- MMQB staffers are offering up their bad takes this week, and actually, ties in the NFL are memorable and fun.
Welcome to Bad Takes Week, where MMQB staffers have been asked to expand upon some of their worst football takes. These are columns on the ideas they believe in strongly, even if it makes the rest of the room groan during our pitch meetings. Keep an eye out for more of these throughout the week.
What are you hoping for when you sit down to watch a football game? Probably for your favorite team to win, your rival team to lose, your bets to cash and your fantasy players to score. But if you have no rooting interest in the game, your wish list might look something like this: A close game, a fun game, a memorable game.
With that list in mind, I’m ready to make my contribution to the MMQB’s Bad Takes Week: Ties are fun.
Think back to your favorite games of the 2018 season. I’ve said before the NFL season is a perfectly digestible size—the tidy 267-game slate is enough to offer variety and unpredictability, but a small enough amount to consume pretty much all of them. Come February, those of us who pay close enough attention can remember specific details from more than 100 of them. Maybe 200. But many games remain in the memory bank, and I’d venture to guess that ties take up a disproportionate amount of that space. To wit, here’s one from 2018 I think we’ll remember for a long time: Browns 21, Steelers 21 in Week 1.
It was objectively funny that that the Browns finally snapped their 17-game losing streak with a tie. That Hue Jackson raised his record in Cleveland to 1-31-1. That people weren’t allowed to open the Bud Light Victory Fridges.
And as the Browns lost by three points on a last-minute field goal the following week, then stumbled into three more overtimes in the next five games, you can’t tell me with a straight face you weren’t downright giddy at the prospect that the hapless, not-yet-turned-around Browns could tie again. You would have laughed if you were scrolling through the standings and saw “Cleveland: 2-3-2” mixed in with all the other normal teams having normal seasons.
A tie might not be the most satisfying ending to a game, but the infrequency with which they occur sprinkles some delightful charm over the rest of the season. The NFL’s third outcome also happens just rarely enough to make some peoples’ brains melt.
Colts coach Frank Reich basically gave away half a game in the standings because in his fourth game as an NFL coach he refused to play for a tie. So he went for a fourth-and-four at his own 43 with just 24 seconds left instead of pinning the Texans back deep and avoiding the L. His spirit, and his insistence after the game that he’d do it again every time, was admirable, in a way, I guess. But in a much more grounded sense, if I was asked to assess his decision making, it was indefensible. (For the record, I’m very much in favor of aggressive fourth-down calls, but not that far from the end zone with so little time left. At some point you have to be a realist.) It was a bad move at the time, and if you want to tell me that his go-for-the-win attitude is the reason his Colts reeled off nine wins in their final 10 games, I’d argue that sounds like confirmation bias.
I enjoy when ties wreak havoc on the playoff picture, like when the Panthers entered Week 17 in 2014 knowing that a tie against Atlanta would give them a division title at 6-8-2. I will never forget Jim Mora getting fined for using a cell phone on the sideline during a game, because he was trying to find out how a tie would affect his team’s playoff scenarios.
Every time a team is a threat to finish 9-6-1—I swear this somehow happens—some people try to claim that they shouldn’t automatically get to advance to the playoffs over a team that went 9-7. Let me tell you something about those people: They are either arguing in bad faith or they’re bad at math. Don’t let them do your taxes.
The fact that last season we entered Game 256 (which I’ve long called the crown jewel of the NFL’s primetime slate) with three teams alive for the final playoff berth—because the Titans and Colts were in win-and-in scenarios, with the Steelers having completed their season, but knowing that a tie between two other teams would vault them into a Wild Card game—was preposterously amusing.
Now listen, I’m not saying I want ties every week. I don’t think we need a return to life in 1932, when the lone playoff game matched the 6-1-6 Bears against the 6-1-4 Portsmouth Spartans, with the 10-3-1 Packers sitting at home. But a few a year would be fine. A team with two ties in a single season for the first time since the NFL instituted a sudden death overtime in 1974 would be an enjoyable novelty. Seeing it every year would probably get tiresome.
Some people who have issues with ties are actually just mad about overtime. (I wrote a solution to tweak overtime. Much too smart for Bad Takes Week, though.) But don’t let complaints about overtime from some 2018 Chiefs fan, ’16 Falcons fan, ’11 Steelers fan or whoever cloud your judgment on ties.
We’ve seen seven ties this decade, including two in both 2016 and ’18. Recent rules shortening OT to 10 minutes and continuing the game if a team makes a field goal on the opening drive make it even easier to tie, and the result can be fun and memorable. If ties ever get you down, just picture Bruce Arians and Pete Carroll reacting to missed field goals at the end of a 6-6 slugfest.
Ties are not always necessarily my favorite games of the year. And, again, I don’t want all ties. (Though the thought of an 0-0-16 season seems just dystopian enough to be beautiful.) But they provide just a little bit of anarchy to keep things interesting. There are few enough of them that ties are fun.
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