Scramble for the Ball: Getting Over Overtime
by Vince Verhei and Ben Riley
The Chargers' 23-17 overtime victory over the Colts in the AFC playoffs once again brought the NFL's sudden death overtime rule into the spotlight. Many critics feel that sudden death is unfair, because the team that loses the coin toss too often loses in overtime without getting the ball. Of course, if they lose, it's because their special teams and defense weren't up to the job, but let's forget that for a second. In the Audibles discussion of last weekend's games, Will Carroll suggested that the NCAA's overtime, with its alternating possessions starting in opponent's territory, was superior. He was roundly shouted down; the consensus among Outsiders is that the NCAA's overtime creates an abbreviated, bastardized form of football. It removes punts and kickoffs from the game, it leads to ridiculous statistical inflation, and it can take a very long time to finish.
With that being said, it's always possible there's a better solution out there. We present to you these alternative solutions to the overtime riddle. If anyone from the NFL is reading this, feel free to steal any of these. We promise not to sue.
Overtime format: "Each Team Gets Possession"
Premise: This solution really doesn't solve anything, but it gets mentioned so often, we're listing it here just so we can explain why it won't work. The theory is, since the team that wins the coin toss unfairly gets first chance to score, the coin toss loser should be guaranteed a possession in overtime as well. Which leads to the question: What happens if both teams score on their opening possessions? Does it become sudden death at that point? If so, how is that in any way a more fair solution? The coin toss winner will still get an extra possession. For that matter, what constitutes a possession? Suppose the coin toss loser opens overtime with a surprise onside kick and recovers the ball, then scores. The other team has never had possession; don't they deserve a chance to have the ball? There are just too many complications here that will only serve to make games longer without guaranteeing that they are any more fair.
Overtime format: "NHL meets the NFL on NBC!"
Premise: The basic complaint regarding the current overtime format is that the team that wins the coin flip has the first chance to score. Why everyone freaks out over this is a bit of a mystery, since (a) the team that successfully calls the toss only wins the game about 60 percent of the time, and (b) the defense of the other team remains on the field and has every opportunity to stop the team from scoring. In any event, if the problem is the arbitrary possession resulting from the randomness of the coin flip, the solution is to make the first possession in overtime the result of a non-random event. Here's one possibility: Have the NFL equivalent of a hockey shootout. The team that scored last during regulation nominates one guy to take the ball at the 20-yard line. The opposing team in turn nominates one defensive player to stand on the goal line. Blow the whistle, and let them battle, mano a mano, for the right to have the first possession in overtime. Alternatively, each time nominates its fastest player to participate in a race from the 40-yard line.
Overtime format: "Now THIS Is A Shootout!"
Premise: If you're going to decide ties with an abbreviated, bastardized version of football, may as well go all the way with it and make it snappy. Pick one end zone, and give each team five tries at a two-point conversion. If still tied, continue until one team has the lead and each team has had the same number of chances. This overtime format is better than the NCAA version because it should decide things very quickly, and team and individual statistics won't be artificially inflated (except for two-point conversions, but really, who cares about those?).
Overtime format: "The Easterbrook Compromise"
Premise: In his latest column, TMQ writes: "Here is my NFL overtime proposal. An entire fifth quarter is played: but in the fifth quarter kicking is forbidden, except after scores. No punts, no field-goal attempts, no PAT kicks. Such a system would ensure each team more than one overtime possession, but enforce a standard of very aggressive play because you'd have to go for it on every fourth down and go for two after a touchdown." Genius! Of course, the fact that the two teams that play an entire extra quarter will be destroyed in the following week poses a slight problem. (As an aside, is anyone else mystified by ESPN's refusal to post a color picture of Gregg Easterbrook on its Web site? Even with the Worldwide Leader's latest site redesign, TMQ remains stuck in a George Bailey-like 1940s alternative reality. Baffling.)
Overtime format: "Make 'em Hurl!"
Premise: Are you familiar with the Irish sport of hurling? No? The basic idea, near as anyone can tell, is to run around with a large stick (the "hurley") and randomly whack the ball ("sliotar") and/or your opponent with no apparent purpose. One of hurling's more interesting aspects is its controversial overtime format, wherein one player runs headfirst at the goalie and spears him in the chest with his hurley, to see if he can drive him backwards into the goalpost and cause spinal damage. Are you telling us you wouldn't pay to see such a battle between, say, Haloti Ngata and Michael Roos?
Overtime format: "Just Keep Going"
Premise: This one's simple enough: Rather than restarting the game at the beginning of overtime, just pick up where the fourth quarter left off, with the same team in possession, at the same spot on the field, with the same down and distance to go. This may rob us of some dramatic finishes -- any team with possession of the ball late in a tie game will have no incentive to rush down the field, and in fact may be better off slowly churning up yards to make sure they don't score before regulation ends. But it does remove the random element -- the coin flip -- from overtime that most critics find so galling.
Overtime format: "To Hell With Sudden Death!"
Premise: To our knowledge,
no other sport in no other league on the planet hockey is the only other sport on the planet that settles overtime periods by who scores first; they all go by who scores most. So why not just use a 10- or 15-minute overtime period, with all the standard rules concerning timeouts, replays, etc.? This guarantees that both teams will have to play offense and defense to win.
Overtime format: "To Hell With Field Goals!"
Premise: We will concede that it can be unsatisfying to watch a team take the overtime kickoff, pick up a couple of first downs, kick a field goal and go home. Rather than award the game to the first team to score any points in overtime, declare the first team to score at least four points in overtime the winner. This will require teams to score a touchdown, or score twice. At least then things will be decisive.
Overtime format: "To Hell With Overtime Entirely!"
Premise: Most NFL fans spent the month of December paying close attention to conference records and common opponents. Not Eagles fans. Thanks to the tie against Cincinnati, everyone knew precisely who was ahead of Philadelphia, and who was behind them. Maybe the NFL should eliminate overtime altogether, and games that are tied at the end of regulation should simply remain tied. It's kind of paradoxical, but if there are more ties in games, there will be fewer ties in the standings.
Overtime format: "Beer Pong"
Premise: Football is a grueling, violent, dangerous sport, and after 60 minutes of brutal action, it seems almost unfair to ask these men to expose their bodies to even more pain and destruction. Instead, why not settle things with America's favorite drinking game? Hey, if it's good enough for the Nintendo Wii, it's good enough for the NFL. If you're concerned that the Jared Allens and Koren Robinsons of the world will give some teams an unfair advantage, there's always rock-scissors-paper. Or, invite the fattest player on each team to compete in a game of Twister. You know you'd watch.
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Keep Choppin' Wood
We're not sure who on the Chargers to blame for Reggie Wayne's 72-yard touchdown pass. You know the one, where the Colts caught San Diego unprepared, and by the time the Chargers realized what was going on, Wayne was already behind the defense with the ball in his hands, streaking for the end zone? Antonio Cromartie appeared to be most responsible for covering Wayne, but at the time he was standing sideways, staring at the sideline, until Wayne blurred by him. He wasn't the only one; Paul Oliver, playing safety to that side of the field, was flat-footed, looking to the sideline as well. Was this debacle Cromartie's fault? Oliver's? Head Coach Norv Turner's? Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera's? Tell you what: We're giving Keep Choppin' Wood to the Chargers as a whole. They can settle it amongst themselves to see who takes it home.
With 105 yards rushing, 45 yards receiving and 178 return yards, and standing all of 5 feet, 6 inches tall, is there any doubt the award goes to Darren Sproles this week? And extra credit to a commenter on Kissing Suzy Kolber for coming up with the best new football nickname we've heard since, well, maybe ever: "43 Cent." Go shorty.
Best of the Rest
It's only been one week, but three teams have already put a big distance between themselves and the rest of the pack: BigCheese (54 points, seven players remaining), Superbears (48 points, six players remaining) and Sean D. (46 points, seven players remaining). No other team has more than 36 points. The keys to success? Playing Joe Flacco, Darren Sproles, or, in the case of BigCheese, both.
We'll update all our teams as well as the Best of the Rest teams next week, once things are a bit more settled.