Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NFL Overtime - Is it better to take the ball first?

My father brought up the point he thinks in the new overtime rules for the NFL.. it would be advantageous to NOT get the ball first.


  • If you get the ball second, you only need a FG.. you don't need to press for a TD 
  • better chance of good field position (punt vs kickoff)

What do you think? obviously this assumes you take the risk of your defense giving up a TD.. but given the situation you are in overtime to start with.. TDs probably aren't that easy to come by.

I originally was skeptical... but what do the stats say?

Under the old overtime rules which were true sudden death.. 124 games reached OT.. 
In those games.. 60% of the time, the team that elected to get the ball first won the game.  BUT.. only 30% (not 60%) of the games were decided on the first possession (source).  Which is what we are talking about here.. getting the ball first.  So only 30% of the time did electing to get the ball did it directly lead to the win under the old system.

What about under the new system?  As of today's writing, 23 games have reached overtime under the new overtime rules.  One in 2011 playoffs, 21 in regular season, and one in the 2012 playoffs so far.

In those games...

  • The average starting position for the first possession was the 19.7 yrd line
  • Only 4 times did the receiving team close the game with an opening drive touchdown (17.4% of total games)
  • The average starting position for the second team was the 30.7 yard line
  • The game was decided in the first two possessions in 13 games  (51.4% of total games) - In those games...
    • 4 times the first team won via touchdown (30.7% or 17.4% of total games)
    • 3 times the first team won because the second team could not match a FG (23.1% or 30.4% of total games)
    • 6 times the second team won with a second possession field goal (46.1% or 26.1% of total games)
  • 15 times the team that elected to receive the ball first ultimately won the game (65.2% of total games)
So in the old system, 30% of the time the first team won via TD or FG.  That percentage of first drive wins has dropped to 17.4% under the new system.  The starting field position for the second team is notably better (30.7 vs 19.7).  But in only 26.1% of games did the second team seal the game with their second possession.
Remarkably even though the first team only sealed the game 17.4% of the time on the first possession, they end up winning the game 65.2% of the time!

So what would you take?  

The bet you can score a TD? (17.4%)  The bet you can score and hold? (30.4%)  Or a bet you can hold and capitalize on better field position? (26.1%)?

And what about allowing a FG and then answering with a TD?  Hasn't happened yet...

Your thoughts?

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