In 1974 the NFL Rules Committee changed their rules regarding the ending of games expanding to allow the possibility of overtime if after four quarters both teams had scored the same amount of points. Before 1974 a game would end in a tie after four quarters. There were four instances since the introduction of overtime that two ties happened in the same year, and two of the four happened in the last three years.
The NFL is one of the most competitive leagues in sports, and because of the limited amount of games played ties are especially costly. 2018 has already been a particularly competitive year with 37 games going into overtime through week 8. To put that into perspective, since overtime was introduced in 1974, 577 games have been played in overtime. That averages out to about 13.5 overtime games per season. So far in 2018 there have been 118 NFL games played to completion, so the 37 overtime games comes to a whopping 31% of all the games this season. Two games have already resulted in ties, and there could have easily been more. With no overtime tie reform in sight, coaches have instead started to change their strategies to be more aggressive in search of wins.
The Texans visited the Colts in week four. A close game all afternoon, it was destined for overtime. With time winding down in the extra period, Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich was faced with a decision on his own 43 yard line. It was fourth down and he was four yards away from a new set of downs. He could try for it and keep the drive going to put Adam Vinatieri in field goal range; or he could punt. He opted to go for it and Andrew Luck threw an incomplete pass killing any chance they had to win. The Texans then drove down and kicked a field goal as time expired. “We’re not playing for a tie. We’re going for that ten times out of ten.” Reich said after the game. He’s not the only coach refusing to settle for ties.
In week 6, the Monday night game featured the 1-5 Giants and the 2-4 Falcons struggling for relevancy despite competent offenses. Giants head coach Pat Shurmur found himself in a 20-6 hole with less than five minutes to go. After rookie phenom Sequon Barkley scored a touchdown from two yards out the deficit was trimmed to 20-12. Instead of trotting Aldrick Rosas out for a routine kick, Shurmur chose to attempt a two point conversion. His reasoning was given a successful conversion the score would be 20-14, and he would only need a touchdown and an extra point for the win instead of a tie. If he failed, he would theoretically have another shot to convert a second attempt after the next touchdown. Two point conversions are generally converted at about 50% league wide, so the math was on his side. The conversion attempt failed, but when he got his second chance after the next Giants touchdown with five seconds left in the game he was successful. Unfortunately the Falcons had kicked a field goal moments earlier and Shurmur and the Giants fell 23-20.
Another example was Mike Vrabel’s decision to go for two instead of kick the extra point with less than a minute to go when a kick would have tied the game. Vrabel went for two and failed, losing to the Chargers instead of going for the tie and playing in overtime. There are dozens more examples of coaches making calls to try to win their games instead of trying to avoid a loss. New metrics have proven the math behind aggressive play calls like trying to convert on fourth down or a two point conversion and coaches have listened. Look to the consensus best team in the league the Los Angeles Rams, who have been 3-4 on two point conversions this season.
Coaches have used their play calling as well as their post game press conferences to say they won’t settle for ties. Fans have consistently always hated ties. Overtime sports of any kind are the most exciting, but a tie has always been a downer. As the NFL continues to grow and stay one of the most competitive leagues from top to bottom, there needs to be change to how overtime is handled. There is the model of college football where each team has a chance for an offensive possession to score before a winner is decided. Hockey and soccer have used shootouts to decide a winner after an extra period of regular play. The NFL most likely won’t choose something of that nature, but with an increased rate of games played in overtime and a threat of a three tie year looming, the tie needs to be done away with sooner than later.