Saturday, November 28, 2015


For the 2015 season, the NFL has instituted a new PAT rule, moving the line of scrimmage for an extra-point kick from the three-yard line back to the fifteen.  This is still well within the range of any NFL kicker, but inevitably there will be more missed kicks.  In 2014, from the three-yard line, extra-point tries were missed on 8 of 1230 attempts.  Over 99% were successful.  So far, in 2015, 727 of 768 have succeeded, for a rate of 95%.

The rule for 2-point conversions has not been changed in ways that will affect its success rate.  You still run a play from the two-yard-line, and you still have to get the ball into the end zone.  Since 1994, when the two-point conversion became possible, the success rate has hovered slightly below 50%.  (Only four seasons since 1994 have seen a success rate of 50% or higher.)  This year so far, 31 of 65 attempts (48%) have succeeded, which is virtually the same rate as the past 21 years.

The new PAT kick distance has changed the analysis on whether to go for one or two.  In the past, with a .99+ rate, the expectation on a single extra point was .99 points (1 x .99=.99).  The expectation on a two-point try, however, was only .96 points (2 x .48=.96).  The kick had a better payoff, in other words, so unless there was a strategic reason to go for two (e.g., you score a touchdown when you are trailing by 8 or 11 or 15 or 22 points), you would kick and take the certain one point.

Now the math favors going for two, unless there is a strategic reason not to (e.g., you are down by six when you score a touchdown, so the almost-certain single point puts you in the lead).  The expected points in going for two are still .96, but the expected points from kicking are now only .95.

(Note: the sample size for the new extra-point kick is small, so we can’t make any definitive conclusions at present.  Historical data from 33-yard field goals, however, suggests that a 95% success rate on the new extra-point kick is higher than it should be.  This would mean that the two-point try will be proven an even better choice than it appears to be now.  On the other hand, every professional kicker is practicing the 33-yard kick much more than he used to, so maybe they will soon be automatic.  For the purposes of this article, I am assuming the two-point try truly has, and will continue to have, a slightly better payoff than the kick.)

Football, like many games, is a race to see which team can score more points within a given period of time.  This means that in the vast majority of situations, the only driver of the decision to kick or run a play is the expected number of points that will result.  Up until this year, the higher number of expected points (.99 points vs. .96 points) came with the kick.  That is why two-point conversions were only 4% of the post-touchdown plays---this option only made sense late in the game (or possibly as early as the 3rd quarter), when the situational value of scoring two points was significantly higher than the situational value of scoring an almost-certain one.

Now, however, the worm has turned.  In 2015, there is rarely a reason to kick the extra point because the rewards are greater when you go for two.  But do NFL coaches do this?  Of course not.  Just as coaches properly chose to kick 96% of the time in the past, the rule change means they should now go for two 96% of the time.  But they don’t.  Instead of going for two 96% of the time, they do it after only 8% of touchdowns.

Let’s simplify this so you will know what you are watching.  Since strategic reasons for going for one or two only arise in the second half, there is never a reason now to kick an extra point in the first half of an NFL game.  When a coach chooses to do so, he is making a mistake.  It’s usually not a huge mistake, of course, but it is an error, and some of us who are fans are annoyed that these highly-compensated football coaches don’t take their jobs more seriously.

I have mentioned before that while coaches of many sports study how to play games (their game, in particular), football coaches never do.  Football coaches are the kind of people who leave poker games wearing only a barrel.  They know the X’s and O’s and how to design a play and they know what a middle linebacker looks like and, in the NFL, they know how to manage fifty very large, very rich, very violent men who have no manners.  But the football coaches who have ever won a game of Monopoly are the rare exception.  They resemble military generals more than anything else.  This is why every NFL owner needs to hire a twenty-year-old math geek (for $100 a game), and give him absolute authority to make all the either/or decisions in the game.
“No, Mr. Harbaugh.  I know it’s 4th down, BUT YOU CAN’T PUNT in this situation.”
“No, Mr. Ryan, you MUST go for two here.”
“No, Mr. Kelly, you may not attempt this field goal.  If you do, we will have you committed to an institution for the criminally insane.”


(NOTE: Another piece of the new conversion rule is that the defense can score when the offense attempts a two-point conversion.  If there is a fumble or an interception on the conversion attempt, the defense can run it back and score two points, just like in college.  This also creates a new type of score, the “conversion safety.”  If the offensive team goes for two and the defense gets a turnover, and the defensive player tries to run the ball back but gets tackled in his own end zone, the offensive team gets one point.  The conversion safety has never happened in the NFL, but there have been a few in college games, most notably in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.)    

Sunday, November 8, 2015


     The Trump Menace rolls on and, as predicted, there is no serious attempt being made to take his issue away.  The Republican establishment remains fully committed to amnesty and dreamers and paths to citizenship and helping the poor bastards who are living in the shadows.  And open borders.

     The only major change has been that no one takes Jeb! seriously anymore, maybe not even his parents.  This is just not the year for a guy who needs a fresh makeover, based on whatever his consultants tell him, every time he appears in public.  There was a time he was pulling double digits in the polls.  Now he is somewhere around 4%, which means he is within (and under) the margin of error.  In other words, it is statistically possible that if the Iowa caucuses were held today, NOBODY would vote for him.

     So the amnesty crowd needs another candidate.  Chris Christie wants that job but he won’t get it.  Instead it will almost certainly go to Marco Rubio, the brilliant and articulate Cuban-American who was once described as a “tea party” politician but has subtly dialed back his conservatism in order to make himself acceptable to establishment Republicans.  As part of this repositioning, he has embraced the amnesty/open-borders agenda.  Because of Trump’s rise, and the obvious unpopularity of open borders among Republican primary voters, Rubio doesn’t talk much about his support for the “comprehensive immigration reform” he supported in the Senate, but he hasn’t backed away from it either.  When Jeb! gets dumped by the regular Republicans, Rubio is perfectly situated to slide into that (well-funded) slot, the one that led to a nomination for both McCain and Romney.

     A large majority of Republican primary voters want a fence, they want border enforcement, they want deportations of criminals, and they want the legal immigration policies that favor Somalis over Belgians to be reexamined.  The switcheroo from Jeb! to Rubio is an attempt to fool the Republican base. Rubio is young and cute and smart, and certainly could defeat the dreadful Hillary, and he usually sounds like a conservative.  Can he be sold to primary voters even though he (quietly) wants the borders open and citizenship for those who have already snuck in?  Maybe, but I doubt it.

      Trump will not be silent about Rubio’s position on immigration.  And neither will Ted Cruz, whose strategy is to inherit Trump’s enforce-the-borders voters when and if Trump stumbles and fades away.

     There is still just one issue in the campaign for the Republican nomination.  Will the Party, and its largest donors, accede to the views of a large majority of Republican voters and demand a return to enforcement of immigration law?  So far the answer is no.  So far, Mitch McConnell and the Bushes and Karl Rove and Paul Ryan and the people who fund them believe Donald Trump and his supporters will all go away.

     But the clock is ticking, and the Trump Menace not only survives but seems to be as strong as ever. The open-border Republicans are faced with a critical decision and they only have until early February to make it, because once Trump starts collecting delegates, it may be impossible to shut him down.  Will they abandon open borders, or will they let Trump win the nomination (and almost certainly lose the general election to a Democrat)?  At the moment it looks like the leaders of the Republican Party would rather have Hillary become our next President than allow enforcement of our immigration laws.