Friday, January 18, 2013

NFL: New overtime rules are a solution in search of a problem

In the 2009 NFC Championship game, the Vikings (for the most part) outplayed the Saints. But the Saints managed to force overtime, and on their opening drive, got into field goal range and kicked the winning field goal.

The problem, of course, was that the Vikings turned the ball over 5 times, and let the Saints stay in the game. The conclusion of much of the football media was different—that the Saints final score in overtime was too easy, and the Vikings should've had a chance to respond.

In response, starting with the 2010 season, the NFL implemented a new overtime rule for the playoffs. Instead of the usual sudden-death "first team to score wins" scheme, the rules were modified so that both teams would (usually) have a chance to possess the ball.

None of the 2010 playoff games went to overtime, and in 2011 season, only one playoff game that went to overtime, and that game happened to hit one of the exceptions to the "opportunity to possess" rule—if a team scores a touchdown on the opening drive, the game is over.

In 2012, the "opportunity to possess" rule was expanded to regular season games. 22 games went to overtime in the 2012 regular season. Here's how the results broke down:

Opening drive# GamesConsequence
Touchdown3Game over
No score15Sudden death rules
Field goal4Other team gets "opportunity to possess"

In 3 of the 4 cases where a field goal was scored on the opening drive, the other team was unable to respond. That leaves exactly one case where the new "opportunity to possess" rules resulted in a second score (but the first team to score won anyway).

It's only been one season, and maybe things will change when players and coaches get used to the new rules, but for now there's really no evidence that the new overtime rules have solved a problem that actually exists in the field of play.


Here are all the playoff games where Brett Favre's final play from scrimmage was an intercepted pass in a tied game:

This was also not the first time Favre had serious turnover trouble in a playoff game.