Not So Sudden Death in the NFL Playoffs from 2010

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The NFL decided to change its overtime rules for postseason games starting in the 2010 season following a review of the effect of the coin toss on results. This welcome change comes after the statistics showed that thanks to the improving accuracy of Field Goal Kickers the team winning the coin toss and electing to receive the ball first were at a significant advantage winning nearly 60% of the games in the last 15 years and even worse was the fact that 34% of games were settled on the 1st drive.

The new rules, which will only apply to post season game’s are:

  • if a team wins the coin toss and then kicks a field goal, the other team gets the ball and the chance on that drive to tie up the scores again
  • if that next series ends with another field goal so tying the score play will continue under the current sudden-death rules
  • if the team winning the toss immediately scores a touchdown, however, the game is over.

The rule change was voted on by all 32 teams and 28 were in favour with only Minnesota, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Baltimore opposed the change. The fact Minnesota opposed it is a little surprising given they lost the NFC Championship game on the 1st drive of overtime to the New Orleans Saints last season.

Whether this really addresses the problem is still open to debate as the team winning the toss will still be as a statistical advantage getting 2 out of the first 3 possessions. So if the two teams exchange field goals in their opening drives then the result is no different the team winning the coin toss will still have that advantage. Also why only in the playoffs? Regular season games matter too and one win or loss can easily cost that coveted post season place in the first place.

The reasons given for not adopting it for the regular season is the increased risk of injury by playing those extra few downs, however the NFL is still happy to risk players in what are typically meaningless preseason games so it’s hard to swallow that one.

Personally I would set the regular season and post season rules the same and have 15 minutes of overtime with 7 and a half minutes each way so giving both teams a fair chance which worked well  for the World Football League back in the 1970s. Or dare I suggest why not allow a tie in the regular season and only play over time in the post season.  No doubt this issue will be revisited in another 15 years once they have generated more statistics.

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