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What if NFL games were truly 60 minutes long?


Back in 2010, the Wall Street Journal came out with a now-famous article on the amount of time the ball is actually in play during an average NFL game.

"... the average amount of time the ball is in play on the field during an NFL game is about 11 minutes.

In other words, if you tally up everything that happens between the time the ball is snapped and the play is whistled dead by the officials, there's barely enough time to prepare a hard-boiled egg. In fact, the average telecast devotes 56% more time to showing replays."

Therefore, in a given NFL season, there is a total of 2,816 minutes of play during the regular season (assuming no OT games) out of a possible 15,360 minutes. 

So what would the NFL look like if the clock only counted down when the ball was in play - in other words, if the ball is in play for the full 60 minutes or a "ball in play" clock.

To be clear, this article isn't a suggestion that the game needs to change to this type of format. It doesn't. More of a Twilight Zone look at what if...

A TON MORE SCORING: And in Super Bowl 49 the New England Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks 153-131 in a nail-biter...

The average NFL game sees around 44.74 total points scored or approximately 4.07 points per "ball in play" minute.

If the game were to expand to 60 full minutes of "ball in play" we could see this average jump up to 244 average total points scored per game. Imagine, the fantasy football points you'd put up in your league.

In 1990, the San Francisco 49ers beat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV 55-10, which is the largest Super Bowl victory to date. If this game were to be played in this fictional full 60 minute of "ball in play" world, this blowout would have been more like: 300-55.

Of course, the strategy of the game would change significantly as there would be a lot more time to mount comebacks and ensure wins. Maybe the NFL would need to extend the size of the field so that teams would have to cover a much greater distance with all that extra-time so scores don't get too out of hand... instead of 100 yard fields: 600 YARD FIELDS!

A TON MORE SERIOUS INJURIES: Around 1,375 players each year...

Between 2009 and 2013, there were an average of 252 NFL players on the reserve lists with injuries around the end of the regular season. 

While I'm unable to determine if those injuries all occurred during "ball in play" time for the sake of this article, lets assume that this is our best measure of injury evidence. 

This means that there is a serious injury at a rate one injury for every 11.2 minutes of "ball in play" time. 

If playing time was expanded from 2,816 total "ball in play" minutes to the full 15,360 possible minutes we'd be looking at 1,375 players ending up on reserve lists with injuries (note: in a given NFL season there are about 1,915 players who play at least one game).

Of course, it would be impossible for players to maintain the intensity of play that they currently perform in a full 60 minute game. So either we'd be looking at a significantly greater number of dressed players (currently 46 but in this imaginary world could be something like 251) or a much lower intensity of play... thing the Pro Bowl all season long.

RECORD INFLATION: Brett Favre is the all-time career passing leader with 391,845 career passing yards...

With all of the extra-time that is now being played in the league, there is a lot more time to put up crazy numbers for the record books.

Over his career, Brett Favre put up a total of 71,838 passing yards and 508 passing touchdowns over his 302 game career - this averages out to 21.6 passing yards and 0.153 per "ball in play" minute. Had he played in a league with a full 60-minute "ball in play" games, with all else being equal, Brett Favre would've put up something more along the lines of 391,845 passing yards and 2,770 passing touchdowns.

Here are a few more revised records if the game was expanded to a full 60 "ball in play"...

Single season passing yards leader: Peyton Manning - goes from 5,477 to 29,875 passing yards
Single season passing touchdowns leader: Peyton Manning - goes from 55 to 300 passing touchdowns
Career sacked leaders: Brett Favre - goes from 525 to 2,867 times sacked

Single season rushing yards leader: Eric Dickerson - goes from 2,105 to 11,482 rushing yards
Career rushing yards leader: Emmitt Smith - goes from 18,355 to 100,118 rushing yards

Single season receiving yards leader: Jerry Rice - goes from 22,895 to 124,882 receiving yards
Career receiving yards leader: Calvin Johnson - goes from 1,964 to 10,712 receiving yards

Of course, as mentioned previously, if the game ever did move towards a full 60-minute "ball in play" world, the ability of players to play in 16 full games would greatly decline and the pace of the game would change significantly, which would make all of the above records nearly impossible perfect scenarios.

So before the NFL implements a "ball in play" clock where time only counts down when the ball is in play there is a lot of other areas of improvement that fans would like to see in the NFL like allowing coaches to challenge what they want or eliminating ties or bringing back male cheerleaders...



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