NFL Overtime: Why the Proposed New Rules Won't Work

Barking CarnivalAnalyst IMarch 15, 2010

BALTIMORE - SEPTEMBER 27:  Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens speaks to the referree during the game against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium on September 27, 2009 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Browns 34-3. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
Larry French/Getty Images

The NFL is considering some changes to its sudden death overtime format for the playoffs in an effort to erase the receiving team’s advantage. You know the concern: a team can win the coin toss, move the ball 40 yards, kick a FG, and win the game before the other team even touches the ball.

First, it’s fair to note that this is in fact a bit of a problem. In 158 overtime games in the past 10 years, the team that receives the overtime kickoff (call it the “receiving team”) has won 61% of the time. That’s enough of a sample size to conclude that no matter the reason, this should probably be fixed. But the NFL’s proposed solution is wrongheaded.

The new rules would guarantee that the team that loses the coin toss (call it the “kicking team”) would get the ball at least once unless the receiving team scores a touchdown (in which case the game would be over). If the receiving team kicks a field goal, the kicking team would (1) win if it responded with a TD, (2) force sudden death with its own FG or (3) lose if it failed to score.

At first this seems abundantly fair, as each team gets a chance to have the ball at least once and control its destiny (unless of course the receiving team proves its unquestionable dominance by scoring a TD first). The NFL has a clearly offense-centric view of football in its rulemaking so it shouldn’t be surprising that in developing a fix they’ve underestimated (or ignored) the role of defense in affecting a team’s chance to win.

But the real problem with the proposed solution is that it would lead to an unnatural version of football with oddball coaching decisions and novelty strategies you’d find in a video game.

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Basically, under the new rules kicking off in overtime would flip from a statistical disadvantage to a strategic advantage. It would be a cousin to the college playoff system in which having the ball second is the preferred route (the key difference being that the NFL version would use the whole field and involve kickoffs and punts). The kicking team would essentially have “last ups” in the 10th inning most of the time; they would know what they need to do.

And this new advantage for the kicking team would force the receiving team into some new situations that would lead to some odd strategic decisions. Kicking a FG would not only be a disappointment on the scoreboard for the receiving team, it would have the disadvantage of requiring an ensuing kickoff and the relatively favorable field position it would hand to the other guys.

As an example, suppose the receiving team drives all the way down to the 10 yard line and the drive stalls out. What to do on fourth and goal from the 10 — kick the FG and then kick off and await your fate?

Or go for the TD, knowing if you make it you win, and if you fail the other guys still have the long field?

How about a 4th down at the 28 — try a 45 yard field goal that might not help much even if it’s good, or punt and try to pin the other guys inside their 10? 

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but the fact that they would be asked at all means the teams would be playing a new and weird version of football.

On the other side of the coin, if the receiving team does kick a FG, the kicking team will have to score a FG to stay in the game. Under the current system there are lots of times in tight games where a team needs a FG to stay alive, but it’s always because the clock is running out.

In this scenario the clock wouldn’t be a factor, and the defense would be in a position where a turnover would end the game. Would the defense be wise to gamble like crazy in the next series? 

Or play conservative so as to give up the FG but not the TD? 

Again, these are interesting questions, but it’s not football as we know it, it’s Playstation.

I’m not saying the proposed system wouldn’t be new, fun and interesting; it probably would be. But it’s a really unbalanced way to address a concern over a statistical imbalance. It would introduce a new and radical set of rules to what should be the NFL’s showcase moment: playoff overtime.

Is there a better solution? Probably. The college system has its faults but seems to work pretty well. A Better Off Red keychain to the best idea in the comments…


This article originally appeared on: Better Off Red

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