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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.

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17 comments, Last at 17 Dec 2015, 1:09pm

4 Re: Why 2015's NFL Scores Are the Weirdest in History

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.

8 Re: Why 2015's NFL Scores Are the Weirdest in History

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 Re: Why 2015's NFL Scores Are the Weirdest in History

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.