20 May 2015

Why the new NFL PAT rules are a step in the right direction

The extra point rule in the NFL has now been changed. The snap for the PAT kick will now move back from the two-yard line back to the 15-yard line, while the two-point try will stay at the two. Also, the NFL will also adopt the college rule of the defense can return either a blocked kick, an interception or a fumble for two points the other way.

These changes are not all that radical but in the end, they are a positive development from the old system.

Even as they are moving the PAT back fifteen yards, there will not be that big a difference in the conversion rate. Last year, kickers had a 95.3% conversion rate on field goals in the 30-35 yard range, and in the last two seasons, kickers connected on 97.6% of kicks from that range from the center of the two hashs, as compared to 91.6% from the left hash and 93.8% from the right hash. It is a dip from the greater than 99% conversion rate on PATs over the past five years but ultimately, it's not that big of a dip. After all, kickers now are better than ever.

That is why I would have liked to see the goal post uprights narrowed like what we saw in the Pro Bowl back in January. Kickers are only going to get even better and that is the best way to bring down the conversion rate. After all, kickers were not as accurate in the Pro Bowl as they have been.

One of the results that the league would like to see is teams going for two more frequently than they already do (the league as a whole only went for two 59 times last season), and now, as Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders notes, there is a higher expected point output for two-point conversions (about 0.99 expected points) than for the one-point kick (0.91 expected points).

However, NFL head coaches are famously risk averse for the most part and still will likely prefer to go for the kick than for the two. That is why I would have also added the proposal from the Eagles (naturally) to put the two-point conversion at the one-yard line. In my opinion, that would have been the best way to force teams to go for two more often as it would be even more valuable closer to the goal line than the 32 or 33-yard kick. That said, I have been a go for two advocate for a while now so I likely am biased.

Peter King notes that these changes are only for the 2015 season, meaning that further and potentially more radical changes could be on tap for what has only been the most boring and unexciting play in football. However, this is a useful start.

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