OT- NFL Kickers are becoming automatic, and implications for fourth down

Submitted by EastCoast on January 28th, 2015 at 9:39 AM

Interesting article out of FiveThirtyEight today. The author looks at NFL kicking over time and finds that it has very, very steadily risen with each passing year:


What's most interesting is his conclusions toward the bottom, which state that going for it on 4th down from between 25-40 yards out may not be as smart of a decision as many statisticians believe. The Go-For-It crowd has been gaining a lot of momentum over the last few years (I've seen the chart he references quite a few times), but according to this author, taking the more "conservative" approach is quickly becoming the optimal strategy -- after all, an automatic 3 points is better than an outside shot at 7.

I don't know much about statistics, so I would be very interested to know if this guy's conclusions make sense. They pass the initial smell test to me, though.

On the other hand, we can't really apply these numbers to college football as kickers are notably less accurate (as we know). However, the implications at the top level are potentially significant.



January 28th, 2015 at 9:51 AM ^

That's a fascinating article.  I don't understand all the math, but I like the pretty pictures! :-)

Seriously, cool article.  Thanks for the link.


January 28th, 2015 at 9:54 AM ^

What happened to discussions of modifying the extra point?

I'd personally like to see the extra point kick moved back significantly. It'd make things a lot more interesting if a kicker has to make a 40 yarder instead of a 18-20 yarder. 


January 28th, 2015 at 10:13 AM ^

Problem is, I don't see how you do that without making 2-point conversions almost impossible. Teams only convert them about half the time now--if you move them back to the 20- or 25-yard line it will be a very low-percentage play.


January 28th, 2015 at 10:00 AM ^

Vince McMahon was on to somethng when he did away with the extra point in the XFL and made every team run a 2-point conversion after a TD. It wasn't a perfect solution but it was  step in the right direction IMO.  


January 28th, 2015 at 10:01 AM ^

when Brian lambasted coaches sometimes. But it's a different story in college, obviously. Field goals are really uninteresting, in my view. I wonder what would happen if you could only take them from 35 yards (for example) or more?


January 28th, 2015 at 10:07 AM ^

I'm all for leagues adapting. Can't remember the year, but I was after the NHL strike in the 2000's...didn't the league widen the net and make the goalie pads slimmer (among other changes like two line pass)?
Basically the NHL was creating more variance in outcomes and nothing became automatic. NFL kickers have largely become automatic and it's become boring.
Narrow the damn goal posts. If nothing for the chaos!

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January 28th, 2015 at 10:19 AM ^

I don't believe the NHL changed the dimensions of the actual net. They did change the goal crease to make it wider and shorter. But I actually think making it easier to score in hockey decreases variance. It's so hard to score in hockey that it's not uncommon for a team to dominate statistics like shots-on-goal or quality chances, and still lose the game.


January 28th, 2015 at 11:08 AM ^

especially PLAYOFF hockey, feels like watching a random number generator.  One team will put 40 pucks on net and score 1 goal, the other team puts 15 pucks on net and scores 2 goals.   Playoff hockey becomes a game of "who has the hot goalie", which is why you see thoroughly mediocre teams winning the cup with decent frequency. 


Of course, I'm not sure that the baseball playoffs are any less random.  The two playoffs where the better teams seem to actually win most of the time are the NFL and the NBA.


January 28th, 2015 at 1:19 PM ^

There was talk of the NHL increasing the size of the nets, instead they shrunk the goalie equipment. They also moved the goal 2 feet closer to the end boards and backed up the blue lines - making the offensive zone larger. I'd equate the line changes to NBA's 3 point line/lane width.


January 28th, 2015 at 12:31 PM ^

balls and the regular ones?  I know they are kept separate.    I think they should narrow the posts two feet and widen the hash marks two yards each.  They narrowed the hashes to make the scrimmage game more exciting.  I also think PATs should be set at the 25 yard line.  If so, the lions wouldn't have made the playoffs.  Based on the results, that would have been better draft wise


January 28th, 2015 at 12:40 PM ^

It's all about context; early in a game I think it makes sense to take points, but once you get a feel for how each team's offense and defense is playing, it might be worth going for it even if the 3 points are pretty easy.  This study is interesting, though, in that it probably pushes those in-between distances more to FG shots than 4th-down conversions earlier in games.


January 28th, 2015 at 12:46 PM ^

I hate field goals in the NFL. Yeah, the kickers are generally better than in college, but it still makes no sense why the degree of difficulty is lower in NFL than in college. Move the damn hashmarks to college width! 


January 28th, 2015 at 1:38 PM ^

I'd rather see the kicking game return to rugby style extra points. Instead of the automatic placement, the kicker must kick it from where the ball crossed the end zone, at any point behind that, as though a vertical line is drawn from the spot of the touchdown back and the kicker has to kick it from somewhere on that line. In tight games, that extra point becomes much more important, and game strategies would change to create the ideal place to kick from.

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January 28th, 2015 at 2:07 PM ^

Just award a team 7 points for a touchdown. Give the team an option of running the ball from the 3 yard line or have their kicker kick a 50 yarder. Conversions are worth an extra point, not two.

Additional scenario-- Use the above scoring method and add an additional element. The above extra point options can be used, but if they aren't converted you lose a point. But you have the option of keeping the seven and declining the extra point attempt.


January 28th, 2015 at 2:00 PM ^

The 25 yard line change for xp is a poor fix, it needlessly complicates the game.  They should just eliminate the xp all together and make TDs worth 7 points.  If you want to risk 1 point to go for 2 you can do that, but the xp is a total waste of time and not worth "making more interesting".