In American football, the winner of the coin toss can make a choice now (usually to receive the kick-off which starts the game), or can defer their choice to the second half (thus having the option to receive the kick-off in the second half).

Suppose there were two evenly matched teams, and the halftime score were 17-16. Before evaluating their chances, I would want to know (at least) one more thing.

If the 17-point team had deferred, and was now receiving the ball in the third quarter, I would consider it ahead, both on points and on the "deferred" reception.

But suppose this right belonged to the 16-pointer. Would the deferred reception give them the better chance of winning?

The value of this could be no more than a touchdown, and probably a lot less. It may not even be the value of a field goal.

Are there any estimates or quantifications of the deferred reception privilege, and the "extra" possession privilege that it confers?

  • 3
    You'd need a lot more information, such as the relative strengths of the offense and defense of the two teams, and the ability of the placekicker to cause a touchback (barring that, the relative abilities of the coverage team/return team to influence the starting yardline). If the two teams are evenly matched, and the starting yard line is the 20, I believe it isn't worth any extra points.
    – Snowbody
    Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 3:06
  • 1
    The average margin of victory is 3 pts, and the deferrer's win percentage is 54.9 Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 0:08
  • 2
    This link may provide insight on this question.
    – user527
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 18:18
  • @Snowbody: You do not need this information, and the reason is that I am assuming "random" teams drawn from the history of football, where one team had the one point advantage at halftime, and the other had the advantage of receiving the kick.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 17, 2018 at 16:13

2 Answers 2


Since 2008, the average NFL team scored 11.21 points per half(1). If each team has about 6 possessions per half, that would appear to be 1.86 points per possession(2).

Whether it comes into play or not is another question. By taking the ball to start Q3 you add to the chance that your opponent will get the ball the expected 6 times, but game plan, effectiveness, injuries and turnovers can affect the Time of Possession and actual possessions.

The next question might be: "What percentage of the time does a deferring team get 1 (or) more second-half possession(s) than the opponent?"

  1. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/years/NFL/scoring.htm
  2. https://www.quora.com/How-many-possessions-per-game-does-a-team-average-in-the-NFL
  • 1
    I don't see how this answers the question. It's just a bunch of statistics that are vaguely related.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 17:15
  • I the author, agree. I don't think it can be quantified precisely. I think these are good metrics, but an incomplete set of them. This is a boolean question, whose answer is now Yes. Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 18:12
  • I consider this a ballpark estimate that is reasonably close.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 11:29
  • Where is the answer? If you are answering the question you would have the average points for 1st half vs 2nd half. The fact is most of the time you would always want the ball. But in the very slim chance that you don't want the ball (bad bad weather and you have a lead) the other team would need the ball. So by deferring you are guaranteed equal standing (starting each half with one possession for each team) or better standing (kicking off twice with really bad weather and a lead). This is just one of a few scenarios to think about though.
    – Coach-D
    Commented Dec 25, 2016 at 7:32
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    An answer is implied in the question. If the deferring team gets an extra possession, that is worth an average of 1.86 points, which is greater than the 1 point lead in the question. Accepted (and earlier upvoted).
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 8:36

Although having the ball in the beginning of the second half means you'd have at least as many drives as the other team, you can't really translate a possession to points. Your question really depends on the game. For example, if the game is happening in poor weather conditions, then having the ball doesn't increase a team's chances of winning much. They just need to make efficient drives. Or if the game has been very defensively dominant by both teams, you can argue that having the ball one more time than your opponent does not give you an edge.

After all, games are won by points and nothing else matters as much. A team could win with less time of possession given they are more efficient offensively and can create turnovers defensively.

  • 2
    You can most certainly (statistically) translate a possession into points: Seamus does so above, and that statistic is meaningful.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 17:15
  • I disagree! He just gave us an expected value for the amount of points a team can score on a possession. Scoring 1.86 point per possession isn't something that happens in reality. That's just an average. The Denver Broncos lost to the New England Patriots 16 to 3 last week. This doesn't mean they had only 2 possessions!
    – alamoot
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 23:12
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    From a statistics point of view, you can translate possessions into expected points scored. That's what the question is asking; yes, you can't say "they will definitely score this" since if you could why play the game, but you're nitpicking on a question clearly asking for a statistical treatment without the technical language.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 23:14
  • Statistically you can argue that possession can be translated to points. However, taking the average of the points is not enough. Each football down is different: from the players, the number of times the teams have played before, the weather, previous drives and etc. As far as I know there is no accurate translation of possession to points. The number given above is very loosely calculated. The point I'm trying to make is that yes it is better to have more possessions, it gives you more chance to score. But that doesn't mean every team is as well off starting the second half 1 point behind.
    – alamoot
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 23:25

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