Favre's Interception, Paytons 4th Down, And Overtime Coin Flips

There's a lot to cover in this one. It was the perfect Sunday to unveil the real-time comment section on the live WP graph pages. Unfortunately, it was too perfect. The server was overloaded with an explosion in traffic, and I don't think many people were able to see the graphs.

Let's go in reverse chronological order and start with the overtime. The NFL overtime rules are far too arbitrary. A coin flip gave one team the ball and the other never had a chance to respond. This happens in one third of all overtimes, and this time it happened in one of the biggest, most exciting games in recent memory. You can say, "Well, the Vikings had a chance to make a stop." True. But the Saints defense never had to. Because the Saints managed a field goal, their defense was never even asked to take the field. Their "stop" was automatic. There's a lot more wrong with the way NFL overtime works. You can read about it here (or here).

The pass interference call on Minnesota linebacker Ben Leber appeared to be extremely costly (and extremely debatable). It moved the ball from the 42 to 29, well inside field goal range. But realistically, the Saints already had a big advantage. The call happened on a 1st and 10, so had the incompletion stood, the Saints would still have had a 2nd and 10 in opponent territory, a very manageable situation for their offense. In total, the penalty was worth -0.09 WPA, costly for sure, but it hardly meant the game.

Sean Payton's decision to go for it on 4th and 1 from Minnesota's 39 in OT was the right call. A successful conversion gives the Saints a 0.75 WP. A failure leaves the Vikings with a 1st down at their own 39, worth 0.44 WP for the Saints. Conversion attempts on 4th and 1 can be expected to be successful about 74% of the time. There are some additional factors to consider. The Vikings have a great defensive line, but there was less than a full yard to go. In total, the conversion attempt was worth:

0.74 * 0.75 + (1-0.74) * 0.44 = 0.67 WP

A punt likely leaves the Vikings with a 1st down inside their 20, most likely their own 10. This is worth 0.38 WP for Minnesota, which is 0.62 WP for the Saints. Ultimately that's a +0.05 WP advantage for the conversion attempt. It's smaller than I expected, but it's still a good call, especially considering how strong each offense was.

If you don't buy the 74% conversion rate on 4th and 1, we can look at it from a different direction. We can solve the equation above for the break-even success rate, where going for it and punting would be equal. In that case, the required conversion rate would be 61%.

Brett Favre's interception to close out regulation will haunt Vikings fans for a long time. On 3rd and 15 from the 38, Favre threw deep over the middle into the hands of Saints cornerback Tracy Porter, a play worth -0.38 WPA. I'm sure Brett Favre will have nightmares about that pass (to replace his nightmares about his interception against the Giants two years ago), but what about that situation--3rd and 15 from from the 38?

There was a 5-yard penalty for illegal substitution (12 men in the huddle) immediately before the play that moved the Vikings from the 33 to the 38-yard line, putting them outside field goal range. Had the penalty not occurred, the Vikings could have run a low-risk play, perhaps picking up 2 or 3 yards to set up a manageable field goal attempt. I'm sure all the reporters will ask Favre how he "feels" about the play, but I think it's Brad Childress who needs to answer some tough questions tomorrow about what happened there.

But to keep things in perspective, that interception wasn't the only Vikings turnover of the night. There were a total of 2 interceptions and 3 fumbles lost (out of 6 total Minnesota fumbles). The five Vikings turnovers cost a sum of -0.96 WPA...essentially an entire game. Excluding the final interception, the four other turnovers cost -0.58 WPA.

In comparison, the Saints lost only one turnover, a muffed punt by Reggie Bush in the 2nd quarter worth -0.14 WPA. It was costly, especially because it gave the Vikings the ball at the Saints' 10-yard line in a tight game, but despite that one miscue it's clear the Saints won because they won the turnover battle.

Congratulations Saints and Colts fans. I think we saw this one coming.

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61 Responses to “Favre's Interception, Paytons 4th Down, And Overtime Coin Flips”

  1. Scott says:

    What's the WPA if Favre throws an incompletion? or if he ran for 5 yards like it looked like he could have got? I'm suprised that the Vikings still had that high of chance of winning at that point (3rd and 15 at the 38). I would of guessed 70 maybe 75 percent.

    Wasn't that 12 men on the field immediately after a timeout? What a coaching disaster!

  2. Anonymous says:

    At the very least, in conference championships where there are two weeks to prepare for the Super Bowl and the goal is to determine the best team after a very long season, there is no reason or rush to flip coins for a near-random conference winner.

    Unlike the reg season, there is plenty of time and reason to play either a full quarter of overtime, a modified and extended college-style shootout, or both.

  3. Ian Simcox says:

    Strangely quiet from all those who said you were wrong to give the Jets a 28% WP :)

    On a personal note, I can be thankful to this site for providing me with a profit of £1 last night. With the win probabilities for each team I could see the value bets for each game were the Jets (at 3/1) and the Saints (at 1/2). It was a bit nerve-racking with the Saints there, and it was only a token profit on a very small sample, but the it's certainly given me something to look into next season. Can NFL Stats beat the bookies?

  4. Jeff Clarke says:

    "Had the penalty not occurred, the Vikings could have run a low-risk play, perhaps picking up 2 or 3 yards to set up a manageable field goal attempt. "

    In no way am I going to defend the Vikings for having 12 men in the huddle after a long timeout.

    Also, Favre clearly had running room and making that pass in those circumstances was a horrible decision.

    Still I believe the Vikings made a huge mistake by running "safe" plays on first and second down. If they had run a safe low risk play on third down before the penalty, that would have been a mistake as well.

    Too many teams reach the outer edge of FG range and then declare the game all but over. With plenty of time, they run virtual kneeldown plays. When the kicker misses a 50 yard kick (as they do fairly routinely because 50 yards is a long distance), the coach acts as if it was all the kicker's fault.

    I'm not saying that Favre should have called a bomb on first down. I do think that the runs straight up the middle were really over conservative. Childress appeared not interested in getting any more yards at all before the kick. If a 5 yard penalty knocks you out of fg range, you might not have been in it to begin with.

  5. bytebodger says:

    You can sum up the "fairness" of the NFL's overtime coin-flip rule with a single rhetorical question. How often does the team winning the coin flip choose to KICK the ball? If the rule were really as fair as its proponents claim, you would see some teams - especially those with great defenses - choosing to kick the ball away. But of course, this isn't the way it works because everyone knows that getting the ball first in OT is a HUGE advantage.

    It's probably happened more than once, but I can only remember a single time when a team chose to kick the ball away in OT. The hapless Lions did it against the Steelers - and the Steelers drove down the field and won the game.

  6. bytebodger says:

    OK, I just read Peter King and he says that 7 teams have chosen to kick the ball away since the sudden death OT rule was implemented in 1974. Quite frankly, it surprises me that even 7 teams would make such a choice, but it's still a serious condemnation of the fairness of the OT system. How many hundreds of games have gone into OT since 1974? And only 7 of those coin-flip-winning teams were foolish/daring/stubborn enough to kick the ball away.

  7. Alex says:

    At least one of those 7 were the Lions, which should be enough evidence for the NFL to change the rule. They wanted the wind in their favor!

  8. James says:

    What if you changed your perspective on overtime from the Vikings not getting the ball but the Saints getting an extra opportunity? If the Vikings wanted to win, then they should have scored more points during regulation. That's not the way I want them to lose, but I don't necessarily see why they should be guaranteed a possession after regulation.

    Although I am a fan of the lead-and-possession OT idea.

  9. bytebodger says:

    "What if you changed your perspective on overtime from the Vikings not getting the ball but the Saints getting an extra opportunity?"

    It's the same thing - and the system stinks either way.

    This doesn't mean that I'm a fan of the each-team-must-have-a-possession idea, but putting so much power in the flip of a coin is ludicrous. Sports should be decided by players, not by coins.

    The best suggestion I ever heard was made by someone else on this site. At the beginning of OT, give EACH team a kickoff. The team that has the longest return gets possession.

    This has many benefits. First, it ensures that possession is EARNED and not AWARDED based on chance. If you want the first possession, then have a better kick return.

    Second, it only lengthens OT by a single play. The TV wonks all whine about the fact that OT games become too long if each team is guaranteed a full possession. But this plan only adds one extra kickoff to the OT period. In fact, it could serve to SHORTEN the game because the team that wins the kickoff-vs-kickoff battle will, by definition, have better field position and be likely to score right away.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Win by 4 in overtime. Want to try a quick kick? Fine, then play some defense and do it again. If you go all the way for 6, you win. The other team had its chance.

  11. ben says:

    @scott - According to Brian's WP Calculator:
    3rd and 15 at the Saint's 38 yard line (with 19 seconds left) was worth about 58% chance to win. So the interception only cost about 4-8% WP (it shows the saints having the ball with 1 second left as being 54% WP for the Vikings).

    4th and 15 from the Saint's 38 (i.e. incomplete pass) is a 50% WP for for the Vikings

    4th and 10 from the Saint's 33 (i.e. 5 yard gain) is a 72% WP for the Vikings

    4th and 5 from the Saint's 28 (i.e. 10 yard gain) is a 78% WP for the Vikings.

    So the interception wasn't very costly vs throwing an incompletion, but had Favre run for 5 yards that would have made a HUGE difference.

    That's using Brian's WP Calculator, I got a different result using his field goal percentage graph (http://www.advancednflstats.com/2008/11/just-for-kicks.html).

    At the 38 there is a 40% chance of hitting the field goal (which basically wins the game) and if he misses they go to overtime which is 50/50 so:
    40 + ((100-40) * 50) = 70% chance of winning. Using those number's Favre's interception was worth 20% WP vs an incompletion.

    And if he had run for 5 yards the field goal is about 60% from the 33 yard line:
    60 + ((100-60) * 50) = 80%

  12. James Sinclair says:

    The most inherently fair idea I've heard is the field position auction. Under that system, if a team starts overtime at a disadvantage, it's entirely the coach's fault (and who wouldn't love to see Andy Reid in that situation?).

    While I'd rather see any of the ideas discussed here over the current format, they still give an advantage to the team winning the coin toss (or, in the case of the dual-kickoff system, the team receiving second).

  13. ben says:

    Brian demonstrated once that moving the ball yards farther forward on the kickoff would neutralize the advantage of having the ball and make it a 50/50 chance that either team would win. That seems like the fairest option to me. It lets the teams play but starts them in a neutral playing field.

    I think that his logic was based on the fact at at your own 15 yardline the EP is 0 which means that you and your opponent have an equal chance of scoring next which is essentially a level playing field.

    I'm not sure that moving the ball forward 5 yards with result in the average starting position being the 15 because I would think that there would be more touchbacks and lots of times the team would start at the 20. That produces a slight advantage for for the offense (EP of 0.34 vs 0.72 for the 27 yard line which Brian says in the league average for kick offs).

  14. Ian Simcox says:


    There's also the idea of removing the kickoff from overtime, and instead placing the ball on the 15 yard line. That's roughly the position where either team is equally likely to score the next points from. That seems the fairest way that doesn't introduce too many gimmicks into the game.

    That, or allow the kickoff coverage team to start further up the field than the kicker, in order to keep the average return down.

  15. John H says:

    I agree with Jeff that Childress did a horrible job of managing the game once they got the 1st down with 1:06 left. While Favre's pass was certainly a big factor in the loss, the bigger issue was that he was in that position at all. The Vikings had 1st and 10 on the 33 with 2 TOs left, and none for New Orleans. Instead of trying to continue to march down the field and get in much better position to score, they sat on the ball and let the clock run, apparently content with a 50 yard FG. After 2 weak run plays, and the bone head 12 men in the huddle penalty, they were in the very difficult position of absolutely needing yards to try a FG. Childress' poor clock management is as much to blame as Favre's INT.

  16. Brian Burke says:

    The more I think about that interception, the more sympathy I have for Favre. In that situation (on the 38 yl), an interception is really no worse than an incomplete pass. Except for the chance of a very long int return by the Saints, both an interception and an incomplete pass are going to lead to OT.

    The real killer was that 5-yd penalty.

  17. Brian Burke says:

    But, yes, if could have scrambled for 4 or 5 yds, that would have been smarter. Tough to beat him up for something like that in the heat of battle.

  18. James Sinclair says:

    Ben and Ian,

    I completely agree that moving up the kickoff or just having a team start at the 15 would be more fair than the current system, but I wouldn't call them inherently fair, as I did the bid (or auction, or whatever) system. The coin toss would still play a significant role, and there would still be a (sometimes legitimate, sometimes not) argument to be made that the coin toss allowed one team to start overtime with an advantage.

    Presumably, the goal should be to put as many potentially outcome-determining factors as possible in the hands of the teams themselves. That's why I like the bid idea--other than some kind of jump ball-esque competition (which would also be fun), it's the only idea that lets the teams determine what position they'll be in to start overtime.

  19. Anonymous says:

    OK - Dumb question - but outside of play off games, why is it even necessary to have a tie breaker? Unless its a GOOD method, I think a tie is preferable to an arbitrary coin toss.

    And for the playoffs - just play a complete quarter, until one team wins at the end of an OT quarter.

  20. bytebodger says:

    "That's why I like the bid idea--other than some kind of jump ball-esque competition (which would also be fun), it's the only idea that lets the teams determine what position they'll be in to start overtime."

    Brian, I agree with you. The bid system is the most inherently fair proposal that I've ever heard. But I'm a proponent of the dual-kickoff system because I can't honestly see America's sports fans (or players, or coaches) EVER supporting the bid system. They would see it as turning their beloved contest of manliness into an eBay auction for accountants and theorists.

    Maybe I'm crazy, but I could actually see fans (and sportswriters) getting into the whole dual-kickoff thing.

  21. feralboy12 says:

    Personally, I think all the ideas I've heard are better than the current sudden-death system.
    The current system was devised for a different game--all the rules changes that benefit the offense (kickoff from the 30, legalized holding, no contact after five yards) have given the team that wins the coin flip an advantage they didn't have 50 years ago. Throw in the "spot of the foul" rule for pass interference (a judgement call) and you have the perfect recipe for an anti-climactic, unsatisfying ending to an exciting game. Thanks, NFL.
    So which future Hall-of-Fame quarterback will stand on the sideline watching his team lose in OT next year?

  22. Xeifrank says:

    I like the auction idea, but agree that it would be heavily made fun of by the football purists. One other idea I've heard batted around and not mentioned here, is to start all overtime possessions at 2nd down. In other words each new possession or first down would result in starting the next possession on 2nd down and 10 (unless goal to go of course).
    vr, Xeifrank

  23. Anonymous says:

    Arizona's defense stepped up in overtime and won the game without the offense ever taking the field, the Vikings had to make a stop. Win the game in regulation like they should have and there is no ot coin flip to worry about.

    As was pointed out earlier, the Vikings should have been more aggresive when they had 1st and 10 from the Saints 33. The problem was not only the two running plays, but also how they telegraphed them by switching from the shotgun spread to a tight running formation. I would not have been opposed to a running play in that series if they had stayed in shotgun. Maybe then they catch the Saints thinking pass and get a 10-15 yd run.

  24. Ian Simcox says:

    Brian - I agree on your point about keeping the game-deciding incidents on the pitch, but what is a 'fair' system?

    If it's a sudden death system then it'll always look unfair because one team can lose before their offense gets on the field. If it's not sudden-death, then there will be other unfair points.

    If you had 'play a whole full quarter', then the team receiving the kickoff would likely end up with more possessions, and therefore it would seem unfair again. If you equalise the number of possessions then the team with the final possession has the advantage of knowing exactly what they need to do.

    It's funny - we pretty much all agree that the coin-toss is unfair, but it's almost impossible to come up with a system that can be deemed totally fair.

  25. Jeff Clarke says:

    "Brian, I agree with you. The bid system is the most inherently fair proposal that I've ever heard. But I'm a proponent of the dual-kickoff system because I can't honestly see America's sports fans (or players, or coaches) EVER supporting the bid system. They would see it as turning their beloved contest of manliness into an eBay auction for accountants and theorists."

    You're probably right and its a sad state of affairs. There is a certain segment of American society that is stupid and proud of it. I don't want to sound like an intellectual snob. This isn't about education level or anything like that. There are a whole lot of high school dropouts that have a whole lot of street smarts. Let me be clear. I'm not talking about those people.

    There is also this segment of the American public that just doesn't want to bother to think about things. This segment is also really scared of change. Any change-- even when the status quo makes no sense whatsoever. There is absolutely nothing "manly" about a coin flip.

    The people that would make fun of an auction are just scared to use their own brains and scared of change. Its ridiculous that the NFL seriously caters to them.

  26. Jeff Clarke says:

    Ian, whats "unfair" about an auction?

    The whole point of it is that both the team with the ball and the team without it chose their circumstances. Neither have anything to complain about because they could have switched places if they wanted to.

  27. Ben Morris says:

    In case anyone is just dying to rehash the subject, I posted about Favre's interception vis a vis the WP number at my not-really-a-blog-yet:
    Admittedly, some of my points have already been made in this comment thread.

  28. Ryan says:

    auction is by far the fairest idea i've heard. yeah you might get scored on before touching the ball, but you could have taken the ball at your own 5 if you really wanted it that badly. the 15 yard line idea would work too.

    i see lots of problems with dueling kickoffs: if you kick it out of bounds, it comes out to the 40? out of the end zone, it's a touchback? then you're getting kickoff specialists like the cowboys to do that every time. if one team returns it for a TD, they automatically win? then there are penalties, onside kicks, etc... i just don't think it's a viable solution with the number of variables there are, and that you're leaving everything up to one play by special teams. it's replacing the coin toss with another gimmick, instead of something logical like an auction.

  29. Ben Morris says:

    An auction is relatively fair and fun to think about. A simple version would be just to have the loser of the coin toss choose the yardline the kickoff will come from and the winner pick whether to kick or receive. But that's purely an academic question, as it's not a realistic option.

    Moving the kickoff forward 5 yards would be about as close to fair as you can get among the actually possible fixes, although technically you should require the winner of the coin toss to take the ball. It's not a problem now, but if coaches ever figure out that the real advantage to winning the toss isn't that you get the ball, but that you get to choose (which they are more likely to figure out if the kickoff is moved forward), the bias produced by the coin toss will go up significantly.

  30. James Sinclair says:

    (Just to clear things up, I think some of the posts addressing Brian are actually aimed at me.)

    Now that I think about what I mean by "fair," it occurs to me that it's not the best term to use. There's really nothing unfair about a coin toss, assuming each team has a 50% chance of winning it, just as it wouldn't be unfair (except to the fans) to just decide every game by coin toss without bothering to play them. But clearly we want a better system than that.

    So I would define the ideal system as one where the losing coach, asked after the game why his team lost, can't credibly say "we lost in part because of [some element of chance that wasn't part of the game during regulation, but became part of the game in overtime]."

    As much as I like it, I don't think the dual kickoff idea passes that test because it would be advantageous to go second, just like teams always want to go second in college overtime. Your kick return strategy would be more or less agressive depending on how the other team did. Now if they could somehow do both returns at the same time...

  31. Chris says:

    I think the best solution (other than yard line auction, which most of us agree the NFL would never consider for the reasons that Jeff Clarke hit on) is that sudden death begins after both teams have had possession (assuming the score is still tied after each team has had possession.) Most people say this doesn't solve the problem b/c the team winning the toss (and presumably choosing to receive) still ends up w/ the advantage of ball first in sudden death, but really I'm not sure if that would be more of an advantage of "going 2nd" as in college. i.e. the team going 2nd can "go for the win" knowing that if they don't they give up the advantage. If your opponent gets a TD and then you do, if you kick the extra point and lose, your own fault b/c being 2nd you could have gone for 2. Or if you pull a Childress and settle for a field goal to tie rather than trying to get a TD for the win (if your opponent scored a field goal) its your own fault for giving up your advantage of going 2nd to the other team, who now goes first in sudden death play.

  32. Jay says:

    Can you do an analysis of Sean Payton's decision to punt the ball on a 4th and 1 from their own 15 with 8:10 left in the 4th quarter (following drew brees' fumbled snap on 3rd and 2)?

    I really though they should have gone for it, given the 74% success rate of 4th and 1, which would have given them the chance to run the clock out. A failed conversion would give the vikings a short field, but its much easier to convert a 4th and 1 than to rely on your defense to prevent favre from driving 40 yards downfield.

  33. James Sinclair says:

    Here's a fun tiebreaker fact: the Ultimate [Frisbee] Players Association used to include a procedure for rock-paper-scissors in its official rules. The rules also included provisions for "fire," which beats rock, paper, and scissors, but can only be thrown once in a person's lifetime, and "water," which beats fire, loses to everything else, and can be used at any time.

    It looks like the rules are no longer available online, but I found a description on this old Wikipedia page:

    Obviously, the NFL isn't nearly fun enough to consider something like that, but still, imagine Drew Brees throwing his fire and Peyton Manning throwing water to win possession in overtime at the Super Bowl. Wouldn't that be one of the most exciting sports moments ever?

  34. Anonymous says:

    I figured it out. The team with the most total yards in the game "wins" the coin flip. This is earned on the field and it creates more fascinating decision-making at the end of games when the team who can play to win or tie knows who gets the ball first in OT.

    Then for OT in championships and the SuperBowl, when it's far more important to have the win earned by the better team, you also play at least 10 full minutes before going to college-style sudden death (most yardage wins the flip again). Why is this so superior a system? Because it allows time for a superior team to overcome even the refs gifting their preferred team with field goal position and the game. When that scenario is over, the best team on the field wins along with all fans.

    The NFL has very little understanding of the unique nature of playoff football. The majority of owners sadly prefer an almost instant random winner for a hard-fought battle at the end of an historic season - even if the refs have the biggest say in the outcome. When watching one of the greatest games of their lives in a sport where there is no best-of-X series to help determine the best team, their logic is to just want it over NOW - even if that process misses the entire point of playing the game in the first place from a fan perspective. Fans are from Mars, NFL owners are from Venus.

  35. Ian Simcox says:

    Jeff Clarke

    I can't think of anything obviously unfair about the auction of the top of my head. It does seem the best solution so far thought up, although I would bet that you get complaints about it after a few teams had lost in OT. Some would just be sour grapes, but there could well be some unforeseen consequences that would show up if implemented.

  36. Unknown says:

    Brian, I don't understand your win probability for overtime. Based on regular season games, the winner of the coin flip wins 52% of the time, loses 44% of the time (and because of regular season games, loses the rest) yet your win probability seems to suggest a much higher win percentage for the Saints right before overtime and right afterwards. I can understand after, based upon the run, but why with 7 seconds left in regulation were the Saints favored to win?

  37. Unknown says:

    "and because of regular season games TIES the rest" that should read.

  38. Unknown says:

    And to all of those whining about the overtime rules, Brett Favre and the Vikings had a chance to win at the end of regulation but failed. There's no reason to give them an automatic chance to get the ball again. Half of NFL games feature one team getting more possessions than their opponent, but no one cries about that.

  39. Anonymous says:

    How about: the team that scored last to tie the game has to kick off in overtime. That way, if a team scores a touchdown to make it 20-21, they will have a big incentive to go for 2, which is more exciting than kicking an extra point. Similarly, a team will try to win the game in regulation with a touchdown instead of tying it up with a field goal.

  40. Anonymous says:

    What's wrong with game can't end in a tie? Just keep playing with possession as is when regulation time expires.

  41. Alex says:

    Why not steal the idea of a jump-ball by having some sort of rugby scrum/fumble recovery drill between the two teams at midfield? Possession would be decided directly by the two teams on the field, announcers would get to talk about the horrible and manly things that happen at the bottom of the pile, and everyone would be happy.

  42. Ben Stuplisberger says:

    Alex, you now have my favorite idea.

  43. Brian Burke says:

    The XFL used to do that for the start of every game I think. I never saw it, but I don't think it was very successful.

  44. DM says:

    The XFL did do that, with one player from each team. The first time they did it, one of the players suffered a season ending injury.

  45. DM says:

    The XFL did do that, with one player from each team. The first time they did it, one of the players suffered a season ending injury.

  46. Anonymous says:

    If each team has 3 timeouts in O.T and the ist 5 minutes were not sudden death a team like the Vikings could have forced a field goal try and saved one to two minutes to try to tie or win. It would keep teams the ist go around from winning with a long field goal if the other team had time to come back and score six.

  47. Jonathan says:

    The frustrating thing about overtime is that there is an obvious problem, and it is so easy to fix. There are about 20 different ways to tweak overtime in such a way that the coinc flip does not affect one's chances of winning the game. Why not come up with an arbitrary method of determining who has possession?

    You could give the ball to the team with the most total yards.
    You could give the ball to the the home team, to emphasize home field.
    You could give it to the away team, to emphasize parity.
    You could give the ball t the team that scored last in reglations--or better yet, give it to the team that didn't score last, thereby encouraging aggressive play at the end.

    I couldn't care less what football does for overtime. to me the only real issue is that something as arbitrary and random as a coin flip can literally determine who wins a championship (and this year, it probably determined the NFC champion.)

    "Yeah, but the Vikings could have won anyway. They had their chances."

    Yes, and the Saints had their chances to prove they didn't need a coin flip to win the game, and they failed to do that. I don't understand what the point is. It certainly does nothing to demonstrate why one team should arbitrarily be given a significant advantage after playing to a tie for 60 minutes.

    It's just so easy to solve this problem, and nobody is doing anything about it.

  48. Alex says:

    Not to perseverate too much, since the stink of the XFL will probably kill the idea, but why is the idea 'unsuccessful'? I don't think two guys should run at each other from 40 yards away, it would be more like a rugby scrum. Most importantly, it isn't random or arbitrary. It also won't be affected by the choice of a single, potentially misleading, statistic like total yards gained, which will strongly depend on team quality and turnovers.

  49. Brian Burke says:

    I didn't mean to dismiss the idea. It's just that I recalled it received a lot of criticism.

  50. James Sinclair says:

    This video shows what the XFL used to do. Discussion of the opening scrum starts at 0:21, and the injury DM referred to above (or, at least, something very similar) is shown at 0:36.


    It actually doesn't look that dangerous, relative to other parts of the game, including conventional kickoffs. My vague memory was that the players started at opposite ends and ran directly at each other, but apparently they started side-by-side.

    Still, it seems pretty silly and gimmicky to do that at the beginning of a game--do the players even care who wins the opening coin toss? In overtime it might make sense, but, as Alex said, the stink of the XFL has surely destroyed any chance of that idea being revived.

  51. Anonymous says:

    i like the "win the game when you have both the lead and the ball" scenario. That seems to do the best at minimizing the competitive advantage associated w/ order in which you gain possession.

    i also think the spot-foul pass interference penalty is particularly punitive, especially during the OT period. Here's an example from the 2008 Chi-NO game:

    Chicago wins toss, nice return, runs 3 plays, 38 yard PI penalty against Saints, Chi runs play to center the ball for the gamewinning FG, gamewinner is good, Chi wins.

    To add insult to injury, Chicago went on a 60 yard drive culminating in the gamewinner as time expired to win send the game to OT, so the Saints D, normally pretty suspect to start w/, was totally gassed.

  52. Anonymous says:

    should have said "culminating in the FG as time expired to send the game to OT."

  53. Ian says:


    But the point of PI is that the catch would have been made had it not been for the interference. So the sequence you describe would have gone runs, 38 yard pass, run then figgie. The reason it was a penalty rather than 38 yard completion was because the defender cheated. I have no problems with interference being a spot foul - sometimes I have issues with what's called 'interference' but that's a different matter. If a defender illegally prevents an offensive player from making a catch then it should be a spot foul. Anything else would just encourage more cheating.

  54. zlionsfan says:

    ... as we can see in college football now. There are more than enough incidents where a defender simply hauls down an eligible receiver. The announcers call it a "good play", and it is, within the context of those rules.

  55. Anonymous says:

    Jonathan summed up the best OT options and ProFooballTalk just suggested similar criteria such as total yards.


    At the very least, the eventual OT possession favorite should be known during the final drives so teams have more info to plan strategy. That's just better for everyone, as a pre-overtime endgame would develop and flow more naturally into a known OT situation. The very end of a tied game is the worst time to introduce an unknown random edge into the mix just for the sake of trying to get a balanced see-saw to tilt.

    And these season-ending NFL championships are nothing like a relatively meaningless regular season or even BCS Bowl games. The ones still undecided during regulation are some of the greatest single-game battles in the history of modern sports and are huge fan recruitment platforms. "Just End It Already" shouldn't be the NFL motto unless the NFL doesn't want new fans.

    The current OT rules also means there is no competitive recourse to balance suspicious officiating, most disturbingly when a bad call or two in a row hands the winner a cheap FG shot. It just looks bad to end a game like that even if the goal isn't to fix the game. At least during regulation, good teams can repeatedly overcome a biased officiating crew - maybe one who allows flagrant cheap shots on their QB the whole game - by just refusing to die even if the QB can barely walk.

  56. Anonymous says:


    I neglected to mention that this particular PI called against the Saints was really well setup by Devin Hester leaping back into the DB to initiate contact.

    We don't assume the successful outcome on any other penalty though. Look at a play where the WR interferes w/ the defender trying to make the pic. We don't assume the defender would catch the ball and award a pic?

  57. Anonymous says:

    Just because teams perceive that there is an advantage to getting the ball first in OT doesn't mean that there is an actual advantage. Over the past decade only 37 per cent of the coin flip winners won on first possession!!! I hardly call that an "advantage".

    If I understand the numbers right, in the last decade, 76 per cent of coin flip winners either lose OR have allowed the other team at least one possession. That cuts directly against the idea that the coin flip is "unfair" because it doesn't give the other team a chance on offense.

  58. Brian Burke says:

    Anon-You completely misunderstand. Imagine if in 30% of MLB's 10th innings, the home team never gets a chance to come to bat.

    You'd say, "Hey, 70% of the time they get a chance." That's silly.

  59. Anonymous says:

    I see your point, but that's a bit of a false analogy since it's impossible to score on defense in MLB. I just don't think the numbers demonstrate that there is an "advantage" to the coin flip winner. If you want to say that it's more fair to give both offenses the ball at least once, then I see your point. To me, though, you can't really back that up with the stats because you're essentially arguing that any time the other team doesn't have a chance to go on offense it's unfair. If the stats said that 99% of the time the OT coin flip loser had at least once chance to go on offense, you'd still maintain that it would be unfair because that 1% didn't get to play on offense. It is not really a statistical argument but an argument about the fundamental fairness of the other team not getting a chance on offense.

  60. Brian Burke says:

    Defensive scores are rare in the extreme. Yes, I would have to say that 1% would be unfair. If it were 1%, it may not be worth changing the format. But the real number is over 30%, so there's no question it's an unsound system.

  61. Anonymous says:

    I say we leave the coin toss, throw out the sudden death, replacing it with something more like...fairly prompt death =P Here's my idea:

    The winner of the coin toss elects to receive or kick per usual, and an ordinary kickoff and drive is commenced, with an important difference - There are no punts. If 4th down is reached, a team must go for it. The drive either culminates in 8,7,6, or 3 points for the offense, or ends at a certain yardline.

    At the end of the drive, the other team receives a kickoff and drives down the field.

    The winner is the first team that, in order of importance:
    -Scores on kickoff coverage (Kicking team recovers and scores)
    -Scores defensively
    -Scores offensively and maintains the lead at the end of an even number of drives.
    -Advances the ball further down the field without scoring than the opposing team.

    In case of offensive ties, the process would be repeated.
    in case of an defensive takeaway that does not result in a defensive score, the team that gave up the turnover will have their drive marked as ending where the ball carrier is tackled on his way to a defensive score.

    I believe this strategy is fair because:
    -The advantage of the coin toss is negated by each team receiving a kick, much like during regulation opening kicks.
    -While the "last possession" advantage /does/ exist, it will have been brought about by that team's defense in the first possession. For example:
    -Team A receives and drives to OPP 45
    -Team B can now (depending on their offensive structure) confidently proceed with relatively conservative playcalling to advance beyond that marker, just as a smothering defense in regulation allows a more conservative offense.

    -Team A drives the length of the field and scores a touchdown + PAT
    -Team B, as a direct result of their defense failing to make a stop, must now perform AT LEAST as well, scoring 7 points, but would be faced with the decision of going for 2, weighing the skill of their offense against the ability of their defense, because a failed 2 point would immediately lose the game, a successful 2 point would automatically win, and a PAT would continue the game.

    Similarly, Team A was faced with a related decision after scoring - Go for the 2 point, because an 8 point score would guarantee them another possession at the least, but risk giving Team B an easy victory with a PAT if the 2 point is failed.

    I think this would bring to play key elements of regulation play - (Score as many points as possible, settle for 3, or ending the drive ONLY if forced), while the "impending doom" factor that makes overtime so make-or-break would still be absolutely present.


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