NFL teams going for two slightly more often, slightly more successfully

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When the NFL moved back extra points 13 yards, some thought that would result in more teams going for two. It hasn’t really worked out that way.

Kicking the extra point is still the default option for every NFL team, even though extra point kicks are now a little harder and are made only about 95 percent of the time, rather than 99 percent of the time under the old rule.

Still, teams may be moving ever so slowly toward going for two more often. So far this season, NFL teams are going for two 0.28 times per game. In 2017, NFL teams went for two 0.16 times per game.

And when teams are going for two, they’ve been a little more successful this season: This year, 58.5 percent of two-point conversion attempts have been successful. Last year, 45.1 percent of two-point conversion attempts were successful.

An offense that can consistently make more than 50 percent of its two-point conversions should treat going for two as the default: That would result in scoring more points in the long run. But coaches are risk-averse, and so far there has never been an NFL coach who made going for two the rule, rather than the exception.

Perhaps with two-point conversion rates inching upward in a league where the offenses keep getting better than the defenses, we’ll some day see a team trust its offense to get those two yards after every touchdown. But that day isn’t here yet.

7 responses to “NFL teams going for two slightly more often, slightly more successfully

  1. With the new rules designed to help the offenses, it’s probably better to go for two every time. You can’t rush the passer. You can’t get close to the WR’s until after they catch the ball, and the offensive linemen are the only ones that are allowed to tackle. I mean, they don’t even hold anymore, they tackle the D-Linemen. The refs are going to start needing shoulder surgery because they’re raising their arms above their heads so frequently.

  2. My extra point proposal and kicking game try:

    1) Extra point – Do away with the extra point kick try. A team is awarded 7 points for a touchdown. If they want to go for an extra point it is done on the ground. If they make it they have a total of 8 points; if they don’t make it they lose 1 point and the touchdown drops to 6 points.
    2) Field goals – a team should be awarded 1 point for every ten yards 0 – 9.99 yards = 1 point 10 – 19.99 = 2 points; 20 – 20.99 3 points, etc., etc.
    3) Punts – remain the same
    4) Kickoffs – Are now a free kick from the 20 years line, becomes same as safety.

    Just some thoughts, I hate the kicking game the way it is, extra points are still a waste of time, kick-offs have become unnecessary and also boring. I hate having a kicker decide a tough fought football game.

  3. I would love it if the Bills did it every time, but they kinda stink at playing offense, so maybe it is currently for the best that the coach has limited testosterone.

  4. It’s not always a better play to go for two. Let’s get real nerdy!

    In expectation the value of a 2 point is 1.02 and extra point is .95. Fine, not going to argue with these.

    The problem is that the expectation is only met in the long-term and football doesn’t have enough scoring for that to come out. Sure over 16 games you’ll get pretty close to that (figure ~50 TDs total that’s a decent enough sample size) but the timing of when scoring happens matters more than say flipping a coin. An interesting example of this is St. Petersburg Paradox (google it, the wiki article is as good an explanation as any) where there is an expectation of infinite winnings but in reality thats not going to happen because you run out of money before you can realize that expectation. Scoring 4 TD a game and getting 2 2-point conversions won’t happen. They’ll be bunched up and run dry. Fans, GMs, owners, don’t remember that you scored 2 extra points in your 10 point win but they do remember you left 4 points on the table in your 3 point loss.

    Then there’s the realization that football plays aren’t independent events. This means that people will predict what you do, you predict what they do, and on and on which leads to game theoretic outcomes. It also means momentum actually does matter, especially in football. I’m willing to bet it’s far better to go for 2 when you’ve marched down the field repeatedly than it is when you’ve been stuck for a couple of quarters and only now just scored.

    Finally there’s this piece to remember. Many NFL games are decided by few enough points where extra points not taken and 2 point conversions failed can decide a game. Everyone wants to go for 2 until you don’t get those points. Then the media storm happens, people start complaining, and jobs get lost. If you read comments you realize I’m all about players getting paid and that extends to the coaches. I’m not going to get bent out of shape because a coach could have had 2 or 3 more points one game when not getting those 2 or 3 points in another game increases the chances of him being fired dramatically.

    tldr; There’s more to the calculation of whether to go for 2 points than simple probability expectation. I do think coaches should go for it more often but I’m not going to lose my job if I can’t consistently get those 2 yards and given how NFL fans react, a 58% chance of success isn’t good enough to beat off people screaming for your job.

  5. Plus, thinking is hard. Extra point kicks don’t require any effort from the coaching staff other than lifting a single finger indicating “kick”. Easy money.

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