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April 22, 2024
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Super Bowl LVIII will give every team something to think about regarding postseason OT

Super Bowl LVIII will give every team something to think about regarding postseason OT

Six days later, the decision made by the 49ers at the outset of overtime in Super Bowl LVIII continues to be a talking point in league circles.

And for good reason. It was the first time the 2022 rule guaranteeing both teams a possession in the postseason was ever used. It led to the first ever “match point” in a Super Bowl, with a championship hinging on whether the 49ers could stop a fourth-and-one play.

But it also provided at least one real-world example of the critical threshold decision as to whether the team that wins the coin toss in overtime should kick, receive, or defer.

Both teams made their decisions before the game. (The 49ers made theirs before the playoffs even started.) Neither team seemed to be inclined to change its plan based on the unique circumstances with which they were presented. That’s really the first big takeaway, in our view. Every team should have a plan, but every team should be ready to ditch the plan.

Here’s one factor that every analytics department should plug into its flow chart: Don’t give Patrick Mahomes a chance to beat you with his first drive in overtime. Because he will.

If you score three, he’ll score six. If you score seven, he’ll score eight. If you don’t score at all, he will. Until someone actually stops him, the only logical conclusion is that he’ll just keep doing it.

Beyond that, all teams will — or at least should — spend more time thinking through every potential wrinkle of the right decision to make when winning the postseason overtime coin toss.

Receive, kick, or defer.

I was initially intrigued by the option to defer, since that would preserve the ability to choose to receive the kickoff that would start the third overtime period, at a time when the game would be in sudden death. But there’s a problem with that. Given the very low likelihood that a postseason game will consume 30 minutes of overtime with no points scored beyond the first two possessions, if the team that wins the toss defers the option with the goal of kicking to start the first overtime period, the other team could still choose to kick.

Regardless, the next time it happens (and hopefully it will happen again and again), we’ll all know more about it. Until then, all teams will have one significant data point to study when revisiting their strategies for what to do if they win the coin toss to start overtime, along with what to do if they lose the coin toss and the other team defers.

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