11 September 2009

How To Improve NFL Overtime

Baseball resolves ties by playing full extra innings. In basketball, tied teams play extra time in 5-minute parcels. Even in soccer and hockey, they get it partly right, with fixed overtime periods preceding those dreaded shootouts. In none of these sports does the game stop at the first score. But in the NFL, overtime consists of a sudden-death period that ends the first time somebody scores. Sometimes, the result of an NFL overtime has some fairness. When both teams are allowed to possess the ball at least once, they can reasonably claim that the OT period tested all of one team against all of the other. (That's why OT works in those other sports.) Unfortunately, many NFL overtimes end after only one possession. When that happens, overtime tests only one of half of the winning team against half the losing team. Yet, the winning team still gets full credit for the win. That's wrong. College football teams use a different scheme, giving each team in a tie game an additional possession at the same place (usually the near 25-yard line). The team that scores more points in its possession wins the game. In case of tie, the teams get another possession and try again. That's more fair than sudden-death, but each team gets more than a couple of chances, it can occasionally take a while. Let's review: NFL overtime doesn't work fairly, but the best fix, the college OT scheme, takes too long for the NFL to implement. The good news is, I have a solution. Enter Victory Weighting. The basic idea is this:
The winner of an NFL game should get more credit if they do it in regulation.
If overtime is required, the winners shouldn't get full credit for the win. On the other hand, the loser of an overtime should get a little credit for forcing overtime in the first place. To enforce this principle, we just add another column to the standings. In addition to a won-loss record, each team receives a Strength score. Every game played adds up to four points to a team's Strength, based on how the team fared:
  • Regulation win: +4 Strength
  • Overtime win: +3 Strength
  • Tie: +2 Strength
  • Overtime loss: +1 Strength
  • Regulation win: 0 Strength
For example, as a result of last night's game, the Steelers now have a Strength of 3, while the Titans have Strength 1. Both team's Strengths have been weighted by the fact that their game required overtime. (Hence, the term Victory Weighting.) In most cases, the standings using Victory Weighting will be the same, but there will be deviations, especially during midseason, when some teams have taken their byes while others are still waiting for their weeks off. As we'll see next time, when we review the 2008-9 season, Victory Weighting can also impact playoff bids.

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