NFL Two-Point Conversion Success Rate

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nfl-two-point-conversions

Everyone loves an exciting game. Just imagine the excitement if most teams started going for 2 on every touchdown. It would change everything, including how often field goals were attempted instead of going for it on 4th . The 2-point conversion has been around for quite some time in college football but is only a recent addition to the NFL, beginning in 1994. Many people looked at this as a great thing, it had the potential to change how games were played. The thought was that many teams would go for 2 often since the average play was greater than the 2 yards necessary to score. That wasn’t the case. In the years 200-2009 only 708 2-point conversions were attempted. But why?

First we have to see that the yardage gained by an average play doesn’t apply here. When going for 2 the field is only 12 yards long (the two yards from the goal line and the 10 yard long end zone). This shortened field makes it harder to gain yards because you can’t spread out the defense. It is a misleading statistic. The stat we should be looking at is the success rate of 2-point conversions. In the years mentioned the success rate was 47.9%. This would give going for 2 a negative expected value, and the smart choice would be to kick it. However, we can take the analysis one step further.

Play

Success Rate

Attempts

Pass

43.4%

525

Run

61.7%

18

 

We can see that running plays are very successful. On average the success rate of extra points attempted in the NFL is 98.7%. This means that the 2-point conversion needs to be successful 49.4% of the time to break even with kicking the ball every time. However, when asking the question of whether or not to go for it every time we must consider the numbers would be slightly different. This is an example of game theory. If a team ran the ball every time the defense would gear up for the run and the success rate would drop. Yet, once the offense saw the defense adjust, they would compensate by passing more and they would see a higher success rate because they could catch the defense off guard. Eventually they would equalize. It is my opinion that because of the high success rate of the run when the numbers equalize they will do so over 50%.

So what does this tell us? Well, NFL teams should start going for 2 more often. The problem doesn’t lie with the performance of the team or the confidence of the coach in his players, the problem lies with job security. The NFL is a league that prides itself on winning and time-honored traditions. Any coach who did something this drastic would instantly be subjected to scrutiny. Any mistake would be blown out of proportion and his job would be on the hot seat. This is the same reason more coaches don’t go for it on 4th down and short. So how does this information help us? We can take what we learn here, and other areas, and use them in our sports handicapping models. By looking at 2-point conversions, trick plays, 4 th down tendencies etc. we can begin to develop tendencies about teams and coaches. It also shows us which coaches pay attention to the numbers and put their teams in the best position to win. Everything counts when your money is on the game and greatness is in the details. We have to use every available resource to come out ahead.

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