Categorized | Sports

NFL coaches are abysmal at math

It kills me to spend hours every Sunday watching a game where players sacrifice so much only for coaches to hurt their own chances of winning by failing to understand basic arithmetic.

In the 2015 NFL season, point(s)-after-touchdown attempts (P.A.T.s) were set up to incentivize teams going for two. Instead of extra point attempts being snapped at the two-yard line as they had been ever since the game was invented, the ball now had to be snapped at the fifteen-yard line. If teams went for two, however, they could still snap the ball at the two-yard line.

It was a brilliant idea by the NFL to increase excitement in the game, and let’s be honest, the NFL’s good ideas are few and far between. The logic is as follows: By moving the extra point attempt back, it increases the likelihood that the kicker would miss. In fact, the success rate has fallen from almost 100 percent to 94 percent since the rule change. NFL teams (who are successful 49.9 percent of the time at two point conversion attempts since 2002) therefore could greatly increase their chances of winning by opting to go for two.

I’m not sure NFL coaches are aware of this because almost every time, NFL teams kick the extra point.

Imagine you are the coach of an average NFL team; you have an average two-point conversion rate and an average NFL kicker. If you kick an extra point, you have a 94 percent chance of success. Another way of putting it is that you can expect .94 points out of every extra point attempt.

If you go for two, you have a 49.9 percent chance of success each time. Which means that you have a 49.9 percent chance of scoring two points, which means that you can expect (.499 times 2) .998 points out of every two point conversion attempt. If you’re counting, that’s more points than if you kick the extra point each time.

In addition to that, let’s say you’re playing a game and the opposing team scores two touchdowns and kicks two extra points. They have 14 points and you haven’t scored yet. If you score a touchdown and go for two and are successful, you are only losing 14-8. If you score another touchdown, you can kick the extra point to win the game, 15-14.

Even if you aren’t successful on the first two-point conversion, you can still go for two after scoring the second touchdown. Odds are, you’ll convert the second one and tie the game up just as if you had kicked the extra point both times.

I know being an NFL coach is hard, and there is a lot of work and skill that is required that I don’t know about, but this is so simple. I’m not saying the Cleveland Browns or my beloved Chicago Bears should do it, because they’re not good enough offensive teams. But the basic math favors even slightly below average NFL offenses like the Miami Dolphins. So why offensive juggernauts like the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t do it is so beyond me. With weapons like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, why wouldn’t you?

The “moneyball” statistical revolution has taken place in other sports, like baseball and basketball. It’s time for the NFL to follow suit. Sooner or later, a team will take advantage of the rule change, and win more games as a result.

Coaching in the NFL is hard. This math isn’t. Why isn’t it catching on?

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