NFL Reality Check: How to Get Rid of Football Ties
There is an old saying in American sports that, "winning isn't everything…it's the only thing." Well, it's not! Not in the NFL, at least.
There was a tie in the NFL this week. A tie. The Packers and Vikings fought for 75 game minutes—and nearly four real-life hours—in frigid temperatures for what? To kiss their sisters.
There were almost two ties, if not for an accidental touching of the ball on a punt late in overtime of the Broncos-Patriots game that gave the ball back to the Patriots for a game-winning field goal. As strange of an ending as it was in New England, at least there was a proper/real result on the scoreboard.
Tying is still a potential NFL outcome, and while the recently adopted overtime rules have curtailed teams from winning with a short drive to set up a long field goal, thus ending the contest without giving the other team a chance to even have the ball, at least those games finished the way NFL games are supposed to finish: with a winner and a loser.
In Sunday's tie between Green Bay and Minnesota, both teams scored in overtime and neither won the game. Both teams walked away feeling like losers. There is something inherently wrong with that system.
So let's fix it.
There are more than a handful of ways to change the NFL overtime system so this extra session of meaningless football never happens again. Some of these are serious suggestions for the league while others are, let's face it, a little bit fun.
It's up to you to figure out which is which.
The one thing the college game does markedly better than the NFL is its handling of overtime.
In college, teams alternate possessions starting from the 25-yard line, with each team getting the same number of opportunities to score. If the game is tied after one overtime series for each team, it continues on to a second series with teams alternating which gets the ball first. Tied after two, it goes to a third and so on.
By placing the ball at the 25-yard line, a field goal is almost automatically in play, which puts scoring a touchdown to win the game at a premium. Starting with the third overtime, teams must forego an extra point after touchdown for a two-point conversion attempt.
Eventually, someone wins and someone loses. It's a bit hokey with a shootout-style format starting from the 25-yard line, but the NFL could easily adopt a system that begins at the 40-yard line, making a three-and-out field goal opportunity much more difficult.
Truthfully, when the NFL changed the overtime rules before the 2012 regular season, it should have gone to a college-like system, but it seemed like the league didn't want to adopt a system from college out of some professional hubris, perhaps.
If it gets many more ties, maybe it can swallow that pride and do what the amateurs still do better.
Un-Timed Overtime Session
When the league decided to tinker with the overtime rules, my suggestion at the time was the same that as it is now: first team to six points wins.
Forget the game clock and forget the gimmicky rules where it's not sudden death until both teams get at least one possession. Just make the rules simple by telling teams they are playing the game until one of the teams scores six points.
There are many ways to score at least six points. A touchdown on offense. A touchdown on defense. Two field goals. Three safeties. A field goal and a touchdown. A safety, a field goal and another safety.
You get the point.
By putting a clock on the overtime session, the NFL has ostensibly allowed teams to play for the tie, which is precisely what the Green Bay Packers seemed to be doing with less than a minute to go and the ball in their own territory on Sunday. There was no urgency. There was no interest in losing the game, especially if it had to come during an attempt to win it.
By taking the clock out of the extra session and forcing teams to score six points to win, the NFL would be promoting a more offensive-minded format to the extra session. The rest of the rules are essentially the same as the NFL has now, other than making the game sudden death after the first team has a possession.
No clock. First team to score six wins. It's really simple, and the NFL should have done it two years ago.
An NFL Kick(er)-off
The reason the NFL changed the overtime system was because of a perception that teams were playing for a field goal on the first series, making many of the overtime sessions anticlimactic. That still happens.
Truth be told, the numbers never supported the theory that whichever team gets the ball first wins, as the percentage of teams getting the ball first in overtime and winning on that initial drive was somewhere around 50 percent.
Still, the league felt like too many games were decided by which team won the coin toss, especially with how good the average NFL kicker has become from long distances.
Why not embrace that? Why not just let the kickers end the game in a field goal kick-off?
Again, even with the new rules, most NFL overtime games end with a field goal. Why not save time and make it just that?
Since the start of the 2012 season, there have been 33 overtime games in the regular season, with 24 of those games decided by a field goal.
Of the other nine games, just six were decided by a touchdown—with one touchdown-deciding game coming after both teams kicked overtime field goals—while two ended in ties and one on a holding penalty in the end zone resulting in a safety.
If kickers decide so many games in overtime—72.7 percent since the new rule was put in place—just save the other players any risk of injury and let the kickers decide the games with a kick-off.
Start the kickers at the 30-yard line and have them each kick a field goal. Include snappers and holders, but eliminate the onrushing line to save time and prevent injuries. After each made field goal, move the kickers back five yards and repeat the kick-off until one player misses.
The team with the kicker who successfully makes the longest kick wins the game.
If games are going to be decided by kickers anyway, this might make the outcome incredibly more dramatic.
No Kickers at All in OT
Hate that last option because you, like many NFL fans, detest games decided by kickers? Well, this option is for you: Eliminate all kicking in overtime.
The NFL can keep the same rules it has now, with each team getting at least one possession before a winner can be determined but eliminate all kicks, kickoffs and punts from the extra stanza.
Give the "receiving" team the ball at its own 35-yard line and see which team scores a touchdown first. With no punts, teams will be forced to go for 4th-and-long situations in overtime, which would completely eliminate the field-position game that comes into play with strategic punting.
If a team goes four-and-out and turns the ball over in its own territory, the opponent can't just line up for a game-winning field goal. It still has to go the full 35 yards (or less with penalties or sacks) to win the game.
Surely there would be more strategy in the game in general without punting, but eliminating field goals and punting would make overtime incredibly tense, exciting and meaningful on every play.
While we are eliminating players from competition during overtime, we would be remiss not to suggest removing all interior linemen from overtime to create a 7-on-7 shootout in the extra session.
The NHL opens up play on the ice by removing a player from each team to create more movement and flow for a five-minute overtime session (in the regular season), all in an effort of creating more scoring opportunities and, in turn, fewer shootouts.
The NFL could adopt this idea by removing not just one player, but nearly half the team.
In a quarterback-driven league, creating a 7-on-7 situation would put all the pressure on the quarterback to find his best receivers. This would also theoretically keep the overtime much safer with fewer players and fewer plays run inside the hash marks.
Surely, this is one of the more ridiculous solutions, but it's not really that much more ridiculous than what the NFL employs now.
NFL QB Shootout
Let's take the 7-on-7 model and the college model and combine them into something that just might be the most exciting option yet.
What if instead of giving teams the ball at the 25 with four downs (and the ability to get at least two first downs), each team just gets one play to score a touchdown before giving the ball back to the other team?
Consider this: On the left side of the field, the offense for Team A lines up against Team B's defense at the 10-yard line, while on the right side of the field, Team B puts its offense up against Team A's defense at the opposite 10-yard line.
Each side of the field then alternates one play at a time until a team scores. If neither team scores—or both teams score—in the first "shootout" the back and forth continues until a team wins.
To make this option more like a traditional soccer shootout, each team could have four chances, or "downs," from the 10-yard line before a winner is determined.
If the game is still tied after the fourth "shootout" attempt, the contest would continue in sudden death.
Now to be fair, most soccer and hockey fans hate when a shootout like this determines the winner of a big match, but this idea isn't just one player shooting on another. This would involve both full offenses and defenses.
This is the equivalent of a free-kick contest in soccer determining a winner, which would be far more exciting than a regular penalty shootout.
"First" Team to Score
What if instead of the first team to score while alternating possessions, the game was just the first team to score with both offenses possessing the ball at the exact same time?
Take the model from the previous suggestion of both teams being on opposite ends of the field and instead of alternating "shots" from the 10-yard line, what if the offenses started at the exact same time and the first team to score a touchdown wins the game?
Imagine how exciting it would be to witness a barrage of plays from the 10-yard line if the first team to cross the goal line wins.
Now, the logistical issues are far too much to overcome, what with only one officiating crew at each game and the penchant for defenders to hold up offensive players in an effort to slow the other team down.
That's not to mention the issue of handling penalties or replays.
Okay, this is the worst idea of the group, I admit. But it did lead me to the next idea, which is too good not to work.
Full Team Sprint
Look, teams are tired at the end of the game and playing an additional 15 minutes is not going to make them any less tired.
With injuries always an issue in the NFL, maybe it makes sense to eliminate the traditional play on the field and just line up both teams at one goal line and see which team gets to the other goal line first.
The "first" team to "score" wins.
Now, how would the NFL determine who runs? What if players are hurt and cannot run? It's simple: Each team picks 11 players to run.
Let's not make this an exercise in the ridiculous—ahem—by making Tom Brady and Peyton Manning sprint down the field to determine a winner.
While that would be amazing, it will never happen, nor would making big fat linemen do the trek as well. So why not just let teams pick their 11 fastest players, line one team up on one side of the hash marks and one on the other and set them loose.
The first team to have all 11 players carry a ball across the goal line wins.
Kissing of Sisters
I never quite understood why we use the term "kissing your sister" to signify a tie in sports.
I suppose the logic is that kissing is awesome, but if it's your sister that makes it awkward and gross. So you're happy to get a little love but upset because it was so weird, and you can't tell anyone about it. Is that right?!?
And how do all the sisters out there feel about the term?
Let's find out!
Instead of having an overtime session, let's get everyone's sister out onto the field at the end of the game and kiss them. Let's kiss 'em all!
We could have a representative from the league come in and kiss every player's sister to determine which sister is the best kisser. That sister's brother's team wins!
The NFL could make it a contest, flying participants around the league from game to game just in case one ends in a tie and a designated sister-kisser is needed. At worst, contest winners get free tickets and accommodations to random NFL games. At best, they get all that and the chance to kiss a few hundred sisters.
Of course, it would be difficult to get every NFL sister to every game, so perhaps teams could have a designated sister to act as steady kisser in the event of a tie.
Or, wait, maybe I'm going about this sister-kissing thing all wrong. What if the sisters are the ones who do the kissing, not the ones who get kissed?
I may have taken this too far already...
End It in a Tie
What's the worst thing about a tie, really? Is a tie so bad?
The NFL has to deal with ties all the time. With just 16 regular-season games for each team and six playoff berths in each conference, there are constantly ties the league has to break at the end of the season.
Playoff tiebreakers are in place because the NFL has too many ties. Two teams that finish 10-6 are vying for one place in the playoffs, so how does the league determine which team advances?
The ceremonial breaking of ties.
The thing is, sometimes a tie during the regular season actually helps curtail some of the ridiculous tie-breaking procedures the league must employ at season's end.
In 2008, a tie got the Philadelphia Eagles into the playoffs and they almost made the Super Bowl that year at 9-6-1, when 9-7 would have kept them out of the postseason altogether.
Last season the San Francisco 49ers had a tie that gave them an 11-4-1 record, helping secure the NFC West division title over Seattle, which finished 11-5. The tie also gave San Francisco the right to home field in the divisional round of the playoffs over 11-5 Green Bay.
Neither the division nor home field last year needed to go to playoff tiebreaker because an in-season tie took care of that for the league.
In 2010, the NFL had four NFC teams finish 10-6 (Eagles, Giants, Packers and Bucs), but only two (Packers, Eagles) got into the playoffs because the league still has a rule where each division champion earns a spot—another issue for another day—giving 7-9 Seattle not only a playoff berth, but also a home game that year.
I bet the 10-6 Giants or Buccaneers would have loved a tie that year. Instead of a loss, of course.
In 2006, the NFC had four teams (Giants, Packers, Panthers, Rams) finish 8-8 with the Giants earning the final playoff spot. Why? Tiebreakers. The other three probably would have loved an in-season tie.
In 2011, the Denver Broncos finished 8-8, but won the AFC West over 8-8 Oakland and San Diego because of tiebreakers.
Denver then beat the heavily favored Steelers because NFL rules gave Denver a home game over a team that had four more wins in the league's toughest division. The rest is history.
Thank tiebreakers for that. And Tim Tebow, but mostly tiebreakers.
So as much as we seem to hate ties during the regular season, much of the league's playoff process is based on ties. I'd much rather have a tie on the field if it means fewer at the end of the season, with that kind of tie being broken by a book on a shelf in a board room in New York City.
Kissing your sister may not feel so bad after all.