It seems like every NFL season is marred by a missed call or a rule that needs to be changed. But, this year, we saw a terribly missed penalty call in the NFC Championship game that greatly impacted the playoffs and the Super Bowl. It was so egregious that social media blew up with a massive online backlash that even spread to mainstream media outlets who were blasting the NFL for poor officiating and an inadequate instant replay review system.
Unlike previous years where the uproar fell on deaf ears, this offseason saw a significant rule change based on the backlash against the NFL. On March 26th, NFL owners voted to allow pass interference calls and non-calls to be reviewable or challenged. In light of this big rule change, NFL betting sites unveiled a variety of pass interference prop bets for anyone interested in placing NFL bets.
The Terrible Non-Pass Interference Call
With 1:45 left in the 2018-19 NFC Championship game, the Saints were deep in Rams territory when QB Drew Brees tried to complete a 3rd down pass to Tommylee Lewis at the 7 yard line. Rams DB Nickell Robey-Coleman crashed into Lewis and the pass fell incomplete. Everyone including Robey-Coleman thought the ref was going to call pass interference. The ref even grabbed for his flag before deciding to not to call a penalty. The Saints sideline blew up and the fans shook the stadium with frustration.
It was a blatant pass interference and it would’ve changed the outcome of the game. Instead of having it 1st and goal from the 7 yard line, the Saints had to settle for a 31 yard field goal to take the lead and give the ball back to the Rams with about 90 seconds left in the game. If the ref called pass interference, the Saints could’ve run the clock out and kicked a game winning field goal. Instead, the Rams go down and tie the game at the end of regulation then win it in OT.
You can watch the terrible no-call below. Even nearly 3 months later, this missed pass interference call is still a travesty. And, I’m not a fan of either team.
NFL Changes PI Rule for the 2019 Season
At the annual league meetings in Phoenix last month, the NFL owners carefully looked into the pass interference rule change and voted 31-1 to allow pass interference calls and non-PI calls to be challenged or reviewed. However, this rule change is more of a trial run to see if the NFL will implement this for the future. If it has a profound impact on improving the game then the rule will most likely remain. However, if the rule change doesn’t improve gameplay then it will most likely fizzle out and the league returns to its previous policy.
The rule change allows coaches to use one of their challenges on a pass interference penalty or to have a no call be reviewed. All challenges can only take place up to the final two minutes of the first half and the game. After the 2-minute mark, the play will be reviewed at the discretion of the review official.
New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton was happy about the rule change, which is the polar opposite of how irate he was after the non-call back in January:
“We think it was a good change. We’re trying to address the two fouls that most impact games. … The last three years coaches are being a little bit more judicious with their challenges. I think that will continue especially the minor fact that you now have a more meaningful play you can challenge. South of two minutes it’s in replay’s hands, but north of two minutes it’s in your hands. I think it won’t take back the way we watch a game. I just think it’s just two more calls.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell publicly supported this rule change and shared how the league and teams genuinely want to get these plays right.
Not Everyone Supports the Rule Change
For those curious, only Bengals owner Mike Brown voted against this rule change as he’s adamantly opposed to any expansion of replay. Brown believes that the increased interruptions of the game for replays and reviews has hurt the on-field product. Furthermore, he just doesn’t care about fans being upset over the blown PI call in the NFC title game because he feels that every team has those blown calls.
In addition to one owner voting against the pass interference rule change, Rams OT Andrew Whitworth believes that this rule change will cause more animosity and issues:
“It’s tough. Those refs are asked to do a lot of things and they don’t get to slow it down in the moment and that’s what we’re trying to do is find a solution for some of those moments. But man, some of them are so ticky-tacky and tough that you know what, I think you’re going to have teams, really, you’re going to build this kind of animosity that you had after the Saints-Rams game with any game that can come down to a possible hand here or there. Now when you slow it down on a replay, you’re really almost creating more buzz in that way and more arguments for teams. It’ll be interesting to see how it works out, but I think it’s one of those things that can be tough.”
Whitworth does have a point in regards to how this rule change can increase negative attention, animosity and arguments. However, I think most people agree that those issues are much more acceptable than what happened to the Saints in the NFC Championship game.
NFL Pass Interference Prop Bets
Pass interference isn’t just a defensive penalty, it can also take place on the offense as well. However, the frequency of PI calls is at a higher rate on the defense than the offense.
In 2018, there were 249 defensive pass interference penalties called. Only 29 of them ended up being dismissed. It averages out to 7.79 defensive PI calls per team. Keep in mind, the 249 penalties were over a span of 267 games. That’s an average of 0.93 defensive penalties per game.
There was only 85 offensive pass interference calls in 2018, which averaged out to 2.66 per team and .31 calls per game.
When you look at those numbers, you can clearly see that there isn’t as many pass interference calls as some believe or as the perception is. Unfortunately, it’s the significance of these play calls that outweighs the frequency of them. When you add it up, pass interference is only called at a rate of 1.24 flags per game. But, it’s the average of 16 penalty yards per PI call that impacts the game of football.
Armed with that data, let’s look at these prop bets courtesy of BetOnline:
Number of PI Calls Overturned in Week 1
- Over 8.5 (-115)
- Under 8.5 (-115)
If there’s an average of 1.24 PI calls per game, and 16 games during week 1, then we’re looking at nearly 20 PI calls during the opening week. That means if we want to take the Over in this bet, we’re gambling on refs missing or blowing PI calls half of the time. That’s an extremely high percentage. As much as I chastise refs, I can’t see them missing 9 or 10 PI calls per week.
Will a PI Call Be Overturned in 2019 NFL Season Opener?
- Yes (-150)
- No (+120)
If there are going to be 20 PI calls in Week 1 of the 2019 season, and all we are doing is betting that 1 of them will be overturned, then I believe this is a wager to bet “Yes” on. This wager would require that 1 out of 20 calls was incorrect and overturned. It’s not like we’re betting on half of the calls to be overturned like the wager above.
Final Thoughts on the New PI Rule Change
Keep in mind that fans, players, coaches and the media all made a huge deal out of the rule change for lowering your helmet and hitting a player with the crown of your head. Defensive players were arguing against this change and offensive players thought it was impossible to not lower their heads when rushing the ball. Critics of this rule change believed that it would damage the game and impede the flow of play.
In 2018, this penalty was only called 16 times for an average of 0.5 penalty calls per team and 0.06 per game. When looking at the numbers, you will see that the backlash over this lowering the helmet rule was much ado about nothing.
I believe this PI rule will be similar. Unlike Bengals owner Mike Brown, Rams OT Whitworth, and other critics of the PI rule change, the frequency of challenges for pass interference calls and missed calls won’t be a detriment to the game. However, the one time that a review does ‘right a wrong,’ we will all be thankful for the change.
Conversely, when the New England Patriots figure out how to take advantage of this rule change then fans of other NFL teams will be screaming over the rule change being unfair and that the Patriots are cheating. But, that’s a debate for another day.
As for the PI rule change prop bets, I don’t see it being a massive difference in the first week of the NFL, but I do see it being a huge difference once the season is over and we look back on the plays that were overturned.