Yes, Virginia, you can play your NFL game to a tie

Steve Brownlee

I had to laugh when I heard the latest pro football player say he didn’t know an NFL game — at least in the regular season — could end in a tie.

This time it was Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie running back Najee Harris, who was a first-round pick out of Alabama last spring.

The Steelers were involved in the season’s only tie, 16-16, with the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

It was rather amazing as both teams had the ball a number of times in the 10-minute overtime and each also several chances to win it.

But Pittsburgh, without future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, looked just like the Lions — a toothless, winless feral feline. Check that, a toothless, pampered, declawed house cat.

“I didn’t even know you could tie in the NFL,” Harris was quoted as saying after the game.

Yes, you can. In fact, over the past 10 seasons there’s been 10 ties — exactly one per year. Twice there’s been two ties, in 2016 and 2018, and twice there’s been none, in 2015 and 2017.

What’s weird with the ’16 and ’18 seasons is that each time, the ties came in back-to-back weeks.

So fans, expect another tie this week.

Well, maybe not, but I could see a player making the wrong strategic decision if he didn’t know the two-minute warning in OT wasn’t just letting everyone know we’re starting the second OT soon. The second OT would be true in the playoffs, where you play until you decide a winner.

Being a rookie, the Steelers’ Harris is probably used to the college rule where each team gets the ball 25 yards from the end zone, and with no clock, has to keep making first downs, score or give up the ball. Probably his high school had much the same kind of rule.

I’ve always liked the college concept of overtime much better. Notice I said “concept” — an NFL adoption of this style of overtime could change all the details of the rule, like maybe put 60 seconds on the clock, start each OT possession at the 35 and things like that.

If you caught the Penn State-Illinois game almost a month ago, which I did just a few snaps before regulation ended, you may have heard about this 9-OT, 20-18 game.

Sounds like a nightmare, playing all these possessions, right? Five-and-a-half-hour game, right?

Not so, since the NCAA adjusted its OT rules again this year. It used to be that every OT started at the 25, but beginning in the third OT, you couldn’t kick an extra point.

That didn’t seem to solve the multiple-OT problem, so this year, the third OT and every one after that becomes a 2-point conversion contest.

So the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth overtimes were one-play possessions for both Penn State and Illinois. Now the last seven OTs had about as many plays as one, or at most two, of the “regular” overtimes.

That’s the kind of thinking that could make sense for a new kind of NFL overtime, even if it’s not those exact kind of rules.

As far as current NFL OTs go, I was happy when about 10 or 15 years ago, the league said an opening-possession field goal keeps the game going for the other team.

But when the NFL subsequently shortened OT from 15 to 10 minutes, there’s a decent chance that two scoreless or two field-goal-yielding possessions — one for each team — would just about run out the clock and allow the number of ties to mushroom out of control.

Let’s see if the Steelers and Lions start a trend.

Now onto the picks, every game having a winner:


Today, 8:20 p.m.

New England at Atlanta — Two strong offenses collide. But only one good defense will be there to pick up the pieces. Patriots, 31-20.


Sunday, 1 p.m.

Indianapolis at Buffalo — I just see Buffalo as having too much potential to just implode its whole season. They’ll right the ship sooner rather than later. Bills, 27-22.


Washington at Carolina — Cam Newton could work well as the QB in Carolina, at least until he gets smacked around too much and he can’t play again. But for now, Panthers 29-24.


Baltimore at Chicago — The Ravens have a “mini-bye” coming off a Thursday game last week, while the Bears are working on a full bye. I like the Ravens’ potential right now and I got to believe they’ll take advantage of that potential with the extra time off. Ravens, 24-17.


Detroit at Cleveland — A couple years ago, this would’ve been a showdown for the No. 1 draft pick. Not so anymore. Browns, 33-21.


San Francisco at Jacksonville — Despite the crazy win over the Rams Monday night, actually because of it, I’m quite wary of the 49ers this weekend. But when you put what previously was a tackling dummy in front of them, how do you pick this game? Well, Jacksonville’s showing at least a little life now. Jaguars, 23-20.


Green Bay at Minnesota — Aaron Rodgers is the Bill Belichick of the NFC “Norris” Division — he likes to toy with his divisional foes before putting them out of their misery. Packers, 34-20.


Miami at New York Jets — I don’t like teams coming off a big upset win, like Miami right now. But they have the “mini-bye” … plus look who the opposition is. Dolphins, 17-12.


New Orleans at Philadelphia — Philly won last week comfortably, so the Eagles are fat and happy, while New Orleans lost by two points to arguably the best team in the league — Tennessee. Take the hungrier mascot. Saints, 27-23.


Houston at Tennessee — Tennessee is due to have a letdown, riding a six-game winning streak. But I like the chances of that happening better the following week, when they play … anybody but the Texans. Titans, 31-25.


Sunday, 4 p.m.

Cincinnati at Las Vegas — These are two of the flattest tires in the NFL with all the air taken out of them the past few weeks. Cincy’s at least coming off the bye. Bengals, 26-23.


Dallas at Kansas City — For every dud game, there should always be an intriguing game like this. Dallas should be better on paper, but the Chiefs are certainly the team trending up. Gotta go with the reverse momentum, though, and not enough confidence in KC’s recent turnaround. Cowboys, 35-29.


Arizona at Seattle — These are two forklifts backing up, that’s what that beeping noise is you’re hearing from them. The Seahawks look like they fell in a pit, though, and the Cardinals could get Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins back. Besides, Seattle’s defense looks pretty bad stacked up next to Arizona’s. Cardinals, 24-16.


Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

Pittsburgh at Los Angeles Chargers — The Lions are supposed to be like a fun-house mirror, making your team look better than it is. Could the Steelers actually be worse than they showed last week? Chargers, 34-24.


Monday, 8:15 p.m.

New York Giants at Tampa Bay — If nothing else, Tom Brady should be able to whip some energy into the Buccaneers. My only worry is the Giants coming off a bye week. Buccaneers, 30-23.


Last week — 7-6-1, 54 percent. Season — 94-55-1, 63 percent.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.


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