So, it’s official. NFL extra points won’t be nearly as much of a gimme after the owners voted 30-2 (with Oakland and Washington voting no) to move the PAT back to the 15-yard line. But what will actually change?
First, the new rule:
- Extra points will be snapped from the 15 (instead of the 2), making them a 32- or 33-yard kick.
- Two-point conversion attempts will still be snapped from the 2-yard-line.
- Both plays will be “live,” meaning defenses can return blocks/interceptions/recovered fumbles for two points of their own.
The first question is, obviously, how many more extra points are going to be missed. Predicting that depends on the success rate for 32- and 33-yard field goals, which is a little hard to pin down exactly. ESPN’s Kevin Seifert has some numbers:
Over the past 10 seasons, the conversion rate for kicks of that distance is 91.6 percent. That figure rose to 94.4 percent during the past three years and was 96.7 percent in 2014.
(The PAT conversion rate has been above 99 percent for the last five seasons.)
But Seifert’s numbers necessarily come from field goal tries, which means we don’t know where the ball was placed—usually from the hashmarks. On a PAT, the kicker can line up wherever he wants, even dead center. So here’s a little more context:
During the past two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus, NFL place-kickers converted 97.6 percent of all kicks between 30-35 yards when lined up in the middle of the field.
To put those figures in context, let’s plug them into the 2014 season. At 97.6 percent accuracy, we would have seen 1,200 of 1,230 extra points converted. Instead of eight misses, there would have been 30.
Conservatively, the new rule should result in at an extra missed PAT a week or so. Maybe some of those will end up mattering; maybe none will.
What’ll be even more interesting is how backing up the kicks will affect teams going for two.
Schatz’s numbers on PAT expected points are probably a little low, given the PFF research, but moving the snap back will definitely bring that figure below that of going for two. (Even with the elimination of the possibility for the rarely used fake.)
So, will coaches go for two more often now that it’s mathematically the wise move? Of course not! NFL coaches are ruled by fear. The fear of fucking up publicly. Much safer to just kick the PAT and probably make it—and if not, that’s on the kicker—than to take a little bit of visible risk for a slightly better chance at winning the game. Coaches are staid and boring and scared and you’d probably have to place the ball at the 40 before they’d choose to run a play from two yards out.
Ravens lineman/mathematician John Urschel makes the same point:
Just because the expected points of one endeavor is greater than the other, doesn’t mean it is what coaches are going to do.
Why? Because, as you might have surmised at some point, NFL coaches are risk averse. Coaches like low variation, and a difference of .03 expected points per extra point is not nearly enough to deter them from the safer choice of going with a slightly longer kick (which has variance of .07) as opposed to the much riskier two-point conversion (which has variance .25).
The rule change will be reviewed in the next offseason, but it’s hard to see any drawbacks—even if it won’t be the radical change some had hoped for.