Illegal Contact Flags: Will NFL Scoring Increase?

Written By Mo Nuwwarah on August 15, 2022
illegal contact

Fans and bettors could see increased scoring in the NFL this season, but not thanks to any explosion of skill from opposing offenses. Instead, the officiating may play a role, specifically enforcement of illegal contact penalties.

Such penalties have increased in volume dramatically early in the preseason, and scoring has increased, potentially as a result. Bettors must remain aware of this development and respond accordingly if the increased emphasis carries over into the regular season.

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What Is Illegal Contact And Why Does It Increase Scoring?

Illegal contact prevents defenders from initiating contact to impede receivers while the QB remains in the pocket. Thus, it allows for more free movement for offensive players. While only a five-yard flag, it gives the offense an automatic first down.

The NFL competition committee included enforcement of illegal contact in its “points of clarification” sent to officials for 2022. And the flags have flown frequently thus far in the preseason. According to ESPN’s play-by-play, preseason officials threw 15 flags for illegal contact in preseason Week 1. By contrast, just 36 such flags occurred in the entire regular season last year.

The two previous times the NFL opted to emphasize enforcement of this rule, corresponding flags skyrocketed by about triple the previous season’s total.

Early Preseason Totals Soaring Over

After a few years of mostly increased scoring — the average team’s score went from 21.7 in 2017 to 24.8 in 2020 — that number dipped to 23 in 2021.

Now, other factors besides penalties are clearly at play here. Many theorized the lack of crowd noise in COVID-affected 2020 greatly helped quarterbacks adjust play calls at the line of scrimmage. Veterans like Aaron Rodgers enjoyed resurgent campaigns.

But regardless of the reason for the dip, the fact remains it happened. And the NFL has made no secret of the fact it wants increased scoring.

Any bettor who opted to fire Over every total thus far in the preseason has reaped a handsome reward. Such bets have gone 14-3.

The 22 points scored per team doesn’t jump off the page when keeping the above numbers in mind. However, that actually represents an enormous jump from Week 1 of the 2021 preseason, which saw just 16 points scored per team. Because offense requires precise execution and coordination, it’s often thought that defenses start the season “ahead” of offenses, particularly with backups on the field.

Have sportsbooks adjusted NFL totals for Preseason Week 2? Let’s take a look at how this week’s numbers compare. Preseason Week 2 totals via DraftKings Sportsbook.

 Average Total (Rounded)Average Points Scored Per Team
Preseason Week 13522
Preseason Week 240.5TBD

Remember that the 35 average total may actually undersell the adjustment as well, as the market could have reacted to the flood of early overs by increasing the number in the Sunday games.

Clearly the market has decided an adjustment is needed. We’ll see this coming week if the increased scoring persists.

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Mo Nuwwarah

Mo Nuwwarah got his start in gambling early, making his first sports bet on his beloved Fab Five against the UNC Tar Heels in the 1993 NCAA tournament. He lost $5 to his dad and got back into sports betting years later during a 15-year run in the poker industry. A 2011 journalism graduate from Nebraska-Omaha, he combines those skills with his love of sports and statistics to help bettors make more informed decisions with a focus on pro football, baseball and basketball.

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