Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NFL overtime changes don't change much

The NFL has adopted an adjustment to their overtime rules for playoff games only. Any team that kicks a field goal on their first possession will no longer win the game, as the other team will get the ball with a chance to tie (in which case sudden death would apply starting on the next possession) or win with a touchdown. If the team with the ball first scores a touchdown, the game is over.

The vote passed 28-4 among NFL owners with just the Vikings, Bills, Ravens and Bengals voting against it. That's pretty ironic, considering the Vikings lost last season's NFC Championship game on a New Orleans field goal on the first possession of overtime. Under these new rules, Brett Favre and the Vikings would've had a chance to tie or win after that kick, something they did not receive last season.

Sure, this change will affect strategies some coaches will implement in overtime. Jets head coach Rex Ryan said he may kick off if he wins the toss to gain the advantage of knowing what his offense needs on their first possession. He also might be pretty confident in his top ranked defense.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said this may influence teams to go for it on short fourth downs rather than trying long fields goals, since the game would go on regardless. While the rule does add some more strategy to playoff games and increase the importance of good coaching and defense, does it really change that much?

Three of the last 27 overtime playoff games would have been affected by this rule. I know the stats say that almost 60% of teams who win the coin toss win the game, but as a general rule teams who make the playoffs are better defensively and can actually stop their opponents when they need to. As evidence, there have been 14 overtime games in the playoffs in the last 16 seasons, with the team winning the coin toss going 7-7. I'm pretty sure all those teams didn't win on the first possession, either.

This isn't to say I don't like the rule change, because I do. It will bring more strategy and excitement to overtime playoff games and I will always be for that. But if you're implementing it for the playoffs, I think you need to do it in the regular season as well. Does it seem strange that teams will be preparing for regular-season overtime games the same way as always, but will have to adopt a different strategy come the playoffs?

In the end, this rule change MIGHT affect one or two games every season, possibly even none. And while I don't disagree with the change (and neither do 28 of the 32 NFL teams), what's the point of changing a rule that affects just 1 or 2 (or even 0) out of 523 NFL regular-season and playoff games? Do it for the whole season, or don't do it at all.

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