High stakes and controversy

Will the NFL Championship Round games lead to rules changes?

Howard Simon
January 21, 2019 - 3:43 pm

Photo: Chuck Cook - USA TODAY Sports

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​The two NFL playoff games on Sunday were fantastic.

After a so-so set of Wild Card and Divisional Round games, the Championship Round games were edge-of-the-seat experiences, even if you didn't have a strong rooting interest. Having said that, football fans across the country will be spending Monday talking about a big no-call in the NFC Championship game and the league's overtime format.

When it comes to no-calls, Buffalo sports fans have had their fair share (Music City Miracle, Brett Hull in the crease) and can sympathize with New Orleans Saints fans. The lack of either a pass interference penalty or the personal foul for hitting a defenseless receiver call against former Bills cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman likely kept the Saints from advancing to their second Super Bowl in franchise history.

Officials are human beings and human beings make mistakes. That will never change. However, it's still amazing to see an obvious call like that go unpenalized and it's magnified by the game it takes place in, the location of the play, and the time and score. New Orleans would have had a 1st-and-goal and with the Los Angeles Rams only having one timeout left, the Saints could have run the clock down and attempted the last-second, game-winning, chip-shot field goal.

Since the non-call happened in a conference championship game, I’m guessing there will be offseason talk about expanding the challenge system. In recent years, some coaches have suggested making penalty calls subject to a challenge but that idea has consistently been shot down. Since this did not involve an incorrect flag, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone suggests an open-ended challenge rule. In theory, the NFL can make both of the challenges available to coaches or just one of those challenges good for any occurrence in the game. If Saints coach Sean Payton had a challenge available, he could have used it on the non-call. At that point, the replay review system is in play and a penalty can then be called. 

I’d be in favor of this change, but I’ll bet it never gets approved. The league probably doesn’t want to add another layer to the challenge system, while also opening up a Pandora’s box in terms of overturning calls or lack of calls by its officials. There are a number of calls that are subjective and come down to a split-second decision made by an individual. Add in the old “you can probably call a penalty on almost every NFL play” and the league would likely figure its easier to stay the course in this case.

I’d expect the AFC Championship game will lead to a discussion on the overtime format and a change there would be easier to make. In 2012, the NFL changed its overtime rules to guarantee a possession for both teams if the team that won the coin toss made a field goal on the opening drive. If the first drive of overtime produced a touchdown the game was over. The NFL realized it had a problem, but only came up with half a solution. The league understood that it seemed unfair for one team to never get a shot in overtime because the other team had a coin bounce their way.

If the NFL thinks it's important enough for a team to get an offensive possession after giving up a field goal, why not just go the extra distance and guarantee a possession regardless of what happens? For those that believe it's up to the team losing the coin toss to just go and get a stop, why not ask the team winning the toss to put their defense on the field and get a stop as well? After an unbelievable fourth quarter with multiple lead changes and two quarterbacks going toe-to-toe, who didn’t want to see Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offense get another shot to answer back Tom Brady and company? College football gives both teams a chance in overtime and it's great. The NFL doesn’t have to place the ball at the opponents 25-yard line, they can stay with the traditional kickoffs or just put the ball at the offensive team’s 25-yard line. 

I’m not going to lie, I’m more bothered by this because it resulted in the New England Patriots winning and that was the last thing most NFL fans wanted to see on Sunday night. However, it just doesn’t make sense to play 60 minutes, not have a decision and then tell both teams its possible only one offensive unit and one defensive unit will now determine the outcome of the game and your season.

Oh yeah…LET’S GO RAMS!!!

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