Written by: Robert Robinson
Analytics owns the NBA and MLB has been number crunching since the A’s made “moneyball” a thing, but the NFL seems to be lagging a bit behind when it comes to making sense out of numbers. I am of course talking about the choice to either kick an extra point or go for the 2 point conversion.
By now if you follow me at all across past articles, or heard any of my podcasts you probably already know I am a ginormous Rams fan, so I have one of the best kickers in the game in Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein. You would think that means I would be happy to punch it in for paydirt and have Geezy trot out to hang another on the board. You would be wrong.
Now don’t get me number-crunching touchable - as are a few other guys across the league, but for me, he is only there to bang home field goals, and oh what a thing of beauty it is when he does. When it comes to post-touchdown though, NAH! I want to see Coach McVay buck the historical trend and trot out the offense to go for 2. Make it or miss it, I’m always happy to see it. That is because in this day and age of offensive fireworks it only makes sense to score as much as humanly possible, hell even bad teams are pretty good these days. The numbers are on my side in this argument.
The league average for successful PAT attempts is 95 percent for 1pt conversions and 60 percent for 2pt conversions. So statistically speaking that makes every 1pt conversion worth .95 points per attempt and 2pt conversions worth 1.2 points per conversion. That is an increase of 23.3 percent. Simply put I want as many tickets in that lottery as I can get. Now those are just raw numbers, but what do they really mean in a real-world scenario?
Let’s take last seasons Chiefs for an example. They were clearly one of the most potent offenses to ever grace the gridiron, they were the third highest-scoring team in NFL history for god’s sake, but could they have been better? Could they have been number one without scoring a single additional touchdown?
The numbers say yes. It would have been a long-odds bet but it would have been possible. The Chiefs scored 71 touchdowns and scored 565 total points. The NFL record is 606 points, scored by the Peyton Manning-led Broncos of 2013. Had Kansas City elected to go for 2 after EVERY SINGLE TOUCHDOWN, and converted at the league average rate of 60 percent they would have scored 583 total points which are only 6 points short of catching the 2007 New England Patriots for second-most points in a season All-Time, making Harrison Butker’s 3 missed field goals all the more important, BTW.
Now if the Chiefs could have kicked that conversion percentage up to 77% they would have scored 607 points, making them the best offense to ever touch NFL grass. Had Butker hit all 3 kicks he missed in 2018 they would have only needed to raise that conversion percentage to 70% or convert 7 more total times on the season. With the weapons that team has on offense, it is not out of the question to think they could have done it.
Sure, I hear you, not all teams are as good as the Chiefs, so what kind of impact could it make on the league as a whole? Well, funny you should ask, because not only were the Chiefs the 3rd greatest offense the league has ever seen, 2018 was also the 3rd highest scoring season in NFL history (23.3 ppg) - behind only 2013 (23.4 ppg) and 1948 (23.6 ppg). Roughly 1,262 points were scored on 1pt conversions last season. Increasing that by the points per attempt percentage of 23.3 that we discussed earlier, that would have increased total scoring by 294 points, or .57 points per game, making the 2018 season the highest scoring in NFL history at 23.87 points per game.
Ok, ok, I hear you. The team you love sucks, and third place on the All-Time list is “good enough” for you. I get it. You want to know how this affects you, on a more personal level. Well, I can do that too. If you play fantasy football that is.
In 2018 there were roughly 1,372 touchdowns. That is 1,372 attempts at a 2pt conversion. Based on the league average success rate of 60% again, that is 823 successful 2 pt conversions. To be fair there were about 132 successful 2 point conversions already last season, so we will remove these from the equation. That leaves you with an increase of about 691 successful 2pt conversions. In most leagues a 2 point conversion received or rushed is worth 2 fantasy points. That means there are 1,382 total fantasy points up for grabs, or a total of 691 more fantasy points scored last season. In layman's terms...would you rather have had James Conner punch it in for 2 or risk throwing out the newest Bears kicker in the hopes that they finally found one that, you know, can make one?
So I guess my point is, why the hell are we still kicking 1 pointer when the 2 point conversion is an option? Could you imagine an NBA coach yelling at his team telling them “Stop jacking up all these three-pointers and let’s focus on our mid-range jumpers”? No, I couldn’t either, at least not in this time. Sure, there are times when it still makes sense to kick it. The most obvious is if the touchdown ties a game with little to no time on the clock. At that point, I am willing to concede that it makes the most sense to take a 95% chance to win the game. However, in almost every other situation I would love to see more teams go for it, and not once or twice a game, but EVERY TIME. The mid-range jumper has fallen into the annals of NBA history and I, for one, wish the 1 point post-touchdown gimmie kick follows right along.