NFL owners voted today to take the playoff over-time (OT) rules and apply them to the regular-season as well. Also in effect for 2012 is replay on every turnover, similar to the new procedure implemented last year where every scoring play is reviewed.
The new OT rules were a source of controversy in 2010, causing confusion among fans and players. The new rules follow the same coin toss procedure as before to determine possession; on the opening possession, the receiving team can then win the game if they score a touchdown, but if they fail to score, the game goes into sudden death. If they kick a field goal however, the opposing team gets possession, where a touchdown wins it, a field goal forces sudden-death, and a turnover ends the game. One way to look at it is the winner is the first team to either score four points or any points plus a change of possession (turnover, punt).
The new rules are similar to what the NCAA uses, and while many oppose the confusing procedures, there are also many who enjoy the fact both teams get a legit shot at winning. Some argue recent statistics show that the team who wins the coin toss in OT, win only a little over 50% of the games, a stat that is not large enough to change the rules. But up through the 2009 season, before the kick-off was moved up, teams won 60% of games that went into OT, and an even larger number won off of a field goal. While we are just now beginning to see the effects of the kick-off rule change and how it correlates with OT play, I think the league was smart in that they didn’t wait around to crunch the numbers and decided what was best for the game.
There’s also another disadvantage to sudden-death OT that isn’t talked about much. When you are in a format that is “first score wins”, teams that are much stronger on one side of the ball than the other get either exploited for their weaknesses or given an unfair advantage depending on the coin toss. For example, the Detroit Lions are playing the New Orleans Saints, both teams are very talented on offense, but struggle on defense, resulting in games that tend to be shoot-outs. Whether either team wins the coin toss in OT in a sudden-death format, it gives them the advantage of utilizing their best facet (their offense) against the other teams’ weakness (their defense), an advantage given to them purely by chance.
Think of New England going to OT in a very important game, and losing without Tom Brady even getting a chance to step onto the field. Games that go into OT are ones where teams are going “punch for punch”, and the extra period needed should allow both teams to have a full shot at winning it, not have them crossing their fingers over a 50/50 statistic. In the new OT rules, both sides get a final chance AS A TEAM to close out the game, not just one side of the ball.
The best part of the new rules is it gives fans a bit of relief. Nothing is worse than going to OT, feeling as if the toss of a coin is going to decide whether your team wins or losses the game, no matter what the statistics say. When a measly drive of 40 yards gets an opponent a chance to end the game without giving your offense a shot, fans feel angry and robbed and immediately begin blaming anybody from the officials to your friend who didn’t wear his lucky shirt for the first time. In the new changes, fans at least get a sigh of relief knowing that if they lose, at least they had the chance to win it.