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The NFL made extra points more difficult, but not by much

The NFL made extra points more difficult than they have been -- but NFL kickers are really, really good, so misses will still feel like flukes.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday the NFL changed its rules about extra points. It's the first significant alteration to one of the most fundamental rules about how points are scored in the 90-year history of the league, unless you include the 1992 addition of the two-point conversion. But although the point-after-touchdown will look a tad different, the changes won't really change a whole ton.

Kickers had gotten too good at hitting the PAT from the 2-yard line, consistently hitting over 99 percent of them. In 2013, kickers hit 1,316 of 1,321 extra points. In 2014 they hit 1,222 of 1,230. Of those eight misses, seven occurred in games decided by more than 10 points, the eighth came in this Packers-Falcons game which wasn't changed much by the missed extra point.

For all intents and purposes, the 2014 NFL season would have been exactly the same were it not for the extra point -- and yet NFL teams had to go through the motion over a thousand times. The rare screw-ups did not happen often enough to justify making us watch successful extra points over and over and over.

So the NFL moved the spot from the 2- to the 15-yard line, turning a 19-yard attempt into a 32-yard attempt. Although this makes the kick exponentially more difficult -- and certainly makes it look more difficult -- NFL kickers are incredibly talented and will still hit this with ease.

Last year in the preseason, the NFL experimented with the longer kick for two weeks in the preseason, and kickers hit 94.3 percent. Pretty good, right? But that was from just two weeks of play and also featured some second-string kickers who didn't make final cuts.

In 2014, kickers hit 95.3 percent of field goal attempts from 30-35 yards. But that's including kicks from the right and left hash marks, which won't come into play on extra points, when kickers can spot the ball right down the middle just how they like it. In those situations, kickers have hit 97.6 percent of their field goals since 2013, per Nate Jahnke of Pro Football Focus.

If we extrapolated the 94.3 rate from last year's preseason data onto the 1,230 extra points attempted last year, kickers would've missed 70 extra points. At the 97.6 rate, it would be 30.

By comparison to the minuscule amount of extra points missed in previous years, this is a sea change. But put into perspective that it's still not a whole ton of misses: The average team will miss one to two a season. We'll see two to four missed extra points per week.

The NFL has opened the real possibility that a game's outcome will be decided by one. Maybe a team will be trailing by three instead of four late, and will be able to kick a field goal to reach OT instead of attempting a Hail Mary. Maybe we'll even see a River City Relay redux, where a game is literally decided by a missed extra point.

But it really won't happen a whole lot. The NFL's average kicker will still make almost all of his extra points, and the NFL's average game is decided by over 10 points.

Missed extra points will still feel like flukes, and games where a missed extra point is a significant factor will still feel like football aberrations. The NFL hasn't so much made the extra point an exciting play so much as they've opened the gates for an occasional game with a frustrating result.


There is, of course, the football chaos enthusiast inside of all of us who wants to see an NFL coach completely eschew extra points and just go for two-point conversions every time they score. It's clear Chip Kelly was thinking about this -- he actually wanted to move the two-point conversion up to the 1-yard line, a move which was shut down.

Honestly, I wouldn't expect anybody to adopt this policy, because kickers are still so good. The commonly quoted figure on two-point conversion success is somewhere between 47 and 48 percent. So the expected point value of that is around the same as the low end of what we can expect from kickers attempting 32-yard PATs.

If two-point conversions were from the one-yard-line, we would've seen the success rate for that move up a whole bunch. But the NFL didn't opt for that, and we're left with what's still essentially a toss-up. (That said: Chip will totally still think about it.)

The new rule also allows defensive returns on both PATs and two-point conversions, which a) makes a ton of sense because those plays should be the same as all other plays, b) IS AWESOME BECAUSE YEAHHHH 100-YARD INTERCEPTION RETURNS and c) will come into play about once every three seasons. We're on board with it.