Steve Sailer recently pondered over ways the NFL might make the point after touchdown (PAT, or “extra point” in the vernacular) attempt a little more exciting by making it’s outcome less predictable. Over the last five regular seasons, PAT attempts were successful 99.20% of the time. For people other than Americans or Canadians being introduced to the game, it must seem like a bizarre waste of time. The long break in meaningful action following a touchdown can easily last six or seven minutes: Touchdown; PAT attempt; commercial break; kickoff (often resulting in a touchback); commercial break; action finally resumes from the 20. A feature if you’re a spectator who needs a poop break but a bug for everyone else.
The league toyed with and ultimately rejected–at least for the time being–the idea of moving the PAT back significantly, all the way to 25-yard line. For the first two weeks of the preseason, however, PAT attempts will be spotted at the 20-yard line, instead of at the usual 2. The mean success rates for equivalent field goal attempts at the two increased yard line spots, 25 and 20, are about 78% and 83%, respectively. From the 20, that means nearly 1-in-5 PAT attempts will fail. Hypothetically, a game in which a PAT attempt is missed will presumably become rather commonplace, even expected, occurring at some point in two-thirds of games played assuming six touchdowns scored per game on average.
If real PAT success rates fell to around 80%, the productive approach for a team to take over the long term would simply be to nix the extra point try and make a habit of attempting two-point conversions instead. Over the last five regular seasons, the two-point conversion success rate has been a rather impressive 47.87% (135 conversions out of 282 tries).
That is higher than I would’ve guessed. The expected return on extra point kicks and two-point conversion attempts are almost identical as is .992 and .957, respectively*.
Many high-powered offensive teams could presumably see their own two-point conversion rate crest over the 50% mark if they employed it regularly throughout the course of a season. A team that made two-point conversions standard operating procedure would force the opposing defense to be on the field an average of an additional three or four plays during the course of a game–an additional, if marginal, benefit. Like the paucity of 4th down conversion attempts being made, it’s probably a combination of convention and the desire to avoid the flak that inevitably comes from gambling unsuccessfully that keeps from NFL coaches from trying this approach.
Moving the kick back 18 or 23 yards, though, will render the expected return from extra point kicks lower than that of two-point conversion attempts. Well, of two-point conversion attempts from the 2-yard line, anyway. A CBS sportswriter insinuates that the preseason shakeup will increase the incentive to attempt a two-point conversion, but that only makes sense if the nature of the post-touchdown attempt has to be decided prior to the ball being spotted. Obviously a two-point conversion attempt from the 20 is unthinkable unless the team attempting it is down by 2 with very little time left in regulation. An NFL.com write up says the same as the CBS guy, so maybe the nature of the post-touchdown attempt will have to be announced beforehand (ie, no lining up for a fake PAT attempt as can be done in the case of a field goal or punt).
Here’s to hoping that the PAT kick attempt eventually gets spotted farther back than is currently the case (and/or that the goal posts are narrowed, an upper crossbar is added to make kicks more blockable as Steve suggests, etc) so that extra points become rarer and two-point conversion attempts correspondingly become more common. Having realistic 3-, 6-, 7-, 8- and the occasional 2-point scoring increments would be an improvement in the dynamism department over the current 3- and 7-, and in rare instances 2-, 6-, or 8-point sequences. As anyone familiar with the game will attest, two-point conversion attempts are exciting in and of themselves on top of the fact that they expand the number of potential scoring outcomes in a game.
The importance of special teams is regularly overblown by sports media mooks. This third facet of the game is not of equal importance to offense or defense. The latter and especially the former have greater influences on the outcomes of games than special teams typically do.
* To make expected average returns the same for two-point conversions (from the 2-yard line) and extra points, the ball would need to be spotted on the 10-yard line for PAT kick attempts.