Tim Benz: Thumbs down to a new NFL overtime idea (and not just because the Ravens thought of it)

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Tim Benz, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·6 min read
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Mar. 8—Join the conversation


Steelers fans are predisposed to dislike anything the Baltimore Ravens want to do.

In the case of Baltimore's new overtime proposal, though, our inherent anti-Ravens bias doesn't even have to come into play.

It's a useless plan, and the NFL shouldn't bother looking at it.

Yet the idea is gaining traction in some media circles, so it's worth talking about how it would work and why the Ravens want to do it.

For the record, it's gaining traction because the new rule idea is overly complicated and layered. And if you say you like it, you come off looking like you are the smartest person in the room on Twitter. And to a lot of national NFL media types, that's important.

However, if you look deeply into this rule, it's just going to wind up being a convoluted extension of the coin-toss format anyway.

The idea is called "spot and choose." Here's how it was outlined on the Ravens' own website. It was described in a similar way by ProFootballTalk.

"One team selects where to spot the ball at the start of the first overtime possession and the other team picks whether to play offense or defense.

For example, the Ravens could spot the ball at the 10-yard line. Then their opponent would have to pick whether it wants to start on offense from its own 10-yard line or play defense.

There's still a coin toss, but it only determines which teams get to pick between spotting the ball (and direction of play) or choosing the side."

Get all that? Yeah. Neither did I the first time. And Ravens.com writer Ryan Mink has done a good job simplifying it as much as possible. But if this is your first time reading the new idea, I bet your head is still spinning.

Think of it this way. The Ravens win the toss and elect to spot the ball at the 5-yard line going toward the open end of Heinz Field.

Now it's up to Mike Tomlin if he wants to put his offense on the field, with 95 yards of grass in front of it, or if he wants to put his defense out there and give Baltimore the ball with 95 yards between Lamar Jackson and the end zone.

It's actually not that complicated. And if you view it that way, there is some interesting strategy to it. Especially if the game is decided with a sudden death score.

Now, this is where some debate comes into play. The clock.

Option one is to put 10 minutes on the board, then play sudden death—first score ends the game. Option two (reportedly favored by the New England Patriots) is to play a full 7 minutes, 30 seconds (half of one quarter) to its conclusion, regardless of how many scores happen.

In my opinion, it has to be sudden death. Otherwise, you are neutering that all-important first decision of "spot and choose." The alleged strategy is minimized.

Here's the thing, though. Forget the clock. Let's not even get that far.

If, as Ravens.com points out, there is a coin toss to determine which team gets to choose between spotting the ball or choosing offense and defense, how many coaches are ever going to choose "choose?"

Did that read as weird to you as it did to me when I typed it? OK, I'll phrase it another way.

Isn't every team going to choose "spot"? Because why would you choose "offense" if the other team has the option to spot the ball on your 1-yard line? And why would any team choose defense, if the other team gets to start at the goal line?

Even if you have Patrick Mahomes, I'm not sure how many teams want to start overtime first-and-99 in the shadow of their own goalposts when a stuffed running back, a penalty in the end zone, or a bad snap could end the game on the first play of overtime because of a safety.

Whether that is determined via coin flip or arbitrarily via who is playing at home or on the road, every team is going to choose "spot."

As has been pointed out to me after I first floated that opinion, the coin flip could allow a team to choose "possession" only after the losing team picks a spot. But no spotting team is ever going to risk placing itself in an extremely bad position on offense or defense.

As PFT has already pointed out, "It's believed that the break-even point would be the 13-yard line. For the 14 or beyond, the team choosing offense or defense will be more likely to take the ball. For the 12 or closer, the team choosing offense or defense will be more likely to opt to defend."

We've already "analytic-ed" this thing to death, and the proposal hasn't even officially been made yet. So, essentially, the coin toss will be controlling everything again anyway.

I'd take the ball anywhere back to the 5-yard line, by the way. But I bet most coaches would take defense at that point. Essentially, isn't that what Tomlin was thinking when he decided to kick off to start overtime in 2019 against the Ravens at Heinz Field?

Remember? Tomlin was so convinced his return team would be pinned inside his own 10-yard line that he'd rather play defense than get the ball that close to his end zone.

In other words, this whole process will be routine and mundane before the first overtime game of 2021.

Some people hate the current overtime format because they think it's too controlled by the coin flip. They don't want the college format in the NFL because it's too easy for pro offenses and kickers (unless you move the start line close to midfield) and it favors the second team on offense too much.

There's no perfect answer. No overtime format is going to be 100% fair to both sides. Yet every offseason we gripe and complain about tweaking the rules.

If "fair" is more important than determining a winner (it isn't, but whatever), the only "fair" thing to do is ditch overtime and make the game end in a tie after 60 minutes. Make the team with the ball last treat that final possession of regulation as do-or-die.

The Ravens like their idea because they run the ball well, can grind a short overtime clock, and if they start at the 15 instead of the 25, so what? What's 10-15 yards of field position if your kicker is Justin Tucker?

Well, unless it's a windy night in Buffalo, I suppose.

Baltimore's plan might be interesting the first few times you see it — if the fans in the stands and viewers can figure out what the heck is happening. But, in time, this is going to be a perfunctory exercise that is just going to amount to the coin flip deciding which team assigns who starts with the ball at roughly the 15-yard line.

Or we could just leave it alone.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.