Handicapping NFL Overtime Rule Changes
by Trevor Whenham - 4/9/2010
The NFL as a league is very good at a lot of things. Unfortunately, one of those things is making knee jerk reactions instead of considered decisions. A perfect example of that is the decision to change the overtime playoff rules this offseason. There is no doubt that the NFL's playoff format is broken and in need of a massive change. The way they went about doing it, though, just didn't make any sense. They forced the rule change through very quickly and without consulting the coaches, and then they only made the change apply to the playoffs instead of the regular season where overtime obviously occurs more times each year. On top of it all, the rule changes that they made are just band-aid solutions, and don't change the underlying problem - that overtime is a matter of luck not skill thanks to the coin flip.
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The changes are pretty straightforward. Up until now overtime has been sudden death - the first team to score wins. Now, the team that wins the coin flip will win the game only if they score a touchdown. If they kick a field goal on the first possession then the other team gets a chance. If the second team ties it up then the game becomes sudden death. The point is to avoid what happened in New Orleans' victory over the Vikings in the NFC Championship - New Orleans won the toss, completed a couple of passes, and kicked an easy field goal for the win. Wanting to avoid that is noble, but this new rule is still going to create laughably obnoxious moments in playoff games. The league won't solve this problem until they just let the teams play a full extra quarter to decide the outcome. The league is entirely controlled by the TV networks, though, so that will never happen because of the scheduling headaches it would cause.
Whether you like the new rules or not, the one thing you can be sure of, just like with any major happening in sports, is that there are going to be ways for you to bet on it. Bodog is one of the sportsbooks that has several overtime props available to help you consider, and profit from, the rule changes. Here's a look at the best and most interesting of those props:
Will any games in the 2011 Playoffs go into overtime? - This one seems pretty straight forward - at least in terms of spotting the value. There have been overtime games in each of the last four years, and 14 overtime games in the last 16 years. Given that, betting that there will be an overtime game next year at just -130 is pretty nice value. It's certainly more attractive betting that there won't be one at even money.
If a 2011 playoff game goes into overtime, which team will win? - This is where it gets more interesting. Since 1994 when the spot of the kickoff was changed for overtime, the team that has won the coin flip (assuming that they choose to receive) have won 59.8 percent of games. Based on that, betting that the team that wins the coin flip will win, given that they are at -130 in this prop, would be nicely profitable. But what impact is this rule change going to have, and what will that do to the profitability here? The math gets a little complicated, but based on the potential outcomes under the new format, and the frequency with which each has occurred over time (i.e. how often a team scores a touchdown after a kickoff from the 30-yard line, and so on), the team that wins the coin flip if going to win about 56 percent of the time. That's an improvement over the current system, but hardly revolutionary, and it still gives way too much significance to the coin flip. What that improvement does do unfortunately, is rob this prop of any profit potential. At 56 percent, betting on the winner of the coin flip at -130 would not be profitable, but betting on the team that didn't win the coin flip at even money would be even worse. Unless you like losing money over the long term this prop is a pass.
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If a 2011 playoff game goes to overtime will it end with a TD or a field goal? - The TD pays +175, so the trick is to see if that's attractive. Thinking about this one is sure to make your head hurt because there are so many possible outcomes. First, the team that wins the coin toss could score a TD. They are going to be more inclined than they currently are to go for a TD in overtime because that guarantees the win. If they only score a field goal then they second team is going to be more inclined than usual to go for a touchdown to secure the win. If the first team doesn't score at all then the second team is most likely to go for a field goal because that's all they need, but they will inevitably score some touchdowns anyway - it's not like they will stop at the three yard line if they could score a TD just because they only need a field goal. If the game goes into sudden death then the situation is similar - a field goal s far more likely, but a touchdown is possible. To estimate the likelihood of a TD would require too many assumptions to be useful. What we do know, though, is that at +175 teams would only have to score a TD to win 37 percent of the time to break even. Given the stakes in a playoff game and the rewards for both teams for aggressiveness early on it seems likely that games will be won by touchdowns at least that much. That means that this prop bet is quite possibly profitable.