4th Down Conversion Rates & Why NFL Bettors Should Care: Do Gutsy Play Calls Equate to Wins?

Kevin Stott

Friday, June 19, 2015 8:43 PM UTC

Friday, Jun. 19, 2015 8:43 PM UTC

We will talk about a couple of teams who were better on 4th Down than the NFC's elite teams and make some NFL picks on three potential Teams To Watch for the coming 2015 NFL Regular Season.


More often than you think, some of the numbers and statistics we look at when handicapping games across the various sports can be deceptive, misleading and/or taken out of context if not thought out properly. One good example of that can be found in the NFL’s 2015 Conversion Rates on 4th Down—a relatively small sample size in the entire context of perceiving what a given NFL team can be expected to do in the future, and honestly, not much of a tool to use when handicapping individual games, Season Team Win Totals or potential Super Bowl contenders with so many other more relevant statistics and trends at least giving some idea of what may happen in future games out there. But maybe combining some teams which are on the fringe of improving and making some noise in the NFL who had decent 4th Down Conversion percentage rates in the 2014 season with some Futures Bets may offer a slight edge? Who knows. But let’s take a look anyway at some of the teams who fared well when “going for it” on 4th Down and some surprising others in the NFL conference favored to win Super Bowl 50—the NFC (-2½, Bovada)—where the Seattle Seahawks and QB Russell Wilson, the Green Bay Packers and QB Aaron Rodgers and the Dallas Cowboys and QB Tony Romo all had some pretty poor numbers in the category for being some pretty good teams. But, it’s important to remember that success, or lack thereof, in this specific niche category can’t be solely credited or blamed on the QB and the feet of the Offenses, but also on the individual teams’ Head Coaches and Offensive Coordinators—the guys that decide to go for it on 4th Down and the ones who actually call the plays. Responsibility matters.

And not only were the 4th Down Conversion Rates of the defending NFC champion Seahawks (3-11, 27.3%), the runners-up Packers (4-10, 40%) and the Cowboys (3-6, 50%) all pretty poor overall last 2014 NFL season, but these three elite NFC teams also “went for it” on 4th Down way less times than most of the 32 teams in the league—a grand total of just 27 times combined between the three combined (10-27, 37.0%). By contrast, the Chicago Bears and Problem Child QB Jay Cutler were 13 for 28 (46.4%) on 4th Down Conversion attempts. So, the Monsters of the Midway went for it on 4th down 1 more time than the Seahawks, rival Packers and Cowboys did combined (28-27). And maybe that’s in great part just because these three teams simply didn’t have to go for it as much on 4th Down?

Beware of the Random Nature of Some Numbers and Statistics

Looking at statistics from just one season and from as few as 4 plays—the Arizona Cardinals were 3 of 4 on 4th Down in 2015—and then trying to apply them the following season can be an exercise in futility. Who knows how many the X number of plays each of the NFL’s 32 teams went for it on in 4th Down situations were Must-Go’s, or 4th-and-Inches as opposed to 4th-and-7’s. And who knows how many of those 4th down attempts were down is sheer desperation and/or after a particular game’s outcome had already been determined. And the mere fact that Seattle (+475 to win Super Bowl, bwin), Green Bay (+750, BetVictor) and Dallas (+2000, William Hill) all went 12-4—a combined 36-12 in the Regular Season—and all tied for the best record in the National Football Conference reveals that this is a statistic to be aware of to some degree, but certainly one to not put too much credence in. And further proof of this reality lies in the fact that the fading San Francisco 49ers (50/1 to win Super Bowl, Sportingbet) and QB Colin Kaepernick showed some relative statistical success on 4th Down last season (10-18, 55.6%). But these fairly small overall Sample Sizes within just one season of play can hardly be deemed overall trends for specific QBs, Offensive units and NFL teams in my mind. maybe more so for those teams who may be consistently near the bottom of the list. Sometimes numbers are just numbers, and with QBs and Offensive Lines and skill position players and coaches changing so much year-in and year-out with NFL Offenses, it’s really hard for teams to show any consistent measurable success with a Sample Size of 4 (Low, Cardinal) to 28 (High, Bears) plays in a given 16-game NFL Regular Season. Anyway, enough chirping. Let’s look at the actual numbers from last season for each of the NFL’s two conferences.


4th Down Conversion Rates in 2015 Regular Season—AFC
Oakland Raiders (9-15, 60%)

Houston Texans (10-17, 58.8%)

New York Jets (9-16, 56.3%)

New England Patriots (7-13, 53.8%)

Cincinnati Bengals (7-13, 53.8%)

Baltimore Ravens (9-18, 50%)

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-10, 50%)

Denver Broncos (6-13, 46.2%)

San Diego Chargers (5-11, 45.5%)

Buffalo Bills (6-14, 42.9%)

Kansas City Chiefs (5-12, 41.7%)

Indianapolis Colts (6-14, 40%)

Miami Dolphins (7-19, 36.8%)

Jacksonville Jaguars (7-19, 36.8%)

Cleveland Browns (5-14, 35.7%)

Tennessee Titans (6-17, 35.3%)


4th Down Conversion Rates in 2015 Regular Season—NFC
Arizona Cardinals (3-4, 75%)

Philadelphia Eagles (7-11, 63.6%)

Carolina Panthers (6-10, 60%)

San Francisco 49ers (10-18, 55.6%)

New Orleans Saints (8-15, 53.3%)

Minnesota Vikings (6-12, 50%)

Detroit Lions (10-20, 50%)

Dallas Cowboys (3-6, 50%)

Atlanta Falcons (8-16, 50%)

Chicago Bears (13-28, 46.4%)

Green Bay Packers (4-10, 40%)

St. Louis Rams (4-10, 40%)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12, 33.3%)

New York Giants (5-16, 31.3%)

Seattle Seahawks (3-11, 27.3%)

Washington Redskins (4-16, 25%)


Some Credence in the Numbers and Three Teams To Watch in 2015
As you can see here, there does seem to be a glimmer of statistical relevance in last season’s numbers when looking at the NFL teams who were the worst and converting on their 4th Down attempts. The 7 teams statistically ranked (by %) between 26th and 32nd in the NFL were all but one—the Seahawks—bad teams in 2014. Really bad teams, bottom of the barrel NFL teams, so, some justice in the stats? But still, with so few attempts each year, the randomness of when the teams go for it overall and the changing of the Offenses makes deeming this particular statistic something not worth worrying about too much but more like something to be aware of and certainly not something to bank on with some teams probably going a whole month or so without actually going for it on 4th Down. Anyway, with the Redskins (32nd overall in NFL), Giants (30th), Buccaneers (29th), Titans (28th), Browns (27th) and Jaguars (26th) all at or near the bottom of the list it’s hard to just pooh-pooh this statistic entirely.

So, which NFL teams may be good at converting on 4th Down in 2015 and worth taking a shot on in some specific markets this Offseason? In the NFC East, the Philadelphia Eagles (+2500 to win Super Bowl, Paddy Power) went 7-for-11 (63.6%) on 4th Down in 2014 and with aggressive Head Coach Chip Kelly, a new QB (Sam Bradford, Rams) and a new RB (DeMarco Murray, Cowboys) coming into the City of Brotherly Love, the thought is that this will be one of two teams many underestimate in the NFC and one which could very well go Over their posted Season Team Win Total of 9½ Under -140 (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook). The other NFC team which could impress in 2015 is the upstart Carolina Panthers (+4000 to win Super Bowl, Sky Bet) and QB Cam Newton, a team with a 60% conversion mark on 4th Down last season (6-10) may be a good thing for this club which actually won the NFC South with a losing record (7-8-1) in 2014. The Funk runs very strong in the Dirty South, bruh.

And, over in the old American Football Conference—(AFC) the home of the gallant defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and star QB Tom Brady, who converted on 53.8% of their 4th Down attempts last season—the Houston Texans (+5000 to win Super Bowl, bet365) and new QB Brian Hoyer (Browns) may be a team to watch in the AFC South, with everyone so enamored and pouring their money on QB Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts (+1100 to win Super Bowl, bet365), a team which did much to bolster its already strong Offense in this Offseason. Houston was an impressive 58.8% on 4th Down attempts in 2014 (10-17), proving to be one of the NFL teams who are best on this down seldom-used to just go for it (the First Down)—most teams Punt or attempt a Field Goal, depending on Field Position—and, like the Eagles, could top their Season Team Win Total (8½, Over -120, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook). And with just 83 days now between the Week 1 opener between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Patriots at Gillette Stadium, the new NFL season will be here before we all know it.

NFL Futures Book Picks: Philadelphia Eagles Season Team Win Total Over 9½ +120 NFL odds, Carolina Panthers to win NFC South 9/5, Houston Texans Season Team Win Total Over 8½ -120 (Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook)

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