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Playoff OT Change On Owners' Meeting Agenda


Team captains of the Packers and Cardinals watch the coin toss prior to overtime of their NFC Wild Card playoff game in Arizona back on Jan. 10.

A proposal to change the current sudden-death overtime format only in postseason games is expected to be voted upon next week at the annual NFL owners' meeting in Orlando, Fla., but at this point there's no concrete sense as to whether it has enough votes to pass.

Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chair of the NFL's competition committee along with Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, said in a conference call with national media on Wednesday that he can't gauge at this point whether the proposal - which would require both teams to get at least one possession in overtime unless the team getting the ball first scores a touchdown - can garner the required 75 percent majority (24 of 32 votes).

But he expects the debate to be lively and spirited, particularly because last season's NFC Championship Game between Minnesota and New Orleans was decided on a first-possession overtime field goal by the Saints, while the Vikings never got the ball.

"In the past people have been quick to say the system works very well and why would we change it," McKay said. "That's always been a blocking point, if you will, to change. In this case we will try to make again a statistical argument that the time may have come to innovate a little bit when it comes to overtime, that there's a reason statistically to do so. It will be interesting to see when we get to that discussion."

The statistics McKay is referring to look at the differences in overtime results from two different time periods: 1974 (when sudden-death was first instituted) through 1993, and 1994 (when kickoffs were moved back from the 35-yard line to the 30) through 2009.

Here is the breakdown:

Teams winning coin toss, winning game

1974-93: 46.8 percent

1994-09: 59.8 percent

Teams losing coin toss, winning game

1974-93: 46.8 percent

1994-09: 38.5 percent

Teams winning coin toss, winning game on first possession

1974-93: 25.4 percent

1994-09: 34.4 percent

Teams winning coin toss, winning game with first-possession FG

1974-93: 17.9 percent

1994-09: 26.2 percent

McKay said the increased advantage gained since 1994 by the team winning the coin toss is connected to the increased accuracy of field-goal kickers in the last 15 years compared to the prior 20 seasons, and to the 1994 kickoff change giving the coin-toss winner better field position to start the overtime.

McKay noted there have been two votes in the past on potential overtime changes, one that would require each team to get a possession, and another that would move the kickoff up to the 35-yard line for overtime. Neither came very close to getting 75 percent of the votes needed, as he recalled.

The latest proposal would keep the overtime sudden death if the team taking the ball first scores a touchdown. The game would be over and that team would win. But if the first team on offense kicks a field goal, the other team could win the game with a touchdown, or extend it with a matching field goal, at which point the game would become sudden death. Should the first team on offense not score at all, the game immediately becomes sudden death.

The proposal is for postseason games only, McKay said, because the players' union has consistently stated it doesn't want extended overtimes, which could increase the risk of injury when players are fatigued.

The proposal would not have affected Green Bay's overtime playoff loss at Arizona in January because the Packers, who won the toss, turned the ball over and the Cardinals scored on defense to end the game.

The Packers did lose two overtime games in 2008, at Tennessee and at Chicago, when the opposing team won the toss and kicked a field goal without the Packers ever getting the ball. But the new rule is not up for consideration for regular-season games at this point.

"Those that are advocates will say we're trying to put in a system that emphasizes more skill and more strategy in overtime as opposed to the randomness of the coin flip," McKay said. "Those on the other side will tell you that it works pretty well, it's exciting, and there's an opportunity for less plays. That's an important product that's needed in overtime, and one of reasons we've proposed it for postseason only."

{sportsad300}A handful of other potential rule changes, mostly related to player safety or minor modifications to instant replay, are also expected to be voted upon. Here are some of those:

--Inside the final minute of play, if a call on the field needs to be reviewed by instant replay in a situation where the clock would have been running, a 10-second runoff could be applied.

--Defenseless receivers would have current protections against hits to the upper torso and head area expanded. As McKay explained, "Currently the protection provided for the defenseless receiver ends when the receiver has completed the catch, meaning possession of the ball, two feet on the ground. We would propose language that would say if the receiver has completed the catch but has not had time to protect himself, the defensive player is prohibited from launching into him in a way that causes a defensive player's helmet, facemask, shoulder or forearm to forcibly strike the receiver's head.

"We want to expand that protection for that moment in time we think the receiver has not yet become a runner."

McKay added that the receiver can still be hit and/or tackled immediately, just not with contact to the head.

"I've been on the committee probably 17 years now, and I would say if you look back at the defenseless receiver, at '94 and '95 and the hits some of those receivers took, the rule has come a long way in preventing a lot of those hits we saw in those days," McKay said. "There's more we would like to limit."

--Defenseless player protections would also be expanded for long snappers on field goals. No opposing player would be allowed to line up within the body frame of the snapper, giving him greater opportunity to raise his head and protect himself following the snap.

--Similar to a college rule, a dead ball would immediately be called if a ball-carrier loses his helmet. Green Bay fans will remember the 2008 preseason opener at Lambeau Field against Cincinnati, when receiver James Jones took a big hit on a catch over the middle, lost his helmet, but then continued running into the end zone for a touchdown. The new rule would blow that play dead when the player's helmet comes off.

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