Five years ago, Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked which team he roots for. He said the team that’s trailing.
That’s the best approach for the NFL’s business interests. If the losing team closes the gap, the game becomes more interesting. If the losing team falls farther behind, viewers go check what’s new on Netflix.
So with the new kickoff formation making it harder for the team that is losing late in the game to keep possession, the Broncos have proposed the fourth-and-15 concept as a way to keep the ball when a team is desperate to tie or win the game. Seven of eight members of the Competition Committee have endorsed the proposal, giving it enhanced chances of prevailing when the owners vote.
But at a time when members of the Competition Committee like to use the possibility of “unintended consequences” as a fly swatter, there is one specific potential unintended consequence of the fourth-and-15 approach that the owners should recognize before casting their votes. As noted by Chris Simms on Monday’s PFT Live, who was grasping for any reason to disagree with my own support of the idea, the standard fourth-and-15 conversion rate may not be the best way to predict success if fourth and 15 becomes the late-game replacement for the onside kick.
In those situations, the defense will be expected — after a potentially lengthy scoring drive — to suck it up for one more play, with no real break. And if the offense converts, the defense continues to be stuck on the field, perhaps through another lengthy scoring drive. Depending on the depth of the hole that the losing team had dug for itself, this process could lather-rinse-repeat until the defense of the winning team collapses in exhaustion.
While that’s an extreme example, the point is this: The fourth-and-15 replacement for the onside kick won’t be an apples-to-apples simulation of the normal fourth-and-15 play. So if the Competition Committee or anyone else will be using those statistics as a way to sell the approach, the owners need to realize that past success of fourth and 15 will be the floor, not the ceiling, for its conversion rate.