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A look at the NFL's proposed rules changes


Tweaks to instant replay dominate the roster of proposed rules changes to be discussed by the Competition Committee at next week's league meetings in Phoenix, but one proposal ties directly to preventing the kind of situation that doomed the Broncos in Week 3 last year.

Recent changes to overtime shifted it from a pure sudden-death scenario to the current model in which both teams get a possession -- unless the first team with the football drives to a touchdown. After rallying from a 17-3 fourth-quarter deficit, the Broncos never saw the football in overtime.

The same scenario helped the Seahawks again in the NFC Championship, as they sprinted to a game-ending touchdown in overtime without the Packers touching the football.

The first time that came into play was in the Broncos' Jan. 8, 2012 playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, when Tim Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of overtime that immediately ended the game. At the time, that left some players on both sides befuddled, believing that the Steelers would get a possession.

It's possible that the proposal could gain traction. For decades, the Arena Football League has employed this format, where each team has one possession, with the game advancing to sudden death if it remains deadlocked. The AFL also has a rule where you must advance the football in the final minute of play, to prevent kneeldowns. The NFL used this in the Pro Bowl, but no proposal regarding that change is on the Competition Committee's docket next week.


New England proposed that a replay challenge can be initiated by calling a timeout before the next snap, and to allow teams to challenge any ruling after the two-minute warning and in overtime. Currently, all challenges in those situations are initiated by the replay official. The effect would make every play subject to review.

The Patriots also made their annual proposal to add fixed cameras on sidelines, end lines and goal lines to aid the instant-replay system. Tennessee proposed adding video shot by the stadium's in-house production to the possible angles that may be used for instant-replay reviews.

Some specific areas in which teams proposed expanding the calls that could be challenged under instant replay include:

  • All penalties (Detroit);
  • Personal fouls, specifically clipping, crackback blocks, chop blocks, illegal peel-back blocks, blocks below the waist on kicking plays and running into the kicker --- but not initiated by a replay official (Tennessee);
  • Personal fouls, including all that Tennessee proposed, plus unnecessary roughness, contact with a defenseless player, contact with the crown of the helmet, roughing the passer/kicker/holder, horse-collar tackles, cut blocks and the use of the helmet as a weapon -- all of which could also be initiated by the replay official (Washington);
  • Any penalty that results in an automatic first down (Washington);
  • Hits on defenseless receivers when the on-field ruling is reversed from a catch/fumble to an incompletion (Tennessee);
  • The potential reversal of penalties against defenders when initially called for hitting a defenseless player (Indianapolis);
  • Game-clock issues at the end of a half (Tennessee);
  • Play-clock issues throughout a game (Chicago).

Washington also proposed increasing the number of coaches' challenges from two per game to three, with no added challenge for getting them all correct.

The Chiefs proposed adding all plays in which a reversal would result in a score or a change of possession to plays subject to automatic review.

Detroit's all-penalties proposal sounds on the surface like it would lead to chaos, but if the limits on coaches' challenges remained, you would have a natural cap to prevent teams from protesting officials' calls willy-nilly.


New England made the formal proposal to move kicked extra points to the 15-yard-line, following the experiment with that scenario during the first two full weeks of the preseason last year. This appears to have a good chance of passing.

Indianapolis made the most audacious proposal to this year's meeting, submitting an idea to give teams the potential to kick an extra point (called a "bonus field goal" in the proposal -- if they successfully go for two. The kick would be snapped from the 32-yard-line, thus making the attempt a 50-yard field goal. The idea is to create the incentive for teams to go for two more often.

It's wild, but at the minimum it would be fun to see this as a preseason experiment to gauge impact on the game.

Baltimore proposed eliminating the ability of one teammate to push another forward on punt blocks, similar to the prohibition that already exists on placekicks.

Miami proposed prohibiting the peel-back block for all players, not just those within the tackle box at the snap.

The Competition Committee made five in-game rules proposals:

  • Expanding the definition of "defenseless player" to include intended receivers on interceptions (this would have made Earl Thomas' hit on Wes Welker in Week 3 a penalty);
  • Making an unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of a half enforceable on the ensuing kickoff in that game (in the second half, or for overtime, if applicable);
  • Eliminating the provision that makes a chop block legal when the player in the backfield goes outside of the spot where a tight end was initially lined up before the snap;
  • Adding jersey Nos. 40-49 to the possible numbers that can be used by linebackers, who are currently limited to 50-59 and 90-99;
  • Preventing a player who reports as ineligible from lining up outside the tackle box, a move designed to close the loophole that the Patriots exploited against Baltimore in a divisional-round win two months ago.

Away from the playing field, Washington proposed eliminating the cut to 75 players, leaving teams with one cut to 53 men at the end of the preseason. Philadelphia proposed eliminating teams from having on-field timing and testing of draft prospects at their facilities if the player attended the Scouting Combine. Tweaks to recallable injured reserve and the physically-unable-to-perform list were also proposed by the Competition Committee.

Finally, Indianapolis proposed allowing teams with retractable roofs to open them at halftime for "fan enhancement."

The Committee also said that there is no vote on expanding the playoffs currently scheduled, but that their 2014 endorsement of expanding the postseason to 14 teams -- seven from each conference -- stands.

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