team B can just say, no thank you, you take the ball on the offense’s 10-yard line. And if Team A selects the 50-yard line, that’s the equivalent of a receiver getting the ball out to midfield, which most teams would be just fine with.

Is it always better to have the ball first, regardless of where you are on the field? Not necessarily. It’s almost like blackjack, where you have to decide whether to stand or hit on 16. What’s the break-point on the field where it’s more advantageous for Team B to select defense? PFT speculates it’s as far back as the offense’s 13-yard line. Any farther back than that, and it’s worthwhile to surrender the ball in order to pin Team A up against the end zone.

This turns overtime’s inciting element — a coin flip — from a matter of random chance into a matter of strategy. One generally winning approach to poker is to always force your opponent to make an uncomfortable decision, and Spot and Choose does exactly that, every single overtime.

Of course, some explosive teams (‘sup, Kansas City and Baltimore) will feel comfortable enough that they want the ball in the hands of their offense no matter where it is on the field. Teams with smothering defenses like the Rams and — what a coincidence — Baltimore will be more inclined to let their defense dictate the terms of that crucial opening possession.

And think of the chances for second-guessing! One dumb coaching move — you know [fill in your preferred clueless coach here] is going to be the first to botch this — and you’ll have a solid three days of white-hot sports-talk content.

So what happens after one team takes possession? The Ravens will reportedly be offering two proposals: one’s sudden death, the first team to score wins, with 10 minutes of game clock. The other would keep the game going as normal for seven minutes and 30 seconds, no sudden-death component. (Bill Belichick reportedly favors this option, which means there’s some element of it none of the rest of us are seeing.)

Bottom line, though, Spot and Choose opens up a whole new world of strategy. Who’s going to gamble? Who’s going to play it safe? Who’s going to overreach, and who’s going to be too tentative? Spot and Choose is simple and brilliant — shoot, games ought to start this way — and the NFL ought to implement it for overtime in 2021.

Spot and Choose would make the overtime coin flip a lot more interesting. (Pre-COVID photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Spot and Choose would make the overtime coin flip a lot more interesting. (Pre-COVID photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)


Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at

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