There are many reasons NFL teams have a specific philosophy on whether to receive the opening kickoff or to defer to the second half. Some coaches prefer to try to get a lead right away. Other coaches attempt to get the final position of the first half and the first possession of the second. Other coaches make their decision based on what would inhibit their opponent the most. And some coaches change it up from week to week.
For the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers, it seems to be more of trend to defer to the second half. With the Steelers only scoring on their opening possession in three of their 13 games, I understand Mike Tomlin’s choice. In fact, the Steelers have more three and outs (four) than scoring drives to open games. For the second half, the Steelers have six scoring drives (five touchdowns and one field goal) while only going three and out twice.
It seems it would be obvious the Steelers would defer to the second half if given the option against the New England Patriots. Additionally, New England is notorious for trying to double up their scores by differing. But in 2018, their scoring statistics seem to suggest otherwise. The Patriots have scored on seven of their opening drives of the game (five touchdowns and two field goals) while scoring on six opening drives of the second half (three touchdowns and three field goals). Although the number of drives in which they have scored is only a difference of one, the Patriots have scored 10 more total points to open the first half then they have to open the second.
When it comes to scores given up by either team, they are both basically even between opening possessions of either half. The Steelers have given up four touchdowns and one field goal in 2018 at the start of each half. The Patriots have given up three touchdowns and three field goals to their opponents on their opening drive while giving up three touchdowns and two field goals to their opponents to start the third quarter.
Since the game is being played at Heinz Field, it is important to note all of the Steelers games in which they have scored on their opening possession have been at home. So if only looking at home games, the Steelers have an even distribution of three touchdowns in their first drive of each half. The Steelers have given up twice as many scoring drives to start the first half at Heinz Field then they do after coming out from halftime.
When on the road in 2018, the Patriots are pretty much even with their scoring between their first possession of each half. When it comes to points given up, they have surrendered 11 more points on opening drive of the game that they have on drives which occur just after halftime.
One other factor in the coin-flip decision is if a team is more likely to score, or give up a score, at the end of the first half. The Patriots have scored two touchdowns and two field goals within the last minute of the first half of the season. On the flipside, they’ve also given up two touchdowns and one field goal at the end of the first half.
It is in the final one minute of the first half where the Steelers have excelled this season. They have scored a league-high six touchdowns in the final minute of the second quarter. Additionally they have given up the second fewest points in the last minute of the first half, surrendering a single touchdown in Cincinnati. The Steelers are second in this category only to Chicago’s six points given up. In fact, the Steelers lead the league in points surrendered in the final three minutes of the first half, only giving up 10 points on the season.
So now that all the numbers have been spewed forth, a decision needs to be made whole on what would be better for the Steelers if they happen to win the coin toss. Technically, the numbers say to take the ball since they are at home. Being even on their scoring distribution, they would be of greater benefit because the Patriots are likely to give up more points to start the game than they are at the beginning of the second half. Additionally, the Steelers are much more likely to score to end of the first half and not give up a score, making it more difficult for New England to pull off the back-to-back scores sandwiched by halftime.
I admit I generally prefer the Steelers differ. But after researching the statistics, I believe the Steelers would have more benefit in gaining the lead first in the game. Additionally, they are statistically more likely to get the final score of the first half. In 2018, the Steelers have yet to give up a any points in the final five minutes of the first half at Heinz Field.
The whole over analyzation of the situation may be insignificant since the Steelers only have a 50/50 chance of it being their decision.
And they don’t even get to call the flip.