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NFL overtime and 2-point conversions

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Jim has been railing against the NFL's overtime rules for years, and for the most part I have turned a deaf ear. To me, you can't complain about the League's overtime rules too much, because your team had the chance to win the game in regulation and didn't. But this season, between watching the games and listening to Jim's ranting, I am starting to change my tune as evidence mounts that the overtime rule (sudden death for a maximum of one quarter) is inherently flawed; Rules should exist to give balance between the two teams, not to assign advantage.

This season, there have been 11 overtime games. Seven of those games were won by the team that won the coin toss (64%), six of those times the team won on a field goal on their first possession, and only three times (27%) did the team that won the coin toss lose the game. Last season, 60% of the teams that won the coin toss won the game in overtime. This is really substantial evidence that there is a problem: After playing an even game, a simple toss of a coin by the official becomes the most important play of the game.

The chances of the NFL changing the rule are slim. The NFL is bought and sold by television, and TV wants a predictable length to the games. So what option do the coaches have while the present overtime rule exists? The 2-point conversion.

Coaches get praised as "risk-takers" for going for 2 after a touchdown at the very end of regulation, instead of kicking a PAT and going to overtime. They get called "gutty" when they go for a big play late in the game all tied. But, with the odds I gave above, the riskiest play at the end of a game is becoming putting a coin in the hands of the referee. The success rate of 2-point conversions in the NFL is anywhere from 44-51%, depending on whom you ask. The success rate for kicked PATs is about 96-98%, depending on whom you ask. So, given the chance you have in overtime, where a lost coin flip could seal your doom, why not just go for 2 and forgo the coin toss?

Take the Patriots-Jets game a couple weeks ago. The Patriots score a touchdown with :01 to go in the game and decide to kick a PAT to send it to overtime. They lose the coin toss and their team never touches the ball again. If they had gone for 2, they could have won; At the very least, the ball would have been in their hands at the end of the game.

Teams that have decided to go for 2 instead of the PAT on, essentially, their last play are 1-1 this season (Denver won, Kansas City lost). I just wonder if you're going to see more teams opting to win in regulation instead of facing the dreaded coin toss.

Despite that, it would be ideal if the NFL changed the rule. Whether you're OK with the present system or you want it thrown out, I have to believe almost everyone would agree about that: That it would be ideal to change it.