Note: As a writer, I like to maintain a bit of professional integrity by using the word “we” in my articles. It gives some credit to the site and the people who keep it running. But I’d like to take a quick moment to personally thank you for reading, and to wish you a happy Memorial Day weekend. Drive safely this weekend, and don’t worry if you don’t see any news updates on Monday. I’ll be taking a couple of days off next week, but I’ll be back on Friday with a special article, “A Complete Beginners’ Guide to Betting on Sports.” –Kieran
If you’re a regular sports bettor (and if you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance that you are), then you should already know the importance of keeping up to date when it comes to the current stats for each team and player. It’s something that we talk about frequently, whether in terms of the things you can learn from Vegas oddsmakers, or even simply one of the reasons that we don’t consider sports betting to be the same as betting on games of chance.
And that’s why we’ve dedicated a little bit of time to writing about the NFL offseason, whether writing about the outcomes of the 2015 NFL Draft or even just the controversies that might have an impact on a few players once the 2015-2016 season starts in a few months. So if you’ve been keeping up with the news, it shouldn’t surprise you that we have one or two things to say about the new NFL rule as well.
The new NFL rule of which we speak concerns the PAT. After scoring a touchdown, kickers will line up back at the 15-yard line. If, however, the team decides to go for two, they will line up at the 2-yard line as per usual. And while this may not have the biggest possible impact on you as a sports bettor, it will still potentially affect you in a few different ways. Below are just four of the reasons that you should keep this rule in mind when the season rolls around this September.
Reason #1 – It May Increase Player Injuries
A while back, when we discussed the various pitfalls to avoid when betting the NFL, we made mention of the fact that sportsbooks are part of a finely tuned industry, and that they are usually constantly assessing data such as injury reports when setting their lines. And we stand by that because, well…it’s absolutely true. We tend to look at the same data when handicapping our games, and you should do the same if you wish to handicap a game yourself. Of course, the point of this article is not to rehash solid betting advice, but to discuss how such advice is affected by the new NFL rule.
The short answer is that injuries might become at least slightly more common. And just so you know that we aren’t exaggerating, this isn’t exactly news. Remember a few years ago, when the press couldn’t stop talking about concussions in football? Well, while South Park may not have expressed a whole lot of love for the new NFL rule in 2011 that pushed kickoffs up five yards, the change actually did a decent amount of good. In 2012, it was reported that concussions were declining, especially the number that occurred during kickoffs.
In case you didn’t quite catch that, let us say it again—the NFL imposed a rule that moved the line up by a measly five yards, and it actually decreased the number of concussions. Because of just five yards. So now, there’s a new NFL rule that’s going to push kickers back by thirteen yards on the PAT. More importantly, any defense that manages to block the kick will have a shot at returning the ball to the end zone to gain two points against the offense. Of course, as some have pointed out, there’s no way of telling how often the defense will really manage to block a PAT, let alone make a solid attempt at a return.
Dan Carpenter, kicker for the Buffalo Bills, is one of the most notable proponents of the theory that the new NFL rule will result in greater injuries. He refers to field goal protection as “probably the worst job in football.” In his words: “For a sport that was trying to cut back on collisions, I think that you’re probably just going to add a few more on those situations.” Carpenter’s view on the situation doesn’t mirror that of every kicker in the league, but it’s worth taking into account nonetheless.
If Carpenter turns out to be right, the potential injuries could do a lot to a team. If you look at his team’s roster, you’ll see that they only have one other kicker, Jordan Gay, who has six years less experience than Carpenter. Most teams don’t keep too many placekickers on reserve, as they don’t anticipate that they would really need them. Allowing even one of them to get injured could affect a team’s performance. It may not affect their overall score by a lot, but it doesn’t take a whole lot to miss covering the point spread, either.
Reason #2 – Strategy Will Gain More Depth
One of the primary reasons for the new NFL rule is that there were some people who considered PAT attempts to be a redundancy. In fact, the new rule might be considered something of a compromise, since over a year ago the NFL had considered getting rid of the extra kick altogether. Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, had referred to the PAT as “virtually automatic,” while Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, had said that the NFL wanted to “add excitement with every play.” Goodell figured that focusing on the two-point conversion would achieve that goal.
And, interestingly enough, there are some who feel as if he may get his wish due to the rule change. In fact, Dan Bailey, kicker for the Dallas Cowboys, is worried that teams might begin exclusively going for two, just to benefit from their closer position. His theory isn’t bizarre, and might actually hold a lot more water than Carpenter’s theory regarding injuries. He notes that the bulk of his games are played outside, so pushing back the one-point attempt by even thirteen yards could have a great impact on the success rate of most PAT attempts.
This concern is shared by Justin Tucker, of the Baltimore Ravens. And if you think they’re overreacting, do the math a bit. If a team goes for two while starting on the 2-yard line, they just need to run or pass those two yards. But as everyone from ESPN to Adam Sandler has pointed out, the uprights aren’t on the goal line. They’re ten yards back, and the placekicker is generally about seven or eight yards back from the snap. That means that the PAT attempt is now a 32-yard or 33-yard kick, depending upon the placement of the kicker. In certain weather conditions, that’s a big difference.
But we’re just talking about kicking the ball or going for two. More attentive readers might be wondering about the third option: the fake. Ostensibly, fakes would be pretty much obsolete. After all, it would take a crazy person to fake a kick from the 15-yard line when they could have just run it two yards to the end zone. But, as some have pointed out, that’s what might make fakes so appealing to some teams. In chess, it’s a common strategy among great players to intentionally make seemingly inferior decisions to catch their opponents off-guard. Imagine bringing that level of strategy to the football field!
In our first beginner’s guide to betting on football, we talked about needing to understand which teams play either well or poorly against different types of strategies. And whether or not a particular offense is good at faking under the new NFL rule, or whether a particular defense is completely thrown off their game when an offense does decide to fake, is going to be something new that might be taken into account. Again, it is not necessarily the biggest aspect of the game, but it will still become relevant. Oh, and speaking of relevance….
Reason #3 – Some Stats Might Be Irrelevant
If you read the article we linked about Dan Bailey, then you already know that the potential prominence of two-point conversions was not his only concern, nor was it even necessarily his greatest. He was also concerned with what the new baseline for acceptable PAT success rates was going to be. One of the major reasons for the new NFL rule was that the conversion rate had been about 99.6% in 2013, with only five missed kicks out of a total 1,267 PAT attempts during the season. And that wasn’t just one spectacular season, either; at that point, the rate had not strayed lower than 98% in about twenty years.
But the article linked above, as well as others, may draw attention to the fact that the success rate for 33-yard field goals is still well above 90%, so Bailey’s concern about the new baseline for PATs may seem to some as if it is not really grounded in reality. Until you think about it for more than two seconds, and realize that the concern is coming from someone who plays sports for a living, whereas the rebuke is coming from those who merely watch sports for a living.
To shed a little more light on this, take for example this article that disregards the 94.3% conversion rate that resulted from the NFL’s attempt to try out their new rule during the 2014 preseason. The author points out that one of the eight misses during that experiment came from a fill-in punter. But that’s actually pretty important. A coach might be able to use a fill-in punter for a PAT attempt from the 2-yard line, but they’ll have to rely much more on their experienced kickers now that the line has been moved back.
And even those experienced kickers are starting the season with fresh stats as far as sports bettors are concerned, because their previous conversion rate is officially meaningless. As Josh Scobee of the Jacksonville Jaguars puts it, the new NFL rule places “more importance on having a reliable kicker.” Which is a good thing, and we’re not going to say otherwise. But, since 2004, only eight kickers have managed to have a success rate as high as Scobee when kicking from 32 or 33 yards. And the eight kickers in question didn’t miss once. So “reliable” is actually a pretty strong word in this particular context.
Again, we aren’t disagreeing that this could all mean great things for football. It’s bound to make the game more exciting. But as a handicapper, assessing the stats of a kicker could arguably become a (slightly) different animal. In addition, since it will be months before we see the rule in action, it is next to impossible to determine the overall impact that the new NFL rule will have on sportsbooks. There are some who believe that point spreads and even totals play are going to undergo some changes. In fact, these changes might be much more significant than the changes in assessing player stats, which means that betting strategies for football games might be forever altered if the new rule holds.
Reason #4 – This Could Also Affect the NCAA
A great deal of the issues that many have pointed out are sheer speculation, and it should go without saying that the same is true of the following. The NFL and NCAA do not follow the exact same rules. The article we linked on Dan Carpenter pointed out that the ability to return turnovers was already a rule in college football before it was proposed in the NFL. But, as seen earlier this year when the NCAA proposed to regulate the pop pass to no more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage, the NCAA does sometimes model itself after the NFL.
And why shouldn’t they? After all, a large number of their players are hoping to get drafted to play professionally, so it makes sense to put some effort into making them NFL-ready. While Justin Tucker might think that the NFL only changes its rules “because maybe they don’t have anything better to do,” the NCAA could easily change its rules out of legitimate concern for the quality of their players as they try to advance their careers. And this is especially true now that colleges might have to treat their football players as employees.
Of course, as with many of the above concerns, the idea that the NCAA might eventually adopt the new NFL rule is far from an absolute certainty. As of now, extra points are kicked from the 3-yard line. If the NCAA sees merit in the concerns that the NFL’s changes could result in more injuries, then they are likely to keep their rules set as they are now. There is already a great deal of controversy regarding the money generated by college sports, and making a rule change that would result in more injuries to students would simply add fuel to the flames.
But if they do decide to adopt the new NFL rule, then you are going to need to know how this affects you as a sports bettor. And, like much of the concerns in the first three sections of this article, the potential effect is small yet still tangible enough to make a difference. The fact of the matter is that betting on the NFL and betting on college football are not the same thing. Certain key numbers, such as point spreads and totals, tend to vary much more in college games than in NFL games, and this variance might be even greater if you start to factor in issues such as strategic depth and possible injuries.
We already said in the section above that point spreads are the most likely to differ under the new NFL rule, so you can imagine how this might affect your ability to make a sound wager when college football is already showing more variation across different sportsbooks. And as it becomes harder to make a solid bet, the issue of variance in sports betting becomes much more pronounced. We are definitely not saying that it will be impossible to be a successful sports bettor if the rule is adopted, only that it might become a little tricky.
Of course, you can take some solace in the fact that the NFL season has not even started, and the NCAA would not adopt the rule until at least 2016, if not later. So feel free to do things as you normally would when the next season begins in the NFL, and when the NCAA football season begins after that. If you are using our handicapping consulting services, then you will be in good hands no matter what changes the NFL (or even the NCAA) throws our way.