Now six weeks into the new National Football League (NFL) season, we have seen a lot of the lowest-scoring play in football – the extra point. This is because NFL owners approved a rule change during the offseason that moved extra point attempts from the two-yard line to the 15-yard line.
By making this change, owners hoped to make extra point attempts, which last year had a 99.3 percent success rate, a more exciting part of the game. In addition, by leaving the line of scrimmage for two-point conversions at the two-yard line, owners hoped more teams would be willing to take the risk of going for two points.
Owners have certainly gotten their wish for more excitement this season, as there have been an amazing 21 missed extra points through four weeks of games. To provide context, in 2014 there were only eight failed extra points the whole season, almost a third of this year’s current total.
Yet while kickers are missing more extra points, the current extra point percentage (94.9 percent) is not far off from the 95 percent success rate for field goals between 30 and 35 yards last year. But the stakes are raised if the kicking team receives a penalty. In Week One, Cleveland Browns’ kicker Travis Coons kicked what is believed to be the first 48-yard extra point in NFL regular-season history after the Browns accumulated two penalties on previous extra point attempts.
Teams are now starting to factor the rule change into their decision-making. Previously, two-point conversions were reserved for end of game situations, and not since 1998 had a team successfully gone for two in the first quarter. The Pittsburgh Steelers broke that drought in Week Two, and have already attempted five two-point conversions this season, all in the first three quarters.
The Steelers are not the only team to place greater emphasis on the two-point conversion. Teams are on pace for over 100 two-point conversions this season, which would dwarf last season’s tally of 59 attempts. Some of the increase in two-point attempts may be linked with more missed extra points. As an example, in Week Four, Detroit Lions’ kicker Matt Prater missed an extra point in the first quarter, which led the Lions to go for two after scoring in the third quarter.
Although the new rules have already changed NFL strategy, this may be the beginning of a greater trend. Consider that the two-point conversion rate over the past five years is 48.6 percent. This means that by going for a two-point conversion, teams can expect to get 0.974 points per attempt. In 2014, the extra point percentage was 99.3 percent, which means that teams expected to get 0.993 points per attempt, so teams were better off by kicking an extra point.
However, now that the extra point rate is only 94.9 percent, teams can only expect to get 0.949 points per attempt, which turns the tables in favor of two-point conversions. In other words, by pushing the extra point to the 15-yard line, it may be in the best interest for teams to always go for two points.
But it may be too early for teams to adopt a no extra point strategy. Perhaps the extra point rate will go back up as kickers get used to the longer distance kicks. Alternatively, defenses may spend more time preparing for two-point attempts, bringing the two-point conversion rate down. This much is clear: the 2015 season will be unlike any other for NFL kickers, coaches and fans looking for more excitement. The league will have to continue examining the results of this trend in the weeks to come.