With Extra Point Changes, Should Teams Go For Two Instead?

The PAT, or more officially the “try,” has been around for decades, but the NFL has decided that kickers nowadays have gotten so good that things need to be a little more challenging when it comes to extra points. Thus teams in 2015 will be given a choice: Either snap the ball from the 15-yard line to kick the extra point (making it a 33-yard kick) or keep the ball on the two and go for the two-point conversion.

This leads to a few questions, like how much tougher will this make converting extra points? And knowing that, does it now make more sense to keep the ball at the two and go for two points?

Kickers in 2014 made 114 of 118 (97%) of field goals from 30 to 33 yards, and more specifically 32 of 33 (97%) kicks from the 33-yard line. It’s not quite as automatic as extra points were–just eight of 1251 (99%) PATs were missed–but with the increased amount of emphasis on kicks from that range, it is probably a safe bet that the 97% clip won’t drop much. (If it holds at a 97% mark, it would mean about 38 missed XPs rather than eight. That’s about one per team per year.)

So if moving the ball back won’t have much effect, we should just keep kicking, right?

Over the past five seasons teams have gone for two 289 times and converted 189, which comes out to a 48% success rate. Assuming the 33-yard FG rate holds, on average a team is scoring an average of .97 points per PAT (1pt x 97%). By converting 48% of two-point attempts (2pts x 48%) on average going for two is worth .96 points.

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(Click to embiggen.)

The two options are surprisingly even in terms of value, considering that teams elect to kick the PAT after 97% of TDs. This discrepancy makes it tough to give a clear recommendation. If the number of attempted two-point conversions increases, it could mean the 48% success rate will rise or drop to a degree (especially against teams with a weak/strong goal line defense) that it may make more or less sense to go for two more (or less).

If teams, for example, could start converting two-point conversions at anything over a 50% clip, it would make it worth going for every time. Take a similar situation: There were 44 occurrences last season in which teams went for it on 4th and two; the teams converted 26 (59%). If teams could keep that rate for two-point conversions, they would be worth an average of 1.18 points. That’s worth about an extra seven points over the season (it’s not much, but nobody would turn down an extra touchdown).

As it stands now though, the numbers say there is virtually no advantage in either option. We’re talking about less than half a point per season. Moving the extra point attempt back may lead to teams going for two more often, which could change things, but if the conversion rates stay consistent, it won’t make any difference at all.

So whether your team lines up to go for two or just trots out the kicker as if nothing has changed: Don’t worry, they’re safe either way.

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