In the Patriots 26-20 loss to the Jets last Sunday (12/27/15), there was the not-so-obvious at the time decision to kick off in overtime. As covered by 538, the decision was probably negative expected value, even when choosing the correct side.
What really bothered me (at the time) was the Patriots decision to kick a PAT after completing a miraculous 4th-and-long strike to Gronk. At that point in the game, the Jets were slightly better offensively (5.55 YPP vs. 5.14 YPP). Likewise, New England sustained various injuries throughout the game and Jets had home-field advantage, all of which should’ve given them the edge in overtime. I decided it’d be worth some further study whether my gut was correct.
There are two main reasons to not go for two in the situation:
- The Patriots like their chances of stopping the Jets (using 1 or 2 timeouts) and getting the ball back for one final drive.
- The coach is risk averse and fears the media turning on him for unconventional decision and ultimately could lose his job.
Obviously, the latter is a nonissue — Belichick has job security barring a criminal issue and is definitely willing to buck common wisdom, as he showed minutes later. Let’s examine the first bullet point and various outcomes. The most difficult estimates — the values for two minute drives — were derived from Advanced Football Analytics. Onside kick percentage also from the same guys. Overtime, well, that was my own.
Two Point Conversion
The big levers here are the
- two-point conversion odds
- onside kick success
- overtime odds
So, maybe Belichick gave up a little edge here, but this decision would’ve at least been better than kicking off. The small conditional odds of a team scoring late and the other team having a rebuttal are trivial and displayed at the bottom of the post.
A hypothetical: What if, instead, the Pats had no timeouts, the Jets 3, and a minute left on the clock?
We’ll change the following:
- Jets FG/TD: 30% to 20%
- Pats FG/TD: 15% to 2% (Pats get a stop and the ball back)
- Pats FG/TD: 55% to 45% (Pats recover onside at their own 45)
PAT – Hypothetical Scenario
Two Point Conversion – Hypothetical Scenario
So, in this case it is screamingly obvious that a coach should be going for two and not just hoping to hold the other team to get into overtime. I’d bet this doesn’t happen nearly enough!
If there’s only enough time for a single possession in the game, the team that scores to go down by 1, should almost automatically go for 2.
Two Point Conversion