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Two-point conversions remain a better bet than extra points

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 14:  Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio holds on to a Microsoft Surface tablet during their game against the St. Louis Rams at Coliseum on August 14, 2015 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

The NFL is now in its second season of moving back the line of scrimmage for extra point kicks to the 15-yard line, and one thing is clear: A two-point conversion is now a better bet than a one-point extra point kick. Now the only question is whether any coach will notice.

So far this season, NFL teams are 17-for-28 (60.7 percent) on two-point conversions and 344-for-361 (95.3 percent) on extra point kicks. That means the typical rate of return on going for two is 1.21 points, while the typical rate of return on kicking the extra point is 0.95 points. All other things being equal, going for two produces more points.

That was the case last season as well: Offenses went 45-for-94 (47.9 percent) on two-point conversions, while kickers went 1,146-for-1,217 (94.2 percent) on extra points. In other words, an extra point kick produced, on average, 0.94 points, while a two-point conversion attempt produced, on average, 0.96 points.

But while Year 2 of the new extra point rule is yielding results that suggest coaches should go for two more often, coaches aren’t doing that. Last year there were, on average, 0.18 two-point conversion attempts per game, and this year there are, on average, 0.18 two-point conversion attempts per game.

Why are coaches still kicking extra points 13 times as often as they go for two, when simple math says a two-point conversion is a better bet? Because coaches are cautious and conservative by nature, and even the smartest coaches do things for no reason other than that’s the way they’ve always been done.

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio went for the two-point conversion and the win when his team scored a late touchdown to pull within a point of the Saints in Week One. It worked. That did not lead to a rush of other coaches showing Del Rio’s guts. But it should have.

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37 Responses to “Two-point conversions remain a better bet than extra points”
  1. stipez says: Oct 15, 2016 7:31 AM

    No one changed their laminated charts, it’s only put more pressure on kickers.

  2. exinsidetrader says: Oct 15, 2016 7:39 AM

    Sooner or later a coach will apply basic math to in-game strategy and decide that his team will ALWAYS go for 2, never punt from inside the opponents 50, and use time-out calls at the end of each half perfectly.

    That coach will not be Andy Reid.

  3. streetyson says: Oct 15, 2016 7:44 AM

    I like the added theory of a 2-point option, but not the format – which is no different from a 3rd-&-goal. Sooo unimaginative. I’d rather have a 45 to 50yd 2-point kick option. This would retain the traditional format, keep kicks in the game (it is FOOT ball after all) and who doesn’t like the drama of a long kick? It also means weather & wind becomes more of a drama/factor (at least outside of domes).

  4. exhelodrvr says: Oct 15, 2016 7:46 AM

    Afraid to go against “accepted wisdom” – same thing with going for it on 4th down under certain conditions.

  5. greglloydrules says: Oct 15, 2016 7:54 AM

    Nobody does it better than the Steelers.

  6. exhelodrvr says: Oct 15, 2016 8:06 AM

    That means an additional point every 4 touchdowns – that could mean 1-2 more victories per year.

  7. 6ball says: Oct 15, 2016 8:32 AM

    The statistics only tell part of the story. Each game is different. They have different feels, flows and rhythms. Who you are playing, where you are playing, the time on the clock, and what’s previously occurred in the game would also be part of a good coach’s equation when deciding whether to go for two.

  8. fmaluf says: Oct 15, 2016 8:35 AM

    Math is not everything. Numbers dont always say the hole story. For example, fake punts have a good rate os success too, but nobody think that teams should aways go for it, because the success is based on surprise factor. Teams dont put the same effort in trainning two point defense. If becomes a thing that happens everytime, the teams will put extra effort on it. And the rate will go down.

  9. tedmurph says: Oct 15, 2016 8:35 AM

    As it gets colder, the disparity should even be greater. Just like the natural deflation of FBs. Never see those stats though.

  10. bucsorbust says: Oct 15, 2016 8:43 AM

    It is still dependent on individual capabilities, of a two-point offense and/or the kicker himself. If you’re Cleveland you’d better kick, if you’re Tampa Bay, you may need to just go for two. If you’re the Steelers, do either.

  11. benwaballs11 says: Oct 15, 2016 8:45 AM

    Whether or not it’s a better value to go for two is largely dependent upon which team’s offense is on the field

  12. cardinealsfan20 says: Oct 15, 2016 9:04 AM

    You don’t have to be a genius to know that calculations regarding the make/miss rates are not the entire story. Game situations also have to be considered. Combine some game theory analysis with the basic calculations, then you’ll have something useful.

  13. jaxcliff says: Oct 15, 2016 9:09 AM

    Except that all things are not equal. The teams that go for two are the ones with the proper offense to mostly ensure they get two. If all teams did it equally, then the numbers would be very, very different. To call the coaches without a powerhouse offense “gutless” is childish and simplistic.

  14. wrlegrand says: Oct 15, 2016 9:12 AM

    This does not take in effect anything about game flow in relation to probability. You can spin it how you want, but the XP is still the surer bet. Coaches don’t want to take points off of the board if they don’t have to. It’s why most don’t go for two until the 4th quarter.

  15. unfairbutbalanced says: Oct 15, 2016 9:17 AM

    Field goals should be on a sliding scale as well
    inside 20 yards – 1 points
    inside 30 yards – 2 points
    inside 40 yards – 3 points
    inside 50 yards – 4 points
    greater that 50 yards – 5 points

    or something similar

  16. cometkazie says: Oct 15, 2016 9:25 AM

    Don’t confuse everybody with the facts!

  17. ineptguy8 says: Oct 15, 2016 9:29 AM

    Generally Tomlin is not considered a great strategist, and for good reason, but you do have to give it to him here. Even though the kicker has been terrific he still lets the offense go for two at a pace way above the league average. Any little advantage can make a difference.

  18. MichaelEdits says: Oct 15, 2016 9:49 AM

    Teams that always go for two, and always go for it on 4th down instead of settling for field goals, don’t have to waste second round draft picks on kickers.

  19. boca12 says: Oct 15, 2016 9:49 AM

    exhelodrvr says:
    Oct 15, 2016 7:46 AM
    Afraid to go against “accepted wisdom” – same thing with going for it on 4th down under certain conditions.


    That’s my thing too. I mean if its 4th and 1 or 2 inside the opponents 50 (like the 40), score close, and you decide to automatically punt because that’s “accepted wisdom” why? You just got 8 yards on 3 downs, your driving, and now you want to give 25% of your current possession (4th down) away with a punt? You have a 50% chance of making the first (either you make it or you don’t), but you’ll never know that you could, if you don’t.

    Is that any better or worse of a chance than throwing deep on 3rd and 8? (50/50 chance of a first)….

    In a war on the battle field, and the red coats are advancing, and in enemy territory, do they just say”..oh, we cannot make another push, lets give it to them and give them another chance?”…Hell no, you take a risk and push them back more (fresh downs, points)..all out attack…..

    You look back at a lot of big plays that kept drives going on unconventional 4th’s, and the eventual win, and people say “wow that was a great call”…conversely, you look at the conservative play of a punt and a loss, and people will bitch be cause the coach was too conservative and didn’t think the team could execute…

    I think the 2 pointer is the same, take the risk…. Although an EP has a slightly better %, the key was the the extra risk of going for two has a reward of an additional point. (cost/benefit) And of course, we never see a one point difference in final scores….lol.

    Just my 2 cents….

  20. stillers213 says: Oct 15, 2016 9:50 AM

    It depends on your offense, the defense you’re facing, the current score, the clock, the opponent’s ability to score, etc.. Too many variables are not taken into account in your analysis.

  21. greg2geez says: Oct 15, 2016 9:57 AM

    Your small sample size is distorting your rate of return but don’t let facts get in the way of your interpretation of statistics.

  22. intentionallywidenberg says: Oct 15, 2016 9:58 AM

    That numerical analysis is too naiive to make decisions from.

    A lot depends on in-game situation. If you’re playing from behind, it often makes more sense to take a 95% chance to make it a 1-score game than a 60% chance.

    Also, the odds are skewed. Coaches who go for 2 are coaches who think their odds of making it are good. If you don’t have a healthy power-back or O-line, you are one-dimensional, and your odds go way down, so you don’t do it. If those teams went for it anyway, the overall success rate would go down. (Probably not below 48%, but it would drop)

    Mike Tomlin was one of the first coaches to go for it — out of necessity, because he didn’t trust his kicker early last season.

  23. lukedunphysscienceproject says: Oct 15, 2016 10:19 AM

    I know it’s popular to label NFL coaches as a bunch of neanderthal half-wits who refuse to embrace change.

    But coaches face a lot of external pressures that are not applied logically either. Let me give you this scenario. A coach adopts the “go for two after every TD” philosophy. It works fairly well, the team appears to be about a win ahead of what people projected. Must win game near the end of the season. Team scores four TDs but for whatever reason has a below average day with their conversions- making only one of the four for a total of 2 points. Team loses by 1, and eventually misses the playoffs by a game.

    You don’t think that coach is getting slaughtered by the fans and the media the next day because if he had kicked four extra points they would have won that game? You think the majority of the fans are going to do the math and realize the team was still better off over the course of the season?

    Scenario two, different game: Coach scores four TDs, kicks four extra points successfully. Team loses by 1. Do you think anyone is going to make the point that if he gotten at least one 2-point conversion the outcome would be different? Doubtful. All they will remember is that the converted all their TDs.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am a math guy. I would like to believe if I were a coach I would go for two EVERY time. But make it sound like such a simple decision is a little unfair to the coaches, IMO.

  24. intrafinesse says: Oct 15, 2016 10:35 AM

    Most coaches are old school and are afraid of change.
    It will take younger coaches to led the way.
    What surprises me is some of the smart older coaches like Belichick are successful, yet the other coaches don’t analyze what they do differently and ask “why are they doing that?”.

  25. h0metownzero says: Oct 15, 2016 10:38 AM

    Yeah, but how do the odds compare when you factor Blair “Wide Left” Walsh out of it?

  26. nknielsen says: Oct 15, 2016 10:44 AM

    You are treating this way to simplistically!

    Risk averse people (which is the vast majority of the population) requires exponentially increased compensation to increase their risk – that’s way you don’t place your pension with your bookie!

    Or to put it another way, if You were willing to play Russian roulette with 1 bullet in the cylinder in exchange for $100, then you probably wouldn’t accept $320 for 3 bullets in the cylinder – despite the better average return.

    The same probably goes for the extra point – the additional compensation is not enough to offset the increased risk.

  27. rootpain says: Oct 15, 2016 10:45 AM

    As stated above, your simple math is both statistically wrong and tactically unsupportable. So that’s probably why the coaches are ignoring your advice.

  28. komzybabyyy says: Oct 15, 2016 10:47 AM

    thats becuz the raiders bring up the average for the rest of these scrubs haha suckers

  29. rainponcho87 says: Oct 15, 2016 11:02 AM

    I think it all about momentum. You just scored a touchdown. You spiked the ball in their end zone with their players watching. Your fans are screaming. You want to cap that off with another little celebration of a made extra point, not a blown 2 point try that hands the momentum back to your opponent on a silver platter.

  30. harrisonhits2 says: Oct 15, 2016 11:31 AM

    I think there are a lot of other factors that coaches take into account that the amateur gms writing for this site don’t and don’t even know exist in some cases.

  31. scoocha says: Oct 15, 2016 3:15 PM

    Why don’t we eliminate the kicking aspect of XPs entirely?
    Make it 1 point from 2-3 yard line
    Make it 2 points from 10 yard line

    Would be much better

  32. exhelodrvr says: Oct 15, 2016 3:16 PM

    Most coaches, and fans, prefer a lower chance of success if it comes with a lower chance of being criticized, than a higher chance of success that comes with a higher chance of being criticized.

  33. binarymath says: Oct 15, 2016 3:43 PM

    If my team misses a PAT kick, the “bad vibe” of that missed point carries through the entire game.

    If my opponent makes a 2-pt attempt, my team is still 1 point worse off, but somehow the psychology is different. The math geek in me does not accept that difference.

    My strategy would be to go for a 2-pointer in the first half (not necessarily the first TD – keep some element of surprise). If I make the 2, that puts the “odd point” pressure on the opponent. I then kick after each TD until they either make a 2-pt or my team falls behind.

    If my opponent has a weak power running game, I’m more likely to go for 2 knowing that they are less likely to be able to match me. My goal is simply to put the bad vibe in my opponents’ heads early, and force them to do something to overcome it.

    That all assumes I have a strong O-line, a healthy power back, and reasonably good field conditions.

  34. r502 says: Oct 15, 2016 4:34 PM

    Nothing worse than stat and metric geeks trotting out numbers to Advance the theory that you should go for two as a habit.
    Games are fluid, there is a time and place for 2 point conversions, and there are points within the game where it is absolutely inappropriate. Miss a conversion early and invariably it comes back to haunt or causes the coach to chase points later potentially making it worse.

  35. davin510 says: Oct 15, 2016 5:15 PM

    It’s a matter of game theory

    Going for 2 increases variance and unpredictability. If you think you have the better team and the better game plan, you want to lower variance, hence the added risk isn’t worth the incremental 0.26 expected points.

    If you are an underdog you should probably go for 2

    The challenge is most coaches will believe in their game plan and likely not go for 2.

  36. vusnu says: Oct 15, 2016 5:29 PM

    Wanna bet those stats change if teams start going for two more often?

  37. zygizag says: Oct 16, 2016 12:57 AM

    I think coach choose the 2 points when near the end of the game it mathematically is advantageous to do so. You just scored a TD late in the game and 2pts would give you a 9 point lead and make it a 2 possession game. You go for it.

    Then again Zimmer did it to get back on stride cause of a safety.

    I think if you have a strong OL that runs well you might do ti more because you have a double threat pass/run. If your run is not that good then chances are you are passing and the D knows that too.

    Of course if you kicker has not been so good. Blair has missed 2 pts already this year, that is a factor too.

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