Majority of NFL coin toss winners now defer choice of whether to receive until second half

Winning the coin toss no longer usually leads to receiving the opening kickoff.

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A flip of a rule … a flip of a coin … and a flip of a coach’s thought process have flipped a trend in the NFL. 

And it was never more evident than during Sunday’s day games, when seven of the 10 teams that won the coin toss elected to defer on the opening kickoff. 

What does that mean from a technical standpoint?

Here’s the rule: 

Rule 4, Section 2, Article 2: Not more than three minutes before the kickoff of the first half, the Referee, in the presence of both team’s captains (limit of six per team, all of whom must be uniformed members of the Active List) shall toss a coin at the center of the field. Prior to the Referee’s toss, the call of “heads” or “tails” must be made by the captain of the visiting team, or by the captain designated by the Referee if there is no home team. Unless the winner of the toss defers his choice to the second half, he must choose one of two privileges, and the loser is given the other. The two privileges are:

(a)  The opportunity to receive the kickoff, or to kick off; or

(b)  The choice of goal his team will defend 

What does that mean from a practical standpoint? 

The number of teams that won the opening coin toss and chose to defer has dramatically increased since the rule was adopted for the 2008 season — from 38 percent to 68 percent.

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2012: 55 percent

2013: 65 percent

2014: 68 percent (through Sunday’s day games)

This doesn’t really surprise me. But what does is this: It took a lot to get this rule passed back in 2008 when I was still the NFL’s vice president of officiating. It took a lot of persuasion with a lot of established coaches, who really didn’t want to have to make another decision. 

That was one of the problems with instant replay as well. Coaches didn’t like the challenge system because they didn’t want to be forced to make yet another coaching decision. But I kept an eye on the rule about deferring since it was passed in college game, and it seemed more and more teams in the NCAA were deferring. 

I guess you’d have to ask a coach why he’d choose to defer, but coaches who deferred always told me that they’d rather have the ball to open the second half than the first half. Plus, it’s the only opportunity where your team can end up with ball on two consecutive possessions. 

For example, if you have the ball and score at the end of the first half on the last play, then you get the ball back to start the second half. That’s a big momentum play. The opportunity to have the ball twice in a row — as the numbers clearly reflect — is beginning to sway a lot of coaches to defer on the opening coin toss. 

And it doesn’t stop with the regular season. Check this out: Since the rule was adopted, in four of the past five Super Bowls the team that won the coin flip deferred, preferring to open the second half with possession rather than the first. 

So with a few flips, it’s suddenly becoming a very hip trend in the NFL to defer.