Tougher Extra Points: What’s the Difference?

The NFL opted this preseason to move extra point attempts back to the 15 yardline, 13 yards back from the traditional 2 yardline. It’s no secret that extra points after touchdowns have been essentially automatic over the years. In the 2013 regular season, a grand total of 5 extra points were missed on 1267 extra point attempts. That’s a 99.6% conversion rate. This preseason has given us a total of 196 attempted extra points thus far, which is by no means a large data sample compared to a full season, but it’s something upon which we can at least make some premature projections.

8 extra points have been missed already this preseason – 3 more than were missed during the entirety of the 2013 season, for those who struggle with subtraction. That’s a 95.9% conversion percentage, which may not seem significant, but such a difference played out over an entire season can make a major difference. Only 1215 of the 1267 field goals (52 misses, instead of only 5) would have been made with such a conversion rate in 2013.

Before we even proceed, let me again mention that this data is not necessarily reliable. It’s a smaller sample size, and the preseason sees both second team action and kicker position battles during first team repetitions. What this means is that the team’s best kicking talent is not always taking the extra point attempts during the preseason. That being said, the opposition’s special teams personnel won’t always be up to par either, meaning less effective pressure will be on the kicker on many attempts. There’s plenty of reason, then, to believe the conversion rate will be different in the regular season.

To illustrate this, let’s look at the full 2013 season stats for field goal attempts between 30-39 yards, since extra point attempts under the new rules fall within that range – 33 yards. 295 such field goals were attempted, with 30 misses. This is actually a lower percentage, at 89.8%. Obviously a 39 yard field goal is more difficult than a 33 yard field goal. So we can’t expect the conversion rate to be 95.9% or 89.8%, but we can reasonably expect it to fall in between those two numbers.

Instead of trying to find some arbitrary weighted average, I’ll look at the two extremes and the scenarios for both. 89.8% of the 1267 extra point attempts would be 1138 extra points made, a relatively shocking 129 misses. That’s about 4 misses per team if they were all equally allotted (which they wouldn’t be). What, though, does this mean? In a season featuring 512 games, 52 misses would mean each game would have approximately at 10.2% chance of having a missed extra point (obtained simply by dividing the two figures – obviously a very rough estimate) assuming each game is weighted equally (an absurd assumption, but it would be quite the undertaking for me to weight each game in such a way by kicker’s individual conversion rates, and I thought up the concept for this blog post probably half an hour ago). At 129 misses, this figure inflates to 25.2%. These are both significantly high chances compared to what we’re used to.

When, though, will a missed extra point actually matter? Only in games with very small margins of victory. It’s a very direct impact if the margin is one point, obviously, a missed or made extra point is quite literally the difference of the game. There were 13 such games in 2013, which is a paltry percentage of all games played. Basic probability operations can lead us to a rough percentage chance that one of these games would feature a missed extra point under the new rules (under either scenario). The chance that NONE of the games would feature a missed extra point is (1-.102)^13 or (1-.252)^13. These expressions evaluate to 24.7% and 2.3%, respectively. Therefore, the very broad percentage range that at least one of these games would have featured a missed extra point under this preseason’s extra point conditions is 75.3-97.7%.

Keep in mind that this is all theoretical speculation. Now that it’s in mind, let’s make the speculations even more specific and ridiculous. Some of the games that were decided by one point: Chiefs-Cowboys week 2, won by the Chiefs, 17-16. If KC misses that extra point and the Cowboys win in OT, the ‘Boys are just one game behind Philly for a playoff spot at season’s end. Who knows how that may have changed things down the stretch? That also kills the early-season perception of the Chiefs as an elite AFC team, which everybody saw through by the end of the season. Even more entertaining: Week 14, Patriots 27, Browns 26. If the infallible Stephen Gostkowski misses an extra point in this game and the Browns win in OT, there’s a 3-way tie at 11-5 for the AFC’s second seed between the Patriots, Bengals, and Colts. The Bengals, in that case, would have earned the AFC’s second seed and a first-round playoff bye on the merit of beating both the Patriots and the Colts during the season.

The what-if game is certainly fun, but obviously these are far-reaching hypothetical scenarios. What’s perhaps more applicable is more common margins of victory – specifically, margins of around one touchdown or less. A singular missed extra point, or even a previously-unfathomable-but-now-simply-surprising two missed extra points, will not directly impact the game’s result. That being said, differences of one or two points may affect late-game coaching strategies. Being down by 4 points instead of 3 before a team’s final possession leads to significantly different strategies. Having to score a touchdown is obviously much more difficult than getting within 30 yards of the end zone and kicking a field goal. Being down by 8 or 9 points instead of 7 in the same situation is even more hopeless – a touchdown with a two point conversion is a very low-percentage situation, and there is no 9-point play in the NFL.

Extra point misses will be up significantly. These misses will have implications, and it will be very entertaining to watch these implications play out. I’ll revisit this post by the end of the season and see if the projections are at all accurate.

Sources: nfl.com, espn.com, cbssports.com

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