Friday, January 7, 2022 05:30 PM

Should the NFL allow teams to force a tie?

in Sports by MegaBearsFan
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This weekend could see an interesting possibility occur in the NFL. It's the final week of the regular season, and the schedule has been set in a way in which the best outcome for both teams playing in the Sunday night game could be to just not play and force a tie. I'm not sure if this has ever happened in NFL history before, or if the NFL has any plans in place to prevent this from happening.

The Colts, Chargers, and Raiders all currently have 9 wins on the season, and are all competing for the last 2 AFC wildcard slots. The Steelers and Ravens sit on the fringe of eligibility with 8 wins each, and the Steelers already have a tie in their record. The schedule is such that the Colts play their game against the Jaguars in the early game, and the Ravens and Steelers also play each other in the early game (10 am for us on the west coast). The Chargers and Raiders game is then scheduled as the Sunday night game, which means that the outcome of both the Colts / Jaguars game and the Steelers / Ravens game will be known to the Chargers and the Raiders before their game kicks off.

Here's the crazy thing: in the unlikely event that the Colts lose their game, and the Ravens beat the Steelers, then the Colts, Ravens, Chargers, and Raiders will all have 9 wins prior to the Chargers and the Raiders playing their game. In that event, the Chargers and Raiders could effectively not play their Sunday night matchup, take the tie, and both would have 9 wins, 7 losses, and 1 tie; while the Colts and Ravens would both have 9 wins, and 8 losses. The Chargers and Raiders would both have the same number of wins as the Colts and Ravens, but 1 fewer loss owing to the tie, and both would have better records than the Colts and Ravens. In that scenario, the Chargers and Raiders would both get those last 2 playoff spots, and the Colts and Ravens would be eliminated.

Could we see an NFL game in which both teams kneel the whole game to run out the clock?

If the Steelers win, they would also have the same record as the Chargers and Raiders (9-8-1), and I'm not sure who would win the tie-breakers in that case. It would come down to head-to-head matchups, division record, conference record, and then I think points for and against.

If the Colts and Steelers lose, the Chargers and Raiders could both agree to send out reserve players to simply kneel down every play and punt in order to run out the clock and take a 0-0 tie, and both have a guaranteed playoff berth. If they actually play the game, then the losing team will be eliminated from the playoffs due to tie-breakers, and the Colts or Ravens would get the final spot. We could potentially see a game in which both offenses simply kneel on the ball on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd downs, then punt to a returner who fair catches the punt. That could be the entire game.

A soft prisoner's dilemma?

The Chargers' coach, Brandon Staley, has stated that he would not play for a tie even if the scenario does come to pass. But the NFL (and its respective teams) is a business. And the goal of that business is to make the playoffs, possibly win a championship, and sell as many tickets and merchandising as possible. Making the playoffs means more games. More games means more ticket and merchandise sales. And a championship means lots more money from champion-specific merchandise.

If both teams are in a position to simply run out the clock, take a tie, and get a guaranteed playoff spot, then that is the ideal thing for both teams to do. Playing the in such a situation does nothing but risk that one team or the other will lose.

Taking the tie without playing the game is also the safer thing to do from a health and safety perspective. Playing the game risks that the winning team may suffer injuries to star players which could jeopardize their future success even if they make the playoffs. Or worse yet, inflict injuries on players that may persist into future seasons, or which may end careers or worse. If the NFL is serious about player safety, then they shouldn't even let the teams play a match in such a situation.

Mark Davis
Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY
The NFL is a for-profit business,
and the #1 goal of every season is to the make the playoffs.

It's like a softer version of the Prisoner's Dilemma, except in this case, both parties can win -- absolutely and unconditionally -- if they chose to cooperate for the tie.

They would even receive the 6th and 7th playoff seeds, so they wouldn't even have to play each other again in the playoffs unless they both make it to the AFC Championship Game. So it's not even like they would want to knock the other out so that they don't have to risk playing a division rival again in the Wild Card or Divisional rounds.

Honestly, if I were an NFL owner, and I was treating my football team as a business, I would try to strike a deal with the other owner to tie the game, and I would even go so far as to fire my head coach if he decided to actually play to win in defiance of such a deal, regardless of whether he actually wins the game or loses. Why take the risk, when you are guaranteed to go to the playoffs and have a chance at a championship run?

But I'm not an NFL owner, and I don't look at football as a business. I want to see good, competitive football matches, so I would play the game.

I'm not sure if the NFL has any procedures in place to prevent such a "gentleman's agreement" to be reached. But if such a thing were to come to pass, I would be willing to bet good money that there would be a rule change for next year that would seek to prevent it from happening again. Maybe they do what professional soccer has done, and make it a rule that teams with tied records all play their matches on the same day and time so that none can know the outcome of the others' matches prior to starting their own match. Or perhaps the NFL creates some confusing rule that disallows a tie in such situations, forcing indefinite overtimes as if the match were a playoff game. Or maybe they prohibit owners from communicating with each other prior to a matchup and fine the teams heavily if any such collaboration is detected (if there isn't already such a rule).

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