A version of this article first appeared in the June/July 2012 issue of Game Developer magazine.
Football is a sport with a lot of situational game decisions – the plays that the coaches call are going to be very different if they are sitting on a 30 point lead are going to be very different than when they are down a field goal with two and a half minutes to go. Indeed, the fact that the playbook varies so strongly based on the situation is one of the reasons why football can be so deep and strategic – the team that is behind needs to score quickly and needs to leverage certain rules, such as running out of bounds, in order to stop the clock. Defenses adjust in order to limit these likely plays from happening, but often in doing so leave the field open for a high-risk, high yield play.
This kind of play is interesting, but there is another kind of situational play in football that is more strategic and less tactical – teams spend a considerable amount of time preparing for every game. Most football teams only bring a limited number of plays they will call, and so time is spent studying the opponent’s film. If they have a prolific quarterback, defenses may opt to sacrifice run defense in favor of better pass defense. A key injury on the other team might prompt an attempt to exploit the second string player taking his place. Even the weather factors in – heavy rains may prompt a coach to abandon the passing game, and strong winds may limit the effectiveness of a kicker. Continue reading