NFL overtime blows

22 Oct

Until this year, everyone always complained about NFL overtime. They used to play sudden death, meaning that the first team to score in overtime won. The team who won the coin toss got the ball first, and a lot of people thought it was unfair that teams would take the kickoff, gain 40 or so yards, and kick a field goal. The other team didn’t have a chance to possess the ball at all. Sometimes idiots on TV would defend sudden death by saying things like, “Well defense is a part of the game too.” You’re right, genius. Defense is part of the game. And the team who won the coin toss didn’t have to play any. I hated NFL overtime.

College football uses a different system. Each team gets the ball at the opponent’s 25. If it’s still tied, then they go to another overtime period. This has all kinds of its own problems. Games go to two or three overtimes pretty regularly. It wasn’t uncommon to see games go to five or six overtimes once, but there’s a rule now that you have to go for two starting in the third overtime, which helps end things faster. It seems kind of shitty to me to change things up only in the third overtime period. Even with that rule change, these games can take forever. There’s also no possibility of a tie, which is still possible in the NFL if no one scores in overtime. Rare, but possible. I always root for ties in NFL overtime games.

Having overtime games end after one possession isn’t ideal, but the really galling thing is how games would usually end. NFL kickers are so consistent that there isn’t much suspense in a kick from under 50 yards. NFL coaches are also incredibly conservative and fearful of criticism. In their mind, trying to score a touchdown is a reckless gamble that might end in a turnover. If they just stop playing offense when the team gets to the 30, then they can just blame the kicker if he misses. After all, field goals are supposed to be automatic, right? Nothing was worse than watching a game where a team took the opening overtime kickoff, ran a few plays, and kicked a field goal. It’s the most anticlimactic ending possible. Game ending field goals in regulation are exciting because of the time pressure. A team runs out of time and kicks a field goal as time expires! Wow! Sometimes teams will stall and not go for a touchdown at the end, but it’s not nearly the epidemic it used to be in overtime.

I say used to be because of the new NFL overtime rule. Now, if the team who receives the kickoff kicks a field goal on their first possession, the game continues. They can only end the game with a touchdown. This is an improvement. Now teams do at least try to score a TD on the first overtime possession. This solves part of the problem. Not the whole problem. I was watching the Raiders play the Jaguars today. The Jags fumbled on the opening possession. The Raiders recovered, and promptly lined up for a field goal. Game over. They didn’t run a single play. Bogus. This is still a systemic problem. After the first possession, any team inside the 25 will stop playing offense and kick a field goal. This is boring and insulting to fans. The other overtime game today was the Patriots and Jets. The Pats opened with a field goal, then ended the game with a turnover. This was a better outcome than Jags/Raiders, but it still wasn’t exactly satisfying. And notice that the decisive score in both of these games was a field goal.

I still do not like NFL overtime. College overtime isn’t ideal either–there are the problems I mentioned above, plus there are no punts. Punt blocks and returns are exciting. Additionally, the teams get the ball close enough to the end zone that they don’t always run their full regular offense and they can’t try to spread the field vertically. It also limits defenses, knowing that a single error or penalty can have an increased impact, so there isn’t as much an incentive to be aggressive.

It’s a good thing I have a solution. It’s easy. If the NFL adopted it I would be a national hero. Instead of the “you need to score a touchdown, but then you can kick a field goal” rule, simplify things. Just play sudden death. And ban field goals. You can only win in overtime by scoring a touchdown or a safety. If it’s fourth down, you can punt or go for it. Think about how exciting this would be. First and ten at the opponent’s 20? Big series for the defense instead of game over. The offense kept moving and now it’s fourth and goal from the one? Dramatic exciting play instead of game over.

I can’t think of any reasonable objections to this plan, but I know idiots on TV would say, “But field goals are part of the game and kickers are part of the team too whaaaaa.” Fine. Field goals in regulation are a necessary evil. Teams should be rewarded for getting close to the end zone. Teams should have an option at the end of the half and the end of the game. Anyone who likes field goals or thinks there should be more of them or is fine with them being the decisive play in almost every overtime game is an idiot. If a game is so evenly matched that it goes to overtime, one of the teams should have to do something decisive to earn a win. Getting a three and out and then gaining 40 yards just doesn’t do it for me.

The other objection I can think of is that this system will make games longer and result in more ties. I see this as a huge strength, but whatever. In college, the game can go on theoretically forever, and the short possessions allow constant TV timeouts. This wouldn’t be a problem in my new and improved overtime. The game can only last one extra quarter, and it doesn’t have the timeout problem. A lot of people hate ties. I don’t really get that. Sometimes a tie is the best outcome. I guess people hate fairness. More ties would also make end-of-season playoff scenarios more exciting. Everyone loves it when a team can make the playoffs only if “they win, the Bears and Lions lose, and the Cardinals, 49ers, and Rams tie.” Maybe more ties would mean more teams alive for playoff spots until the end of the season. Maybe it would mean more relevant late-season games. Maybe it would mean fewer players sitting out of meaningless games in week 17.

I would hate it if teams started playing for ties, but I don’t see how that would be possible. You can’t play for a tie for a whole quarter. If a team decides to take a knee with a minute left, fine. I’ll be disappointed, but that’s their prerogative. I don’t think that would be much of a problem. There’s not much of a downside to at least trying to run plays. Worst case, you can punt. It would still be just as exciting as a team kicking a field goal on first down with a minute left, and a lot more exciting than someone kicking a field goal with twelve minutes left. You just got twelve extra minutes of tense, high-stakes football for free. Buffalo Wild Wings patrons already love this idea.

So that’s the main solution. The one remaining problem is the coin toss. It’s still possible for one team to start with the ball and score to end the game. That’s not really solvable in a sudden death scenario, but there’s a better way to hand out the ball to start overtime. It’s not my idea, but I can’t remember where I read it. Instead of a kickoff, the head coaches would bid for field position. The coach with the lowest bid gets the ball. Here’s how it works: Home team gets the first bid. He’ll take it at the 30. Visiting coach will take it at the 25. Home coach will take it at the 22. 21. 20? 19? How low will they go? This is so much better than a coin toss and a kickoff. Fans would love it. I know I would. Just imagine some of the league’s dumber coaches trying to manage the process. The entertainment value of someone like, say, Brad Childress trying not to fuck up the overtime auction might exceed that of the game itself.  Regardless of the coaches involved, it would be one of the highlights of any overtime game.

Watching football on TV is one of my favorite activities. It’s disappointing that the most exciting games so frequently have such a terrible ending. Even more so since it doesn’t have to be that way. Tell all your friends about my idea. If not for yourself, then for me.

5 Responses to “NFL overtime blows”

  1. Dustin October 22, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    I love it. I think the NFL would be better with you at the helm. One question though: why not just continue to use the current format while barring FG’s? That is, the team kicking to start OT would get a shot if the receiving team scores.

    • thepensiveyears October 22, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

      I guess that would also work. There’s something elegant about sudden death. I think there’s value in simplicity.

  2. Ryan October 23, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

    There’s only one thing I like about field goals – when they’re impossibly long. I wouldn’t mind seeing OT games decided by a 65 yard field goal. Create a minimum yard attempt limit – I vote 60 – for field goals!

    • thepensiveyears October 23, 2012 at 6:55 pm #

      I still like the purity of TDs only, but that’s a valid argument. How about this: if you’re past the 43-yard line, if you choose to kick a field goal, the ball gets moved back to the 43 to make it a 60-yard FG. If you miss, the other team gets the ball at the spot of the kick–midfield. Now THAT’s a decision to make on 4th and goal.

  3. Dustin October 26, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    I thought some more about this. If I could pick one situation/event to watch live in a football game, I think I would pick a game ending safety in OT. Could you imagine the celebration? Maybe this has happened before, but I certainly don’t remember it. 4th and goal at the one and you have to go for it under your new system. You miss by an inch. Momentum completely shifts. Then, the RB is stuffed on the next run and tackled in the endzone. The QB and other offensive skill players have to run onto the field to join the celebration! Four to five big, fat D-linemen do their respective, ridiculous dances in the endzone! Bedlam.

    Just another reason I like the system.

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