Hot Reads - Week 12
by Jeff Pasquino
November 21st, 2012

Welcome to "Hot Reads". The general purpose of this column will be to collect some of my thoughts and observations throughout the NFL season as we go along - from waiver wire comments, how to get the most out of the Footballguys site, or anything else football related that comes to mind. It will mostly be a free-flowing, stream of consciousness - that means that there's no predicting what I might talk about in a given week. So...welcome to my world...

Sports Bar Sunday

For those of you who prefer to watch NFL games in the comfort of your living room, either on cable or with your DirecTV package (I admit it, that's usually me), I have to tell you something. Get out and get to a sports bar to watch the NFL at least once a season, if not more. If you have season tickets for your team, great – go out there on a road game week. Find a week that works for you and just do it. Socializing with the rest of the people in the bar and talking football, fantasy football, picking games, the league in general – it just cannot be beat.

I had just one of those kinds of Sundays this past week as I was watching the 1:00 PM games at one of the local Green Turtle restaurants (note, they don't pay me for that endorsement, but I would certainly entertain their call if they contacted me...) with all the games on the wall, and I just sat down, ordered lunch and a beverage and took in all the early games. After a while (and realizing that Philadelphia is beyond dysfunctional) I started to talk to everyone around me – a Redskins fan, a Steelers fan, a diehard Texans fan (and she was beside herself all game long in her J.J. Watt jersey) and even a couple from Green Bay – where else are you going to find a diverse group of football fans to talk about the NFL over a drink and a meal? We watched every early game (except the Jets-Rams, which was on somewhere but not in view, and no one seemed to mind missing that game), and three contests headed into overtime. How great is that? Speaking of which....

Overtime Clock Management

Last week we had the first tie in four years between San Francisco and St. Louis, and then this week we had three games go into overtime in the early Sunday contests. Watching all of these games, it dawned on me – the new overtime rules are going to give us MORE tie games, not fewer. Hear me out, and welcome to my world....

The new overtime rules afford each team a possession (unless the first possession ends in a touchdown or safety). Considering that the two teams playing in that contest are pretty even (just look no further than the scoreboard at the end of regulation), it seems rather likely that there will be similar drives for each team on their first touch of the ball in the overtime – either no score or a field goal.

Look closer at the SF-STL game. The 49ers and Rams each had the ball once for a combined 6:53 of the overtime period without a score. The Rams had a second possession that ended with a long field goal miss (after a made one was nullified by a penalty) with just 2:48 left to play. Each team had a hurried possession in the final minutes of the contest before the clock expired.

Now to this week. Houston scored a field goal on their first drive, which consumed almost seven minutes of overtime. The Jaguars answered back with a field goal that left just 4:21 to play. Houston had a quick three-play drive that ended in an interception but the Jaguars had a short 3-and-out possession. The Texans did score two plays later on a long touchdown pass to Andre Johnson with just over two minutes to go.

Dallas and Cleveland was similar in a way – both teams had a possession in overtime, and after the Browns had the ball there was just 9:39 to play – enough time for the Cowboys to set up a winning field goal with a little over six minutes left on the clock. Tampa Bay and Carolina also went to extra time, with the Bucs making relatively short time of it by scoring a touchdown on the opening drive, but it took over four minutes to score.

So what is my point in all of this, and what do I make of it? I think that, in a close game that heads to overtime, it is very likely that a team will have to touch the ball more than once to win the contest. Judging by the four games I looked at, more than half of overtime is going to be exhausted in the first two possessions – which starts to make the clock a big factor. Fewer time outs (just two in overtime) and the clock running after out of bounds play until the final two minutes of the quarter (as if it is the fourth quarter) will lead to fewer possessions, closer contests and – ultimately – more tie games.

What's my solution? While I understand that you cannot play indefinitely for a regulation game, especially with games on Thursdays now (imagine a team playing 90+ minutes on Sunday, followed by a road game on Thursday? Me either.), they have to make a compromise here. First, all plays out of bounds have to stop the clock. Second, each team can have three time outs. Third – and most importantly – play the overtime as if it was an extra HALF, not a QUARTER. Adding all three of those would increase the likelihood of not having a tie, and also keep the game from going indefinitely. Sure, games could go into a sixth quarter, but that would be rare and the exception to the norm. The key item here is that we are now expecting two possessions at least, so they need to allow for more time to decide a winner, which is what everyone wants.

Get Those Guys Out of There!

While I understand the backlash at Bill Belichick (and really, couldn't I just stop there?) for the Rob Gronkowski injury, but I completely side with the head coach here. You can't sub out everyone, and especially on special teams. Gronkowski is on the extra point team and for him to get hurt on that play is very odd and random – but it can and does happen. There are far better questions to ask, which include why was Tom Brady still in the game when the Patriots were up by four touchdowns? Secondly, if Brady is not in the game, maybe they don't score and Gronkowski isn't out there on an extra point try in the first place....

I'd ask Andy Reid the same question in the other direction if I had the chance last Sunday after leaving LeSean McCoy on the field with a few minutes left and the score 31-6, Washington. McCoy suffered a concussion on his final play of the game, a meaningless carry late in the fourth quarter.

While I get that you cannot sub everyone out, the key skill players should certainly earn a little rest (and protection) for the next game, especially on a short week like New England has this week. Brady and McCoy are the stars of their team and they should not have been put at risk. Another reason that Reid should be under fire this week – not that he needs more reasons.....

Contenders and Pretenders – Week 12

Continuing from last week, this time with just comments to the Contenders and Pretenders. The rest can all fall off the wayside now as we start to see who is really who, and who we should not discuss (aside from one team):

AFC Week 12

  • AFC Contenders (6) – New England, Baltimore, Houston, Denver, Pittsburgh, and Indianapolis. All of these teams should be in the AFC playoffs. Houston survived a scare from Jacksonville but New England looked dominant again. Denver is very safe atop the AFC West, and Baltimore and Pittsburgh battled each other like usual on Sunday Night Football. Indianapolis may not be ready to face a New England-type team, but they should be there when all is said and done as the last Wild Card.
  • AFC Pretenders (2) – Cincinnati (Chiefs games should not count) and San Diego (another bad loss against Denver). I now think neither make the postseason.
  • AFC "Never Surrenders" (2) – (Teams we never know who will show up from week to week) – Miami and Buffalo. These two squared off last Thursday and it was a yawner, but either team can compete with anyone each week.
  • AFC Mind Benders (1) –Oakland. They can score 30+ any given week while they give up 30+ as well.
  • AFC Season Enders (5) – (also known as teams scouting college players already) – New York Jets, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City, and Tennessee.
  • NFC Week 12

  • NFC Contenders (5) – Chicago, Atlanta, Green Bay, San Francisco, and the New York Giants. Even with backup quarterbacks in play (or is Kaepernick the new starter?), these five teams look like postseason locks.
  • NFC Pretenders(3) – Dallas, New Orleans, and Seattle. Only one of these makes the playoffs. Seattle had a bye, Dallas barely survived in overtime at home against Cleveland, but the Saints continued to roll after a bad 1-4 start on the year. Trust me, none of the five contenders wants to see Drew Brees in January.
  • NFC Mind Benders (4) – (Teams we never know who will show up from week to week) – Detroit, St. Louis, Minnesota, and Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers and Vikings have outside shots at the playoffs, but the schedules are just too hard for both.
  • NFC Season Enders (4) – (also known as teams scouting college players already) – Washington, Carolina, Philadelphia, and Arizona.
  • That will do it for this week. I hope you enjoyed this window into my world. Until next time...

    As always, questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.

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