Minimalist Steelers



How Much Does Kicking in a Dome Help?

It seems pretty obvious that the ideal situation to kick in would be inside of a dome, but how much more accurate does it make kickers?

Over the past five seasons, from 2010 to 2014, there were five domed stadiums in play: Atlanta, Detroit, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Minnesota (excluding 2014). We’ll ignore retractable roofs for this study.

There was an average of 995 field goal attempts each season in the NFL, which comes out to about 31 per kicker.

Field goals in our focus group—those kicked in domes—had an 85.8% success rate (601 of 700). Those kicked in the non-domed stadiums had an 83.6% success rate (3575 of 4276).

So yes, our prediction that kickers would be more accurate in domes does appear to be true. The catch is that they were only 2.2% better than non-dome percentage. If kickers attempt 31 field goals in a season, being 2.2% worse is affecting just over half of a field goal.

I would take any extra advantage I could get, but over a season three points is not a whole heck of a lot.

Appendix: Fantasy Football

An oft-repeated bit of advice in fantasy football is to grab a kicker who plays in a dome, based on the aforementioned thinking that kickers in domes are more accurate. As we just saw while that is technically true, it won’t have much affect over the whole season.

The bigger fault with this thinking is that team offenses have a much larger effect on kickers than the stadium. It is odd that this thinking persists when the kickers in domes over the past three years have finished in these positions among kickers with standard fantasy kicker scoring: 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 20th, 22nd, 22nd, 24th, 29th, 34th.

The top three, with the first, third, and fourth rankings were Blair Walsh, Matt Bryant and Jason Hanson, but nobody would have been able to take advantage as all three had those outstanding seasons in 2012.


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.


(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.

How a Hundred Year Old Finding Picks NFL Games As Well As the Experts

In 1906 Sir Francis Galton came across a contest at a fair in which people were guessing the weight of an ox that had been chopped up to eat. The person who produced the closest guess would win the meat and presumably not go hungry for a long time. Galton believed that, for the most part, people were stupid and he could prove this by showing how far off their guesses were. Somewhat ironically, while nobody guessed the weight, Galton found that the average of all 800 guesses was only a few pounds off the 1,198-pound weight of the ox.

We now call what Galton had found the Wisdom of the Crowd, and while it only applies to certain topics, we are better off taking opinions from as many people as possible, rather than just asking one person, even if that one person is an expert. Regis Philbin said when somebody on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? asked the audience, it was extremely rare that the majority would give the wrong answer. So even while most people in the audience will give the correct answer, we would much rather have the option to ask the whole audience than to ask one random person in the audience.

Predicting the NFL

With this in mind, let’s look at the accuracy of betting lines and their ability of correctly predict the outcome of NFL games. Point spreads exist because they make betting on single games tougher. However, if we are predicting the winner straight up, we can use the point spread as a helpful tool (we’ll get to picking against the spread in a bit).

Remember that the guy setting the line is not making a personal prediction on the game. He wants to choose a number that will evenly divide bettors (which is how he earns his money). He can allow the market to guide him and readjust the line if the bets become too one-sided. The crowd will ultimately dictate the line.

The Data

From 2009-2013, the favorite was victorious in 857 of 1269 picked games, which is a 67.5% success rate (even games were not included). Things fluctuated over the years with the success ranging from a low of 64.4% correct in 2012 to a high of 71.3% the following year.

Compare this to the best picker on ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em Game in 2013, who predicted the winner in 75% of the games. In other words, he picked just ten more games of the 256 correctly than the spread did. The technique of the winning picker is unknown, but going with the odds on every game means putting in virtually no work. Copy and pasting selections would have tied for the 47th overall rank on ESPN, which is still in the 99.9th percentile.

On the other side of the spectrum, in 2012 the favorite picked 163 games, or 64%, accurately. The top picker on ESPN correctly choose the winner in 188 or 73% of games. But even in a down-year, the line still beat over 500,000 guessers.

Accuracy of picks over the years

Wiser Crowds

Using a crowd to pick a game can change depending on which crowd you go with. Ask a bunch of fifth graders and you will not get the same results as bettors who are putting money on a game. The line differed from the majority’s pick on ESPN in 60 games in 2012 and 2013. The line favorite in those games won 37 to ESPN’s 23. This is too small of a sample to draw any conclusions from, but one possible reason being that ESPN’s users are more likely to make risky picks without money on the line.

Degree of Certainty

While every game has two teams, not all are equally difficult to predict. Favorites in games with a point spread of less than three won just 52% of the time, while teams favored by 11 or 11.5 points won 90% of the time. As the spread increases, we find that the chance that team will win the game steadily increases as well.

For simplicity's sake, games with similar spreads (ie. 9 and 9.5pts) have been combined.
For simplicity’s sake, games with similar spreads (ie 9 and 9.5pts) have been combined.

Picking Against the Spread

Picking a winner is one thing, but Galton’s hunch about people being dumb (we’re talking about beer drinking football fans here, not rocket scientists) must fall apart when they come up against the spread, right? Not exactly.

Picking against the spread is tougher: The guy who won Pigskin Pick ‘Em against the spread last year picked 159 games right compared to the straight winner who got 191. Still the masses guide the betting line, which will shift over the week. ESPN sets their lines on Tuesday, but you don’t have to make your pick until game time, which allows a few more days for the crowd to work their magic. And unlike ESPN, virtually all betting sites do adjust their lines as the week goes on.

If the line increases from Tuesday to Sunday (I usually take the average line from multiple sources, thus increasing the crowd size), even if it’s not by much, it would be wise to bet the team will cover. On the other hand, if an injury leads to a decrease in the crowd’s confidence and a shrinking spread, we would be wise to go with the underdog. It is not complicated (nor is taking advantage of “soft lines” new strategy), but it has been right 52 out of 90 times this season, which is better than 94% of about 100,000 entries on ESPN. If you don’t think a day or two will make much difference, note that it has only worked 44 times on Yahoo! where lines are set on Thursday.

How do the Experts Stack Up?

The remarkable thing about the Wisdom of the Crowd is not that the crowd is better than any given analyst, but that the crowd even comes close. When we step back and consider what exactly the crowd is—in Pigskin Pick ‘Em it is anyone with internet access, in Vegas lines it’s anyone with a few bucks—we would probably think most employees of sports networks would be much better than such a motley crew. looked at predictions made by 13 analysts from ESPN and Sports Illustrated from 2009 to 2012, and found that only two, Jim Trotter and Kevin Seifert, were better than the Vegas odds. In a separate 2012 study, they found that on average 23 analysts from ESPN, CBS, and Yahoo (a mini-crowd of analysts) picked the right winner in two more games (165 to 163) than the odds. Recently they looked at 24 analysts from ESPN, CBS, and Yahoo and found that none of them have picked better than Vegas from 2012 through the first five weeks of the 2014 season. As a group they’re 4% worse on average.

As we saw earlier though, the top finishers in Pigskin Pick ‘Em are often as good or better than the experts, so clearly somebody has figured out how to outsmart the masses, right? This really comes down to how many games you are picking. Somebody will win Pigskin Pick ‘Em with a high total, but unless they can perform at such a high level for multiple years, it’s possible they were just lucky. I could accurately pick every game over the whole season with a coin-flips, but that should not make you want to ask me for advice on who to pick (more likely you’d beat me up and steal my lucky coin). Lots of people have perfect weeks, but most cannot maintain that level for more than one week, let alone 17.

Remember when I said that ESPN and Vegas differed on who would win 60 games over the past two years and Vegas has been right in 62% of those? This in no way guarantees that Vegas will be more accurate every season. In fact, ESPN got 13 of the 22 games right in 2012, but Vegas got 28 of 38 right in 2013. So in a dispute who are you better of going with? Obviously we don’t know who is more accurate this season until it is too late.

So Far in 2014

Through the first six weeks of the 2014 NFL season, the line has picked the right team to win in 60 of 90 games, which is right about where it should be based on the last few seasons. The majority has correctly chosen 61 games in Pigskin Pick ‘Em.

The contest has hundreds of thousands of entries coming from people of all walks of life, with all sorts of levels of knowledge about any given football game. Given the choice between them and someone who covers football for a living, you may be tempted to listen to the later. What we find in the numbers though is that the crowds (on ESPN) are actually as good or better than all 13 of ESPN’s NFL experts, all seven of CBS‘s, both of Yahoo!’s, and all four of Fox Sports’ (and their projection software).

The crowd may not help you win your office pool, but surprisingly its track record has shown that if you put aside your ego and stick with the majority every time, you will finish ahead of almost everyone in the crowd individually.

Author Note: I don’t gamble or claim to know anything about it. The preceding is not intended to help you win money, and I’m not sure it even can.

Alternative Fantasy Football Leagues

There is no right way to play fantasy football, so while most leagues use the same standard settings, there is plenty of fun in mixing things up as well. And by mix it up, I mean far beyond the realm of PPR or 2-QB.

The following list includes a number of games I have collected from all over the internet, and I encourage you to adjust and adapt them to your liking. Most will still work with standard, half-PPR, or PPR scoring unless otherwise noted.

Combination Head-to-Head and Rotisserie

Description: This league’s standings are determined by awarding a team for winning their head-to-head matchup, but also for finishing with a higher number of points relative to the whole league.

Each head-to-head win earns one point for the winning team, a loss is worth no points, ties are worth .5 points. In addition, each team finishing in the top half (top five for 10-team league, etc) each week by overall points is also awarded one point.

Format: Works for any number of teams, preferably even

Poacher League

Description: Each week, the winner of each head-to-head matchup can select a player on the team he has just defeated to join his team. He must trade a player of the same position to his opponent (must have been on his roster during the matchup, cannot make a FA pickup). This trade is mandatory for all matchups and must be accepted.

Format: Head-to-head

Keeping competitive balance: As one might suspect, teams who start the season 0-3 will not only be behind in the stands, but also presumably have lost their top three players. There are multiple methods to helping keep teams from being out of it early.

  1. Few or no bench spots. This will keep the free agent list stocked with stronger players.
  2. Allow each losing team to “protect” a certain number of players on their roster. This could be based on the number of their losses or the winning team’s number of wins.
  3. See the Reverse Poacher League

Reverse Poacher League

Description: Similar to the Poacher League describe above, only the losing team in each matchup gets to choose the players for the trade, thus keeping things more balanced throughout the season. In the (optional) playoffs, there would be no poaches or the winner would choose the trade.

Format: Head-to-head

Elimination League

Description: The team with the lowest score at the end of each week is eliminated from the league. The eliminated team’s players become free agents.

Waiver order: Weekly waiver pickups will be a huge part of this league and you can go two routes. First, the team that scored the most points is rewarded by getting the first pick up, and so on down the line. Alternatively, the waiver order is set in reverse order of the number of points scored that week. This would make the ideal spot to be in is to have the second-lowest number of points… for those who like to live on the edge.

Format: Rotisserie, Any number of teams will work

Predictions-Only League

Description: The draft is a major part of most leagues, but this league puts your prediction skills to the test by forcing you to keep the team you pick for the whole season. Rosters are standard, but there is no bench. Rosters are locked for the whole season.

Format: Head-to-head or Rotisserie

Lots of Starters League

Description: If you can only find a few friends interested in another league, that’s no reason to allow a bunch of players to sit unused. Each team has six QBs, RBs, WRs, FLEX, and Defenses. There is no bench.

Format: With so many players per team, four teams is the optimal size or make it four of each position for a six-team league.

Scoring-Only League

Description: Everyone knows the most exciting part of the game is the touchdowns, so why not dedicate a league to them? This scoring system only considers scoring plays. Kickers and defenses are optional.

Format: Head-to-head or Rotisserie


  • TD: 6 pts (rushing, receiving, or return)
  • TD pass: 3 pts
  • 2-point conv pass: 1
  • 2-point conv: 2
  • FGs: 3
  • Extra points: 1
  • Defense TD allowed: -6
  • Defense return for TD: 6

Yards-Only League

Description: Ever had your running back rush the ball all the way down the field only to have the fullback fall over into the end zone for a one-yard, TD run and steal all your points? This league allows you to eliminate the vultures.

Format: Head-to-head or Rotisserie

Scoring: Standard, half-PPR, or PPR, just remove all points for rushing, receiving, and passing TDs

Alternate Points League

Reddit user twolves knows a lot about stats, he used that knowledge to put together a new system that looks pretty awesome if you aren’t afraid of numbers. He includes reasons behind everything in his post, so rather than copy and paste it all here, I’ll just link it up.

EPA Points League

The guys over at Regressing introduced a system based on expected points added, which is how many points a given play contributes compared to the average play in such a situation. Think football sabermetrics. You can find that one here.

Punter’s League

Description: This league was founded for humor and something absurd to root for on fourth down, which is the most boring down as far as fantasy goes.

Format: Each team consists only of two punters, head-to-head

Scoring: Keep in mind there is no “fair” way to score this league as there are multiple factors beyond the punter’s control that will affect his output. The humor aspect of the league has been taken into account with some of the scoring categories.

  • Punt yards: 0.5 pt/yd
  • Punts inside the 20: 10 (also counts for punts inside the 10)
  • Punts inside the 10: 10
  • Punt return yards: -0.4
  • Fair catches: 4
  • Blocked punts: -5
  • Touchbacks: -4
  • Solo tackles: 20
  • Fumble: -15
  • Fumble recovery: 10
  • Fumble recovery for TD: 200
  • Passing yards: 5/yd
  • TD Pass: 200
  • Rushing yards: 10/yd
  • TD Rush: 200
  • Reception: 20
  • TD Reception: 20
  • Interception return for TD: 1000

IDP-Only League

Description: While they receive much less attention than the guys on offense, defenders are just as big of a part of the game.


  • Solo tackle: 1 point
  • Assisted tackle: .5
  • Sack: 4
  • Tackles for a loss: 3
  • Pass defended: 1
  • Interception: 6
  • Forced fumble: 4
  • Fumble recovery: 2
  • Touchdown: 6
  • Safety: 10
  • Blocked kick: 6

Quick Twists, otherwise standard leagues with one (or many) of the following caveats: