Wednesday, February 15, 2023 10:00 AM

Should NFL refs "let the players play", or not?

in Sports by MegaBearsFan

Philadelphia Eagles fans are apparently upset that the officials in SuperBowl XVII "decided the game" by calling a defensive holding on James Bradberry (Eagles DB) in the final minute of the game. The Chiefs were already well inside field goal range, so there was little question that they would score to break the tie. But this penalty on a 3rd down gave the Chiefs an automatic first down, and which allowed the Chiefs to run out the clock before kicking that game-winning field goal, thus, preventing the Eagles from having an opportunity to respond with their own scoring drive.

Yeah, sure, it always sucks when a penalty makes or breaks a game, but this was a reasonable penalty to call. We can debate all day whether the tug of the jersey was enough to impede the receiver's ability to run his route and get to the ball, or if the ball was even catchable to begin with. Either way, the tug of the jersey was obvious. By letter of the rule, it is a penalty. Case closed.

This slight tug of the jersey gave the Chiefs an automatic first down, to run out the clock on SuperBowl XVII.

While Eagles fans are upset by this one call, I'm more upset with the inconsistent rulings of the NFL officials throughout the entire 2022-2023 playoffs -- specifically where pass interference and defensive holding are concerned.

Earlier in the playoffs, the refs were apparently letting defenders get away with almost anything, supposedly on the grounds of "letting the players play". The refs were letting slide defensive actions that, in the regular season, would have been called as penalties. Even the commentators were talking about how the officiating tends to be a bit more lax in the playoffs because they don't want a penalty deciding the outcome of a playoff game. Even earlier in the SuperBowl, defenders on both sides got away with more flagrant fouls than the one that eventually decided the outcome of the championship. Heck, I don't think there is a single playoff team that doesn't have a grievance against the officiating in the playoffs -- whether they won the game or not.

So here's my question. (Or questions, I guess.) Are defensive holding and pass interference supposed to be penalties or not?!

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Here we go again. The NFL is modifying its overtime rules. Now, both teams will have an opportunity to possess the ball in overtime. Even if the winner of the coin toss scores a touchdown on the opening drive of overtime, they will still have to kick off to the other team, who will now have an opportunity to match with a touchdown of their own, or potentially win the game if they convert a 2-point conversion.

The rule change is in response to the Chiefs' victory over the Bills in last season's AFC Divisional Playoff. If you recall, the 4th quarter of that game was a shootout with 5 lead-changes. The Bills scored what should have been the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left in regulation. The Chiefs then gained 44 yards in 2 plays and kicked a game-tying 49-yard field goal to trigger overtime. The Chiefs received the opening kickoff, drove down the field, and scored a game-winning touchdown against the exhausted Bills' defense. The Bills never got to possess the ball in overtime because, according to the old rule, if the opening drive results in a touchdown, the game ends.

Chiefs beat Bills in overtime Photo Credit: William Purnell/Icon Sportswire
The Chiefs beat the Bills in overtime of the 2022 AFC Divisional Playoff.

Fans have complained about NFL overtime rules for a very long time. The common complaint is that the winner of the game often comes down to a coin toss. But this is only partially true. In fact, in the regular season, the winning percentage of the team receiving the overtime kickoff is only barely more than 50% (86-67-10). This percentage changes to over 90% (10-1) in the playoffs (since the current hybrid sudden death rule went into effect). The disparity probably results from playoff teams being generally better and having better offenses.

So what else can be done to change the rules? I've already expressed my distaste for proposals to implement college overtime rules. I'm not going to rehash that here, since that isn't what the NFL is doing. Other proposals include making overtime an extension of the 4th quarter, which just gives an overwhelming advantage to the team who possesses the ball at the end of the 4th quarter, and removes any pressure for that team to execute in the final minute or so. Or maybe overtime should just be decided by a field goal shootout? Just take the offenses and defenses out of the equation entirely, and let the kickers decide the winner!

Really though, the NFL's new rule still doesn't solve the underlying problem: which is the coin flip. Now, if both offenses score, the game still goes into sudden death, and the team that gets the tie-breaking 3rd possession was still determined by the coin toss. In that Chiefs vs Bills Divisional Playoff game, even if the Bills had scored a TD to match the Chiefs in overtime, the Chiefs would still get the ball next, and it would be sudden death. The Chiefs would probably still win against a tired Bills defense that was completely incapable of stopping them. The game would just go on longer, the defenses would be even more tired, and the risk of injury would be greater. So here's my proposal:

I propose the NFL get rid of coin tosses.

Get rid of the coin toss

I think the NFL should go back to having sudden death overtime, and should get rid of the coin toss entirely. Instead of having a coin toss, the visiting team should just be able to chose whether it wants to receive the opening kickoff, and the home team should be able to chose whether they want to receive the overtime kickoff. This might sound unfair, but the idea here is to remove a coin toss from the equation, and make the opening possession of overtime become a part of a team's home-field advantage.

In regular season games, teams play half their games at home -- or at least they do over a 2-year average, since the NFL added a 17th game to the schedule. This means each team will have a 50/50 change of getting the opening possession in regular season overtimes, so it's fair. In the post-season, the home team is determined by playoff seeding, which is a function of the teams' regular season records. The team with the better regular season record gets homefield in a playoff matchup. This means that getting the opening kickoff in a playoff overtime will be a privilege that the home team will have earned by having the better record (or the seeding tie-breaker).

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