The NFL continues to take the “foot” out of football. The new rules about kicking PATs will reduce scoring, but will it have enough impact to alter our NFL picks this year?
Traditionalists might scoff, but if the NFL didn't change the rules every year, where would football be now? There wouldn't be a Super Bowl, for one thing – until 1932, the NFL title was awarded to the team with the best winning percentage at the end of the season. There also wouldn't be football on Sundays, or free agency, or integration. You have to roll with the times.
Place-kickers might feel differently. Over the years, kickers have gotten so much better at what they do, the NFL has had to change the rules to keep up. It's been over 40 years since the goalposts were moved to the back of the end zone, adding 10 yards to every attempt. Starting in 2015, kickers will have to try their PATs (Points After Touchdown) from the 15-yard line instead of the 2. We know there will be an increase in missed PATs as a result. Will it be significant enough to make the UNDER a more profitable football pick?
From A++ to A+
It won't be insignificant. After the league moved the goalposts back in 1974, the success rate on PATs dropped from 98 percent to 92.1 percent. But we're probably not going to see a dip that large this time around. Benjamin Morris at FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers and expects kickers to connect on 96.4 percent of their PAT attempts this year, down from 99.3 percent in 2014.
Time for some arithmetical fortitude. The average team attempted 2.4 extra points per game last year, so we're looking at a drop of roughly 2(2.4)(0.993-0.964) points per game in 2015... let's see, carry the one... that's about 0.14 points. Or to put it another way, we can expect the average team to miss about two more PATs next season. Shtoink~!
Go for It
In theory, if the betting market doesn't adjust to this rule change, you could blindly bet the UNDER on every single game next year and grab an extra couple of paydays. We're not going to do the math on that, however, because there's another factor we need to consider: the two-point conversion. That's still going to be attempted from the 2-yard line. If the PAT is getting moved back, surely coaches will go for two more often.
Yes and no. While there will be more incentive to attempt a 2-point conversion, the PAT should still produce more points in the long run even after getting moved back. Last year, teams went for two after just 4.9 percent of their touchdowns, and they converted 47.5 percent of the time. Kickers would have to be worse than 95 percent on their PATs to make going for two the preferred strategy in a vacuum.
Of course, the choice between going for one or two also depends on how many points ahead or behind your team is, and how much time there is left on the clock. But maybe we'll see more 2-point conversions this year from teams who happen to be very good at them, or against teams who aren't very good at stopping them.
Further complicating matters, starting in 2015, the ball will be “live” if the defense takes possession after a failed PAT or 2-point conversion attempt. That means the defending team can take the ball to the other end zone for two points – but if that defense somehow gets caught in its own end zone instead (like at the 2013 Fiesta Bowl), that's a 1-point safety for the kicking team. That's right: a 1-point safety.
It'll happen eventually. But looking at these numbers, it doesn't appear worthwhile to take a different strategy with your NFL picks just because of the new rules. And it won't take long for kickers to get back up over 99 percent on these longer PAT attempts, either. It's evolution, baby.