Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

10 Dec 2015

Why 2015's NFL Scores Are the Weirdest in History

A blogger writing under the name "ELDORADO" has put together two pieces (an original submission, and a follow-up looking at NFL scores in 2015, and why fewer teams are scoring 17 or 20 or 24 points in a game, and more are scoring 18, 22, or 26.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 10 Dec 2015

18 comments, Last at 17 Dec 2015, 2:09pm by ncuba

Comments

1
by Tundrapaddy :: Thu, 12/10/2015 - 9:27pm

Without looking, can this be summarized as 'because extra points are more likely to miss from the 15 than from the 2'?

2
by Jerry :: Thu, 12/10/2015 - 9:56pm

...and, therefore, teams are more likely to go for 2?

3
by nickd46 :: Fri, 12/11/2015 - 5:13am

No :)

The article illustrates some interesting points about the way the game has changed, and is changing, and it's a quick read too, so I'll leave you to read it rather than try and summarise it here.

7
by Dired :: Fri, 12/11/2015 - 1:42pm

I got that it said field goals are more likely now for several reasons, but the summary does point strongly to the new XP rules.

18
by ncuba :: Thu, 12/17/2015 - 2:09pm

It's tautological. Article defines non-football scores as those produced by 4 or more successful FG, and then later sets up regression where # of successful FG is used to explain frequency of non-football scores.

4
by Pat :: Fri, 12/11/2015 - 11:22am

The greatest thing about this article is the "Where Do NFL Points Come From?" graph.

It's fantastic, and it absolutely clearly illustrates how field goal kicking is changing the game. I mean, if you look at it, you'd say that the proportion of passing TDs have been fairly constant since the 1960s (!!). Rushing TDs have gone away, but they've gone away basically at the same rate that FGs have increased. Which is amazing. I can't think of any way that those two things would be linked.

To make it clear, in 1964, passing TDs made up 40.6%, rushing TDs made up 26%, and FGs made up 14.4%. Last year, passing TDs made up 41.8% of all scoring. Rushing TDs made up 19.7% of all scoring. And FGs made up 21.5%.

Passing TDs barely budged. Sure, there was a drop in the 70s during the dead-ball era. But overall the fraction of passing TDs is roughly the same as it was in the mid-60s. It's rushing TDs that have tailed off in importance, and field goals that have increased.

5
by Pat :: Fri, 12/11/2015 - 11:26am

I also have to say that moving the XP back has to be the single best rule change I've seen the NFL make in a long time. It's literally done everything they wanted it to do.

6
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 12/11/2015 - 11:53am

XP kick attemots being moved bakc best nfl ruel change since 2 pint covnersion 1994

13
by Theo :: Fri, 12/11/2015 - 6:29pm

Bigger players and more organised defenses make running TDs harder.
Therefore, you kick more field goals.

8
by MJK :: Fri, 12/11/2015 - 2:53pm

Rush TDs and FGs may not be linked; they might just have opposite tendencies which happen to cancel out.

Rush TD's have presumably dropped due to the increasing emphasis on the passing game and rules that favor passing. FG's have increase because of increased accuracy of kickers. The two might just happen to have cancelled out. Especially because this is a percentage graph.

Note that it doesn't mean that there are fewer rush TD's. Overall scoring has gone up. Even though the fraction of points scored from rush TDs has decreased, rush TDs may have increased overall. I would actually like to see the absolute, not the percentage, version of that graph.

9
by MJK :: Fri, 12/11/2015 - 3:09pm

OK, here's some absolutes. The absolute numbers bear out the same trend. In 1964, each team scored 0.99 rush TD per game, 1.42 pass TD per game, and 1.09 FG per game.

In 2014 (leave this fluky year out for now), each team averaged 0.74 rush TD per game, 1.58 pass TD per game, and 1.62 FG per game.

So a team is getting, on average, 1.75 fewer points per game out of rush TD (give or take, I took a TD to be worth 7 points on average), 1.59 points per game more out of FG's, and 1.12 points per game more out of pass TD.

The increase in ppg due to FG doesn't quite offset the loss in ppg due to rush TD, so I think their equivalence in the percentage chart was just a coincidence. And the absolute frequency of event certainly doesn't bear this out--teams are rushing for 0.25 fewer rush TD per game, but kicking 0.53 more FG per game, so it's not like each lost rush TD is instead becoming a FG.

Still, it's interesting to wonder why these might be occurring. The increase in pass TD is obviously the increase in passing offense in general. And I suspect the decrease in rush TD is the counterpoint to that.

The increase in FG is almost certainly due to kickers getting better...back in the 80's, lining up for anything over 45 yards was considered "risky"; now it's almost a given that coaches will go (and usually make) for the FG up to about 53 yards, barring extreme weather or Pittsburgh kickers.

An interesting aside--this year is so far a fluke in rush TD. So far this year, teams are only scoring 0.70 rush TD per game, which is the lowest rate since the great depression. I can think of three reasons why this might be the case...one is with the moved extra point, teams are expected to try 2 XP more often, so possibly coaches are devoting more practice time to stopping 2 XP conversion attempts. And so naturally goal line defenses across the league are improved. The second option is that with the increased emphasis on OPI, teams aren't getting as many goal and a yard or two to go opportunities (this is a weak hypothesis and is probably easily tested). The third possibility is that we're just now getting into cold weather, and rush TD's will increase in cold weather to bring this season back into line with last season.

12
by tuluse :: Fri, 12/11/2015 - 3:15pm

Using the specific years that Pat did, in 1964, teams scored 22 points per game. In 2014 teams scored 22.6 points per game. That's a difference that could be entirely explained by the increase of XP% from 95% to 99% I think.

14
by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Sun, 12/13/2015 - 2:21pm

that makes absolutely no sense mathematically

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The standard is the standard!

15
by Jeremy Billones :: Mon, 12/14/2015 - 9:47am

Well it might account for about .12 points.

16
by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Mon, 12/14/2015 - 1:26pm

In a best-case scenario, to the person's point, yep.

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The standard is the standard!

10
by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Fri, 12/11/2015 - 3:14pm

What are the historical #s for fga's (% made) at the now-current distance of the XP. And how does seasonal winter weather outdoor stadiums change that?

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The standard is the standard!

11
by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Fri, 12/11/2015 - 3:14pm

Finally, this is great news for players of superbowl squares games!

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The standard is the standard!

17
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