Dissecting the Epic Battle Between the Chiefs and Bills

Mecole Hardman dives for a touchdown
Mecole Hardman dives for a touchdown
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Divisional - After the first three games of the NFL divisional round playoffs were completed, it was hard to imagine it could get any better.  Then, the Chiefs and Bills proceeded to play one of the greatest games in NFL history on Sunday night. This Game-Winning Chance (GWC) chart, generated by the EdjSports simulation model, provides a visual representation (from the Chiefs’ perspective) of the volatility that defined the late stages of the game.  The conversation after the game centered on some key fourth down decisions, the final kickoff in regulation, and the fairness of the overtime rules.  We will address them in that order.

Win Probability

 

Key Fourth Down Decisions

As indicated in the following tables, the Chiefs gave up 7.7% GWC on two (high confidence) fourth-down errors while the Bills cost themselves 10.9% GWC on two (high confidence) errors.  As mentioned last week, the “high confidence” tag is used when the model’s play call recommendation still holds after a very strong counter-case is applied to the original decision.  High-powered offenses such as these are typically under greater scrutiny for fourth-down aggressiveness. This is evident in the Bills' decision to punt on fourth-and-1 from their own 34-yard line in the third quarter.  A first-down attempt would have been risky for sure, but on average the punt costs the Bills more than 7% in GWC, especially at a time when the Chiefs were having great difficulty stopping Josh Allen.

 

Chiefs Errors:

Chiefs Errors

Bills Errors:

Bills Errors

 

The Kickoff at 13 Seconds

Much has been discussed during the past 24 hours regarding Buffalo’s strategy to kick a touchback.  Some have suggested a squib kick was called for to limit the return potential and to burn a few precious seconds.  Assuming the Chiefs would have been disciplined enough to fall on the ball, very little time would have been burned, and the Chiefs may have had a better starting position than the 25-yard line.  The more compelling strategy would have been a short kick to around the 10-yard line to induce a return.  Empirical data from the past 20 years show that kick returns burn about 7 seconds of game clock on average. The expected starting position for the Chiefs on such a kick would still have been around the 25-yard line, but now they would likely have time for only one offensive play.  Of course, this strategy provides an opportunity for a long gain on a kick return, but this possibility also exists on an extra play from scrimmage.  Regardless of the Bills’ choice in this situation, Patrick Mahomes’s execution was extraordinary at a time when the Chiefs' GWC had dropped into single digits.

 

Overtime

Most observers had a strong suspicion that whoever won the coin flip and chose to receive was going to win this game.  Fortunately for Kansas City, the flip landed heads and Mahomes marched his Chiefs downfield for the victory.  This raises the deeper question regarding the fairness of the current overtime rules.  Since the rules were updated in 2012 to award a win on a first possession touchdown, the receiving team has won 56.6% of the time with a standard deviation of about 4%.  While this doesn’t represent a particular bias to either team (the coin flip is, of course, 50/50), it does argue for a different format that doesn’t allow the coin toss to play such a big role in the outcome.  Last year, the Baltimore Ravens re-introduced a proposal for the “Spot and Choose” overtime rule, which seemed to gain some traction although most believed it would take years for adoption. This idea was first introduced by Football Outsiders back in 2003. After last night’s thrilling finish, this proposal is sure to be revisited.  In fact, the debate has already begun.  

Comments

86 comments, Last at 28 Jan 2022, 1:07pm

1 If your second biggest…

If your second biggest mistake is punting on 4th-4 at your own 7, early and tied, then you did pretty well.

What is the model's preferred play, an intentional safety?

\odd to consider that GB might have benefitted from an intentional safety.

5 Yeah, the Chiefs did fine

They made a bigger mistake when they sent Mahomes out wide and had Bell run that option play, IMO. A touchdown there was very likely to ice the game, and Reid and Bienemy voluntarily took the ball out of the hands of their best player.

I don't think we'll ever see coaches go for it on fourth-and-4 from their own 7 in the first half, but I think we will reach a point where going for it on fourth-and-1 from your own 34 becomes close to the norm, if not the norm itself. Sam Wyche was ahead of his time on this point in the late 1980s, and as a Bills fan, I hated feeling as if the defense had to keep them from getting to fourth-and-1 or fourth-and-2, because they were very likely to convert, and I felt as if they didn't have any qualms about doing this from their own 30 on out. (I doubt they were as aggressive as they seemed to me at the time, although they were very aggressive for that era.)

23 Andy Reid thought "trick…

Andy Reid thought "trick play to Kelce" was the higher probability between the two, so I think it's okay that the model uses "average best play in the minds of the offense at the time" (i.e. all the plays actually run, historically).

7 What is the model's…

What is the model's preferred play, an intentional safety?

It's in the table, it's a pass.

This is why I don't like splitting up the decision into "punt, run, or pass." Punting and running a play are two distinct choices. Pass vs run is not really a choice that a coach makes. Breaking them up by success rate assumes they're distinct.

Although I would love to see the conversation of "OK, we've decided to go for it on 4th and 4." "Won't let you down, coach. What's the play call?" "Pass."

11 feels like

Although I would love to see the conversation of "OK, we've decided to go for it on 4th and 4." "Won't let you down, coach. What's the play call?" "Pass."

Feels like a conversation that Brett Favre would like.

14 Nah, for Favre it would be …

In reply to by RickD

Nah, for Favre it would be
 

Favre: "Won't let you down, coach" (turns to walk away)
Coach: "Wait, don't you want to hear the play call?"
Favre: "Play call?"

26 add

You can add to that Terry Bradshaw and Jim Kelly.

Sorry, I forgot the obvious one but with a twist. Here is a Dan Marino quote:    "We're not running the ball again until we get ahead. Shula was calling the plays, but I told them, 'I don't care what he calls, we're throwing every pass from now until we get the lead'. To Shula's credit, he always gave me that option".  

I wonder if Coach Shula ever regretted giving Dan that option when it came to the playoffs.

27 So just to clarify, I wasn't…

In reply to by Bob Smith

So just to clarify, I wasn't somehow arguing about coaches not choosing run or pass and QBs choosing it over them - what I was trying to say is that when a head coach (or a QB!) decides what play to run, the play is not called "pass" or "run."

The people who group plays into two gigantic bins aren't the playcallers, they're the people who write down the play-by-play. Big difference.

Although actually, it now makes me wonder if there isn't a bias in favor of passing success because, I mean, Dwayne Haskins isn't going out there and saying "look, guys, I know the head coach called this play, but I say we do this one!"

65 The bias is deeper than that…

The bias is deeper than that.  You're Coach A on the sidelines and you have Marino as your QB.  You're Coach B and you have Haskins as your QB.  Who calls more passes?  Everything else being equal, even before you get QBs audibling, teams with better passing attacks call more pass plays.

In some situations, the effectiveness of runs is likely biased for the same reasons.  Good QBs audible into runs against favorable defensive alignments.  Teams with good running attacks are probably more likely to run on downs-and-distances when other teams would pass.

68 Well, that bias is partly…

Well, that bias is partly controllable: it's easy enough to look at success rates as a function of a team's offense and correct for it.

In some situations, the effectiveness of runs is likely biased for the same reasons.  Good QBs audible into runs against favorable defensive alignments. 

Exactly. In plenty of situations, runs are actually failed passes.

40 That breakdown also ignores…

That breakdown also ignores the effect of gamesmanship. We know that running the ball on 4th-and-1, in a vacuum, produces a higher conversion rate than passing the ball. However, if a coach is known to always run on 4th-and-1, the runs will be less effective because the defense will know they're coming. There is some optimal run-pass ratio for every situation that produces the highest expected conversion rate overall.

43 It's not even just the coach…

It's not even just the coach, either. Defenses screw up some times. We know that. "Jump offside and let the offense have a free play" is a phenomenally bad tactic for the defense, but it still happens because the behavior is correlated with other success.

If the team lines up for a 4th and 1 run and the QB sees that the corner's backed up and giving the receiver way too much of a cushion, they're coached to change the play and throw it to him. The play wasn't a pass, it was a run with an audible to a pass baked into it. If the defense does one thing, it's a pass, if it does another thing, it's a run. You can't say "we're going to run that play where the DB forgets to cover our receiver."

Splitting up play success rates by what the play-by-play call guy saw happened is just nuts.

66 Fully agree.   You also…

Fully agree.  

You also touch on the biggest problem with most football analytics:  the success of all offensive plays are measured against "average defensive alignment".  Which of course, doesn't exist. 

The other thing you note is that football coaches are much more sophisticated than the analytics community on this front.  They design sets of plays to create potential mistakes by the defense.  But rather than identifying what mistake the team with the ball was trying to create and exploit, the play gets labelled as some flavor of pass or run and the defensive alignment may not be taken into account at all.  It's a big data problem, of course, as you can't analyze what you don't have good data on.

69 You also touch on the…

You also touch on the biggest problem with most football analytics:  the success of all offensive plays are measured against "average defensive alignment".  Which of course, doesn't exist. 

Yup, and it drives me nuts that statistics guys haven't figured this out. There's probably a library full of papers from people pushing that NFL head coaches must be crazy because of the run/pass success disparity, as opposed to the other, far more obvious conclusion that runs and passes aren't the proper way to split up NFL plays. The suggestion that head coaches are strategically wrong is honestly insane: the league adapts incredibly fast to strategic shifts. Just look at the rise and fall of Wildcat plays, for instance. The idea that there's a huge strategic advantage out there that coaches aren't taking just makes no sense.

I mean, you can practically see it just in DVOA by route. Post/corner/go/deep cross all have very similar DVOA in a league-wide average, around 25+/-10% or so. Slant/dig/flat/out all have very similar DVOA in a league-wide average, around 0+/-10% or so. The first 4 are clearly biased, which in some sense we all intuitively know - those plays are only happening because of an unknown factor, otherwise teams would be insane for not running those plays more.

8 That is one of the issues with models

If you had a model that said that SF's offense is so inept due to whatever (field conditions in this case) that their probability of scoring a TD is very slim, the model would indeed point to GB taking an intentional safety.  Would you risk a blocked punt if this were late in this season and you were playing the Giants?

I believe that analytics will become so important that teams will have models in the booth that they can relay decisions to the coach nearly instantly during the game.  I believe, but can neither prove or disprove this, that the Ravens already do this and are relaying information to Harbaugh.  It is just a hunch. All that you would need to do would be to type in the field position, time remaining and score and you would know before 4th down arrived as to whether you are going for it, depending upon the yardage needed.

If a team has a computer model, and wants to change the input to a very inept SF offense, maybe someday a team like GB will actually take an intentional safety.  The safety would be an out of the box choice, but I would not call it crazy.

9 Toggling around with…

Toggling around with expected points per drive, it's a loser, but not as extreme of one as you might think, because taking over around the 50 comes with a lot of expected points. 2pts+post-kickoff position is worse, but not extremely worse. It's actually superior to a failed conversion from inside the 10.

This is why you see it sometimes in the end game, where the clock shifts the calculus.

12 It's also why intentional…

It's also why intentional safeties are common in the CFL, because the yardage penalty isn't nearly as high. In fact from the 1 yard line, taking an intentional safety isn't far off from neutral in the NFL, and as offenses improve, I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes fairly common.

30 Yes, and when punting inside…

Yes, and when punting inside the 3, giving the other team the ball at the 50 would be a good result, so as analytics start taking over the game more, I expect more intentional safeties, not just end game.

Another time comes to mind, when expected points do not matter,  but simply scoring.  The model changes in OT when the proper result of any 4th down decision has nothing to do with expected points but has to do with the odds of scoring next.

Someone already suggested during another article that the Chiefs may consider a 4th and virtually anything, that maybe they should not punt.

32 If it ever becomes EPA…

If it ever becomes EPA-positive to take an intentional safety, that's when I declare the game totally broken. I wouldn't be totally alone there, since there was a push in CFL-land to up the cost of a safety to prevent it.

19 San Francisco didn't even…

San Francisco didn't even come out in a punt rush play - they had two returners back! They only sent 5 guys after the punter! (https://twitter.com/NextGenStats/status/1485099034796642307) An intentional safety maybe makes sense if you see 8-9 guys loading the line, but when you see 8 blockers vs 5-6 rushers, any coach is going to assume the punt itself is the safe play.

33 You are correct, live I was…

You are correct, live I was complimenting Shanahan for using the blocked punt play and realizing that his offense was not going to get a TD even with great field position.  Turns out his minimal rush did the job, the all out rush was not the play call.

Possession is so important now that most teams rarely rush, fearing roughing the kicker and if not 4th and long, running into the kicker. 

20 That one baffled me, too. …

That one baffled me, too.  On reflection, what I think it might be suggesting is some combination of these three things:

1. When punting from that deep in your own end, the opposition will get the ball in good enough position that a FG is already pretty likely regardless, and so the main value of the punt is lowering the probability that the opponent scores a TD instead of a FG.  That's compared to the trade off of being able to get out of the danger zone if you convert the 4th down.

2. If you don't punt and fail, then regardless of the result of the opponent's subsequent drive, they will use up less clock on a drive that starts at your 7, leaving you more time to respond than if you punted away.  With almost 9 minutes remaining in the half, that wouldn't seem to be a big factor, but maybe the model sees it differently.

3.  Punts from that deep are more likely to be blocked for a TD or a safety.  Anecdotally, that seems correct, but I don't know what the data says about the increased likelihood of a punt block.

2 Since the rules were updated…

Since the rules were updated in 2012 to award a win on a first possession touchdown, the receiving team has won 56.6% of the time 

From 1994-2010, the coin flip winner won 60% of the time.

From 2012-2014, the coin flip winner won 53% of the time (OK, low statistics). Obviously, this means that from 2015-2021, the coin flip winner had to win more than 56% of the time (because math).

But what about prior to 1994? In 1994, they moved the kickoff. Prior to 1994... the coin flip winner won 52% of the time. It was nearly indistinguishable from a coin flip, and an even slight adjustment to the kickoff location back would've cancelled it.

In other words, since 1974, the first-mover advantage has gone from ~2% (actually probably slightly negative in the 70s, slightly positive in the 80s) to 10% in the 1994-2010 era. Then the "field goal" hack moved it back to 3%, where it's now crept up to 6-7% again.

I don't know why people think they can hack the spot rules to fix it. It's trending upwards because of offenses. I don't know why people think that will stop.

4 It's worse in the playoffs

The coin-flip winner is now 10-1 since the new rule was introduced. The only loss occurred when Drew Brees got picked off against the Rams, and that game never should have gone to overtime because of the blatant DPI that occurred late in regulation.

The best idea might be to let the visiting team whether to receive or defer at the start of the game and let the home team choose (to receive, of course) if the game goes to overtime. At least everyone would know the situation heading into the game. Sunday night sucked. The Bills were robbed of a chance to respond, the Chiefs also would have been robbed if the coin had come up tails and Buffalo had scored a touchdown on its first possession, and fans were robbed of seeing Allen and the Bills get a chance to respond with their fourth 75-yard drive since halftime. Just fold it into HFA, keep the score-a-touchdown rule as it stands now, and be done with it.

6 Yeah, I basically said…

Yeah, I basically said something similar elsewhere - to me, the only real short-term fix that makes sense is to just get rid of the randomness so that people know ahead of time what's going on.

The spot and choose thing is a bit funny to me - if I was a head coach and I was the one choosing, I'd tell the guy "just take the freaking ball, I don't care where they put it." Part of the reason why EPA drops so fast inside the 5 is that teams get conservative to ensure space for the punt. In overtime with the rule as it is, screw the punter, just go for it. I mean, a single stupid defensive roughing penalty pops you out to the 15 and you're gold again.

16 A single defensive penalty…

A single defensive penalty pops it out to the 15 but a single offensive penalty ends the game with a safety.  If I were the defensive coach I wouldn't even try for tackles with the DL and would just ask my guys to do whatever it took to pretend they were being held in the end zone.

17 I wouldn't even try for…

I wouldn't even try for tackles with the DL and would just ask my guys to do whatever it took to pretend they were being held in the end zone.

Runs from the 1 wouldn't usually result in holds in the end zone.

21 If you are betting on your…

If you are betting on your offense and taking the ball at the 1 yard line you aren't going to be running dives into the middle of the line just to punt to the 50.  In this hypothetical situation it is go big or go home.

24 you aren't going to be…

you aren't going to be running dives into the middle of the line

Those aren't the only plays you can run. And even if you did, it isn't to punt to the 50. I'm not so sure I wouldn't want the ball even if I had to start 3rd and 6 at the 5, for instance.

22 The chance that a ref is…

The chance that a ref is going to end a playoff game with a flag seems impossibly low TBH. Maybe if they called playoff games as tight as the regular season, but we have tons of examples that they do not.

29 Yes the dreaded non calls

You are so right on target, the NBA analyzes all close games in the last two minutes and releases a report.  90 percent of incorrect calls are non-calls.

We know that the NFL also has analysis of their referees, they simply do not have the testicles to release such a report, admitting that the refereeing is at times poor is taboo.

I do not have access right now to one of the most absurd plays in SB history.  The 49ers have 4th and goal, under two minutes left, trailing by 5.  The Ravens defensive hold multiple players knowing that this would not be flagged.

The famous non call of PI in the playoffs that got us PI reviews for awhile is another.  The defensive player said he knew it would be a catch so he interfered.  A catch would lose the game too, if he expected rational refereeing, he would have hoped for the dropped pass.

We could make refereeing easier, such as have an NBA style shot clock for delay of game, make more plays reviewable such as false start, but the NFL sticks with what it does.  How on earth can a delay of game be a discretionary call, you either got the snap off in time or you didn’t.  That call is called correctly 100 percent of the time in the NBA, frame by frame will always show whether or not the shot was released before the shot clock or game clock expires. 

 

34 You are remembering…

You are remembering incorrectly.

Baltimore was backed up to their own end zone late and held everyone while their punter ran around for 8 seconds burning time before taking the safety. That way the 49ers only had time for a kick return; not a Hail Mary.

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201302030sfo.htm

 

46 You can't get rid of coinflip randomness without

pushing the randomness somewhere else, introducing bias, or forcing fundamental changes in how the game is played. Spot and choose eliminates kickoffs from overtime, favoring teams that are weaker overall on kickoffs/kickoff returns, and would likely result in the first first down of overtime always being critical, introducing a significant change in game play and usually giving an advantage to one team or the other.

Letting the visitor make the start of game defer/receive choice and giving the home team the first possession of overtime is a huge advantage for the home team. Winning the pregame coin toss has a negligible affect, if any, on the game outcome. Guaranteed first possession of overtime for the home team, on the other hand is a significant advantage in-and-of itself, and also provides end-of-fourth-quarter benefits to the home team - they can play for the tie, but the road team has to play for the win.

All potential overtime rule-sets impose an element of randomness, increase injury risk, are exploitable, or create a bias that favors teams with relative strengths in specific skills or tactical execution scenarios.  Regular season games tied after the fourth quarter should be ties, with no overtime - this is a case where the old rules were simply better than the myriad "fixes" that have been attempted.  For the playoffs, where ties can't be allowed and fans and the media are never going to be satisfied with any rule-set when a specific game demonstrates its unfairness, the NFL is probably best off letting the teams choose the rule-set. Have three-to-five reasonable overtime rule-sets allowed by the NFL. The two teams may agree to an overtime rule-set before the game begins and if they can't agree, let the overtime coin-toss winner choose the overtime rule-set, then conduct additional coin tosses per the chosen rule-set.

The worst thing the NFL can do is simply change the rules whenever a specific game results in outcries to change the game rules. That holds for overtime rules and all other game rule rules.  For any given game rule there are always going to be examples where some significant number of people think application of the rule is unfair and cry out for a rule change, so there's no value in taking generalized complaints of unfairness based on specific seriously.

54 Spot and choose eliminates…

Spot and choose eliminates kickoffs from overtime,

S&C eliminates only the first kickoff. There would potentially be two more if the teams traded field goals to open. Notably, S&C does not change the first-possession-TD wins rule.

favoring teams that are weaker overall on kickoffs/kickoff returns,

Kick returns are virtually phased out of the NFL, between the increased distance of kickers and the increased benefit of a touchback. In 2001, the touchback % was ~9.7%. In 2021, it was 57.5%, even with the # of kickoffs going way up.

and would likely result in the first first down of overtime always being critical, introducing a significant change in game play and usually giving an advantage to one team or the other.

The first 1st down of overtime is always critical, under any OT which includes a walk-off scoring element. 

70 No, the first down series…

No, the first down series isn't always important. If the field's 100 yards long, punts are typically 40 yards, and neutral field position is at the 25, the first series isn't that important. Even gaining just shy of 10 puts your opponent back neutral. So you're not under pressure.

The problem with expecting spot & choose to fix things is that if neutral field position is say the 10, you need to gain a bunch to get to a position to put the other team neutral or negative. Like 40 yards! And football is mostly position independent: success rates don't change much outside of the red zone. Which means a ton of the calculus changes, and there's basically no reason not to throw caution to the wind. And now it's just a totally different game. Defenses don't become "bad" suddenly - against modern offenses, they're mostly just trying to get teams to second guess themselves.

The fix there is getting rid of sudden death (takes it back to the normal game) but I don't see how anything short of say 2 15 minute halves will feel "fair."

71 I think a single 15 minute…

I think a single 15 minute period would feel fair.  People have short memories, and think in very binary terms.  "Josh Allen didn't even get a chance" feels a lot worse than "Josh Allen got only 2 chances to Mahomes's 3" to most people.

72 or two 7.5 minute halves

Both teams get the opportunity to have a drive that can last as long as >95% of all drives in the league.  Both teams may also get one (or more) additional opportunities, depending on how long their opponent's first drive lasts.  "Josh Allen's second drive came with only one and a half minutes left because Mahomes was able to chew up 6 minutes" feels even less unbalanced and random.  Ball control is a perfectly valid skill to reward.

74 See, the problem there is I…

See, the problem there is I just don't have any idea what that'd do. You're literally asking to predict what would happen if you cut the only separable unit of a football game down to one-fourth its length.

Obviously 2 thirty minute halves is the best solution (except for game length), and obviously two 3:15 minute halves wouldn't be. Not sure where in the middle things would start to feel wrong, or if the place where it wouldn't feel 'wrong' is short enough for the NFL.

edit: I should point out that the normal 10-minute overtime already feels a bit "wrong" at least to me.

76 Fair

And it may vary over time.  I suspect that in the '70s before the pass coverage rules were changed drives tended to be longer, and a seven and a half minute period would be more likely be consumed by a single drive from a good offense.

But it's not like the NFL never tweaks its rules from year to year.  When inevitably some playoff game ends up with Team A getting the first OT kickoff, taking seven minutes to drive for a TD, then playing prevent for 30 seconds to keep Team B out of field goal range, and then Team B gets the second OT kickoff, scores a TD in two minutes, and Team A matriculates the ball down the field for five and a half minutes and kicks a winning field goal as time expires, then they can change it to two ten minute periods.  

But even in that case, the narrative won't be "it's not fair that Team B didn't get the opportunity", it'll be "Team B needed to have a better ball-control game" or "Team B needed to be able to make splash plays on defense to stop Team A" or "This is a throwback to old-school smashmouth football where Team A was able to impose its will on Team B and that's what wins championships."  (Which may be worse than arguments about overtime rules, but that is left as an exercise to the reader.)

81 and then Team B gets the…

In reply to by DGL

and then Team B gets the second OT kickoff, scores a TD in two minutes, and Team A matriculates the ball down the field for five and a half minutes and kicks a winning field goal as time expires,

Yeah, like I said I just can't easily envision what strategy develops in such a compressed situation. You'd have to let it play out, which could lead to incredibly weird stuff going on, which has happened before.

More that I think about it, the whole OT rules/offensive dominance/etc. issues the NFL has are really just a consequence of not having a rules playground like MLB/hockey do with their minor leagues. The NFL seriously should just suck it up and run a minor league of its own, but obviously they're not going to spend millions for game theory fairness.

Basically what I'm really not a fan of is the NFL using games that matter as a testbench to figure out how to come up with fair rules. Stems back to a Penn State game I watched where the dickwad coach of the other team abused a kickoff timing rule to end a half.

73 I actually think you're…

I actually think you're right, although there's a distinction - I think it'll feel fair. I don't think it will actually be fair. I think a single 15-minute period's still going to give the first team a significant advantage. I mean, it's going to be way less than the 70+% (yes I know it's actually 10/11, I'm splitting the difference since that's likely small statistics) that the postseason coin flip winners have now, absolutely, but it'll probably be like 3-5% if I had to guess.

15 As I have commented…

As I have commented elsewhere, 10-1 must be statistically significant and it shows the problem with the current OT rules for the playoffs.  As the playoffs do, once we eliminate the dregs of society NFL QB's,  the odds go up substantially for the winner of the toss.  In the regular season the coin flip winner is 86-67-10.

https://dknation.draftkings.com/2022/1/24/22899288/nfl-overtime-rules-coin-flip-odds-win-loss-playoffs-regular-season

13 Exactly right

 It's trending upwards because of offenses. 

Exactly right.  And endgames in these playoff contests are particularly vulnerable.  The defenses are typically gassed, while the offenses are getting away with more penalties than usual, as the zebras swallow their whistles.  (I think that helps the offenses a bit more than the defenses - they seem to be more willing to call DPI than OPI.)

 

 

25 You know, I wonder if the…

In reply to by RickD

You know, I wonder if the goofier thing isn't this: instead of "spot and choose," you have one team decide distance to go for the entire overtime and the other team decides whether or not they get it first.

As in, one team says "OK, we're playing with 20 yards to go for a first down." "Screw it, you get the ball first." I mean, obviously, I understand that doesn't work because shifting the entire freaking game is unreasonable, but that actually seems much more likely to balance things out. Long-term, I just can't see spot and choose doing anything.

44 Oh, it's totally not…

Oh, it's totally not practical, like I said.

The reason I brought it up is because if you want to fix the first-mover advantage when offenses are just better, you can't just fix the starting spot. You have to fix the whole damn game. That's the scale of what's going on.

I mean, think about it. Suppose someone says the 5 yard line. The 5 yard line is 20 yards behind nominal kickoff distance. So what you're really saying is basically "if you can get 20 yards on offense, you get the kickoff. Otherwise we get it."

36 I am a fan of one of three…

I am a fan of one of three mutually exclusive solutions.

* Keep the current sudden death rules and just give the ball to the home team to start OT.  No coin toss to argue is unfair. 

* Keep the current sudden death rules and give the ball to the team that started with it in the 1st quarter to start OT.  This preserves the alternation of kickoffs, and since coaches overwhelming now choose to defer when they win the coin toss at the beginning of the game (because they correctly realize that it's better to have the ball to start the 2nd half and also usually end up with the wind in the 4th quarter), this would weight that decision a bit the other way and make it more likely that it would be 50-50 that a coach would defer or not.

* Change it to a proposal where to win in overtime, you have to have both the lead and possession of the ball.  None of this "if you score a TD you win instantly" that seems to bother people and is likley when a playoff-caliber offense faces a gassed defense.

 

I don't like the bidding idea just because of its complexity.  It is exciting to us math nerds who love game theory, but I think would be less popular with non-math-oriented people.

I don't like the idea of "play a full period" because that will *still* benefit the team that starts with the ball.  It lengthens games and unlikely to solve the problem of whoever gets the ball first winning more often.  It would let us see more possessions... but honestly, once the defense is that gassed, does seeing once strong defenses trade giving up TDs more than once or twice remain interesting?

 

45 * Change it to a proposal…

* Change it to a proposal where to win in overtime, you have to have both the lead and possession of the ball.  None of this "if you score a TD you win instantly" that seems to bother people and is likley when a playoff-caliber offense faces a gassed defense.

I think I like this one and I'm surprised that I haven't seen it before. It's a good rebuttal to the idea that giving both teams a possession wouldn't matter in a game between 2 high-powered offenses like Chiefs-Bills because the most likely outcome is still coin-flip winner scores TD, other team scores TD, coin-flip winner scores again, game over.

47 If two teams continue to…

If two teams continue to score, when would it end? 

Team 1 TD: 7-0

Team 2 TD: 7-7

Team 1 FG: 10-7

Team 2 TD: 10-14

Team 1 TD: 17-14

Team 2 TD 17-21

Team 1 TD 24-21

Team 2 FG 24-24

etc.  At no point in that did a team have the lead and possession. Do you end at the 15min mark?  If tied then do you do another full 15 minutes until those requirements are met?

 

I know it is unlikely, but not impossible. 

50 my idea

I still think my idea would almost eliminate any need for overtime. Make it a rule that a team MUST go for a 2-point conversion after EVERY TD scored in both the Reg. Season and the playoffs. There would have to be far fewer ties.

51 I said that most of us agree that OT rules need to be changed

In reply to by Bob Smith

Of course I did not mention that we have so many proposals as to how to change the rules that I can not count them all.  We need to go back to Sunday's Open Discussion and all of the articles written since the KC-BUF game.

However, it brings up an interesting point.  If 30 of us come up with 20 different ideas that is each person's number 1 idea, how would the NFL and NFLPA ever come to an agreement as to what the revised OT would look like?

53 good points

Those are all good points but wouldn't the best solution start with changing something in the game that would bring about far fewer tie games to begin with ?? 

It would probably have to do with the point(s) after touchdowns, since there are 3 different outcomes that are possible-0 points, 1 point or 2 points. 

It would be more radical, but you could make the home team kick their conversion on their 1st TD while the away team must go for a 2-point conversion after their 1st TD. Then after that they could do whatever they want. But that would for the moment probably take care of a tie game as long as they each scored a TD-yes they could both come up with 0 points I know.

One other thing would be to change the amount of points for a field goal.

52 That eliminates the option…

In reply to by Bob Smith

That eliminates the option of taking a more sure 1 pt if e.g. your opponent fails their 2 pt attempt. And because you're spreading that variance over a whole game's worth of touchdowns, it's going to matter less than it does in something like a college overtime, where you're basically sampling it after every touchdown.

61 Easiest thing is to do it by…

Easiest thing is to do it by possessions rather than time. Each team start at the 0 and gets one drive. Most points or yards gained wins. Minimal advantage to second since they know what they need but it's small. If they both drive 100 yards and get 8pts in the regular season it's a tie. In the playoffs it keeps going till someone loses. How long can teams keep that up?

 

Simple and wouldn't take long

62 2 4-minute OT halves

What do you think about mitigating the coin flip advantage and the field direction advantage, much like they do in regulation football?

 

-OT consists of  two 4-minute halves

- coin flip determines field direction and possession, exactly like the initial coin flip in regulation 

- this allows the most exciting part of a football game to be played out and limits the wear on the defenders

- the big benefit here is to make all three phases of the game matter in OT. 

if still tied in the playoffs, move to sudden death. 

67 You have to have the lead…

You have to have the lead and the ball sounds like a great idea, but it still favors the team that gets the ball first as their initial drive is essentially a "freebie".  If Team A gets the ball, they can score-stop = win.  Team B in order to win has to stop-score-stop = win.  B has to stop A's offense one more time than A has to stop B's offense, and that's true no matter how long the OT goes on.

3 Re the squid, I ask the same…

Re the squid, I ask the same question I asked back in 2020, when we went through kick types.

What's the average field position after a squib kick? 

https://www.footballoutsiders.com/risky-business/2020/risky-business-week-12-onside-kicks

I've never seen an analysis of this. Where do teams generally take over after a squib? It's not that they never go wrong:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxw4AxNmIWo
http://insidethepylon.com/film-study/film-study-nfl/special-teams-film-study-nfl/2015/11/20/when-squib-kicks-go-wrong/

Sometimes they turn into spontaneous onside kicks, but that goes terribly wrong if the return team recovers it.

31 A commenter above almost had…

A commenter above almost had the solution I prefer. I think the best way to solve the overtime problem is to simply make the home team always receive first. That way, the +6% win chance is known ahead of time, and is another reward for the better team, at least in playoffs. Even in the regular season, I’m fine with giving the home team that advantage. 

This doesn’t preclude playing a full 15 minute period or whatever. You can do both.

37 Another way squib kicks can…

Another way squib kicks can possibly go wrong...

(Sorry, this feel like piling onto the Packers' Special Teams, but I can't pass an opportunity to remember this moment of awesomeness in NFL history).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCa3YMd7f88

Of course, if this had happened last night, the Bills would have won because the runback took 13 seconds. 

49 Just keep going

If at the end of regulation the game is tied, just turn off the game clock and keep going.  If you have timeouts left you keep them.  First score wins.  Why isn't that fair, and simple?

55 Because it takes some of the…

In reply to by sk57

Because it takes some of the drama out of the final possession in a tied game. In the Rams-Bucs game, for example, the Rams would not have been bombing downfield to Kupp because there would be minimal benefit. They would have played conservatively to get into FG range because they'd have all the time they needed.

56 yes

In reply to by sk57

I think you are on to something. It would really make a team stop and think about what to do if they just scored a very late TD and a 1-point conversion would only tie the game. 

If they were kicking a very late field goal to tie the game then not so much-or maybe-they fake it and go for a TD instead.

57 Here’s an idea

Eliminate the coin toss at the start of overtime, and give the first choice to the team that had the last lead of the game. Granted, the Rams would have been playing with house money and the Chiefs would have been behind the 8-ball, but it would rewarded the team that was winning. 

58 How would you handle a 0-0…

In reply to by Tutenkharnage

How would you handle a 0-0 game?

That end of regulation score has occurred 73 times in NFL history. The Dolphins-Steelers 2007 monsoon game (the one where the punt stuck in the mud) came within 17 seconds of going to OT with that score. In happened in Div I pretty recently.

63 This is the BEST idea

In reply to by Tutenkharnage

I was going to post it, but I'm glad it was here already as an idea.

This completely eliminates the randomness of the coin flip and that's really the objective here. Keep in mind that we aren't talking about declaring an OT winner, but rather which team probably has a slightly better chance of winning the ball game - or if both offenses are rocking which team has a much better chance. This would make for much better late game strategy.

As for a 0-0 tie, who cares? Give the choice to the team who lost the initial coin flip. If both offenses can't score, chances are they aren't scoring a TD on the first drive anyway. In this specific case, it's probably closer to 50/50 than when the offenses are really good.

60 The Bears squib kicked to…

The Bears squib kicked to the Falcons in 2008 after Kyle Orton hit Rashied Davis for a go-ahead TD with 11 seconds left. Matt Ryan just needed one play to get into field goal range for the winning Jason Elam kick.

77 Just make the home team get OT choice.

That way, in the playoffs, they have *earned* whatever advantage there is. During the regular season, the more-important in-division games would even out. 

80 I heard an interesting idea the other day

The team that wins the overtime coin toss decides whether to play offense or defense; the loser gets the other side. There is one drive to decide the game. If the offense scores a touchdown, they win, but if they don't, they lose. That's it.

Now, given the way today's rules favor the offense, that might not end up being much better than what we have now, where the winner of the opening toss has won 7 of 11 playoff games on the opening drive, but it would certainly give the team that loses the coin toss a chance to win on the opening drive. And it would certainly be dramatic, since the offense would have to go for it on every fourth down. And it would give the winner a reason to kick off, since it could make that decision and still win. (I suspect every playoff team would opt to receive, but again, even if nothing changed on that front, the other team could still win the game on the opening drive, which is fair in the sense that both teams can win the game on one drive.)

82 I think going by drives is…

I think going by drives is correct. Give each team one drive starting at 0. best result (in points or yards of they don't score) wins. No kickoffs or punts. 

Would disincentive long field goals and is fun from a game theory perspective. 

 

Simple and is real football. 

85 Basicly, you each get 1…

Basicly, you each get 1 drive and compare. So if one team goes 22 yards and doesnt score and the other goes 34 yards and doesn't score the 34 wins. You could stick a kickoff in to incorporate special teams. (Add where you start to the drive length) A fg for the 30 beats a fg from the 50 since the former gained more yards. 

86 No, I get where you're…

No, I get where you're coming from. I just don't see how it's "real football." It's a new game. It's the equivalent of deciding an NBA game with horse. Some skills stay the same, other skills are totally marginalized, but in general it's just different.

If I could see it happen a bunch of times without it actually affecting real games, maybe it'd grow on me. No idea. But it's not real football any more than the NCAA overtime is real football.

83 I think going by drives is…

I think going by drives is correct. Give each team one drive starting at 0. best result (in points or yards of they don't score) wins. No kickoffs or punts. 

Would disincentive long field goals and is fun from a game theory perspective. 

 

Simple and is real football.