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Week 1 performances not indicative of extra point expectations

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Changes to how NFL scoring plays work do not come around very often. Every 20 years or so seems to be the trend. The goalposts were moved from the goal line to the back of the end zone for the 1974 season. The possibility of the two-point conversion arrived for the 1994 season. The 2014 preseason saw the introduction of the 33-yard extra point, and it was made to apply to all games this offseason.

The NFL made this change for one big reason: NFL kickers of late have been so good the 20-yard extra point was basically automatic. Kickers in the 2014 regular season missed just eight extra points, and that was actually a down year. The NFL’s change seemed to pay immediate dividends, as kickers missed four of the new 33-yard extra points just this past weekend. (See Table 1.)

Table 1: Missed Extra Points, 2011-2015
Year                Missed XP     XP Pct.
2011                7                      99.4%
2012                6                      99.5%
2013                5                      99.6%
2014                8                      99.3%
2015*               4                      94.7%
*Week 1 only

There are couple reasons to believe this Week 1 performance was a bit anomalous, and NFL kickers will likely do better on extra points going forward. Here is why:

  1. Week 1 is typically a below average week for NFL kickers, once you account for conditions. The start of the season typically features disappointing performances on place kicks. <a href=” http://www.footballoutsiders.com/”>Football Outsiders</a>’ metrics adjust for that it is easier to kick in good weather, in domes, and at altitude. With those adjustments, NFL kickers produced 1.8 points fewer than expected in Week 1 of 2013. In 2014, they produced 1.4 points fewer than expected in Week 1. We will learn more about the 2015 kicking environment as the season goes on, but based on historical trends, NFL kickers produced 1.3 points fewer than expected in the first weekend of 2015, right in line with past trends.

In fact, Football Outsiders numbers suggest kickers typically struggle the first couple weeks of the season. The past two years, Weeks 2 and 3 have featured even more missed kicks than Week 1, accounting for conditions. This likely comes from special teams units, which are filled with backups and players who do not make the team in preseason, taking a couple weeks to gel, plus some teams’ kicker situations taking a couple weeks to settle down.

  1. Kickers were just fine on other short kicks in Week 1. There were 31 field goals from inside 40 yards attempted in Week 1, and the only thing between kickers and perfection on those attempts was the Minnesota Vikings blocking Paul Dawson’s 28-yard attempt in the second Monday night game. That included a perfect 17-for-17 from 30 to 39 yards. Including extra points, kickers were 87 of 91 from that range. With the same pool of kickers attempting kicks from a similar distance, we would expect them to perform just as well on field goals as they do on extra points. Their true skill level on those kicks in Week 1 was therefore around the 95.6% combined rate for field goals and extra points, not the 94.4% rate on extra points only.
  1. Kickers are better from the new extra-point distance even late in the season. On the whole, field goals become more difficult over the course of the year. There are more cold weather games, more windy games, and more cold rain and snow to make kicking more difficult. It is easy to point to individual games, like the Lions-Eagles clash in 2013 played in a snowstorm or some December games in Buffalo, where strong weather conditions made even 20-yard extra points a chancy proposition. But by and large, bad weather has most of its negative effect on long kicks.

By Football Outsiders numbers, which add those crucial adjustments for dome and altitude, kickers are actually even better late in the season in that 30-39 yard range even before accounting for weather conditions. In Weeks 1-5 of 2013, kickers were -1.6 points worse than average. In Weeks 13-17, they were 2.1 points better than average. 2014 produced the same effect, from -1.4 points in Weeks 1-5 to +1.0 in Weeks 13-17. Adding in weather adjustments only makes the disparity even sharper. Extra points after a penalty, like the 48-yarder Browns kicker Travis Coons made this weekend, will be more risky later in the year, but there will only be a handful of those.

Conclusion

Kickers will probably struggle a bit from the new extra point distance for the next couple weeks. But after that, they should improve. We cannot be sure what the real rate on extra points will be. In making the change, the NFL pointed to a 91.6% rate on field goals of 32-33 yards over the past 10 years and a 94.3% rate on extra points during the 2014 preseason experiment. Those figures, especially the first one, are almost certainly too low. First, NFL kicking has improved a great deal the past 10 years. Second, the preseason kicks included a number of attempts by kickers who will never kick in a regular season game. A better estimate is 97.6%, the rate on kicks from 30-35 yards from the middle of the field the past two seasons <a href=”https://twitter.com/PFF_NateJahnke/status/600796562885890048″>per Pro Football Focus</a>. That rate will mean more misses than in the past, but not as many as Week 1 would indicate.

Bennett doesn’t fear backlash for skipping White House trip

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HOUSTON (AP) Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett says he is not worried about upsetting team owner Robert Kraft by not attending New England’s trip to the White House as Super Bowl champions.

Bennett said after the Patriots’ 34-28 win over the Falcons on Sunday night that he’s “not going to go” to the traditional meet-and-greet with the president. It will be the first visit of a Super Bowl champion to Washington since Donald Trump was sworn into office.

Trump’s positions have alienated some athletes, which has raised questions about whether some might choose to skip the trip while the new president is in office.

But Bennett said he isn’t concerned about it and thinks the team believes “in whatever I want to do.”

Kraft is a supporter of Trump and attended a celebration dinner in Washington for him the night before his inauguration.

Patriots’ Tom Brady earns 4th Super Bowl MVP trophy with epic comeback

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HOUSTON (AP) The greatest quarterback in NFL history led the biggest Super Bowl comeback to be the MVP on Sunday night.

Tom Brady rallied New England from a 25-point third-quarter deficit for a 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history to earn his fifth Super Bowl title and fourth MVP trophy.

“They’re all sweet,” he said. “They’re all different and this was just an incredible team and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” he said.

Brady threw touchdown passes of 5 and 6 yards in the second half and tied things at 28-28 when he connected withDanny Amendola on a 2-point conversion with 57 seconds left.

He then directed the drive in overtime which ended with a 2-yard run by James White to make the Patriots the first team to win a Super Bowl after trailing by more than 10 points.

“We all brought each other back,” he said. “We never felt out of it. It was a tough battle.”

His performance certainly wasn’t without its struggles. His incredible second half and overtime came after a first half where the Patriots managed just three points and he threw an interception which Robert Alford returned 82 yards for a touchdown. He was hurried and harassed for much of the games. The Falcons sacked him five times and hit him on another eight occasions.

He noted the beating he took when he was trying to recount the details of the comeback and couldn’t remember what the score was at one point in the rally.

“There was a lot of (stuff) that happened tonight,” he said. “I got hit pretty hard.”

His 466 yards passing are a Super Bowl record, surpassing the 414 yards Kurt Warner had 17 years ago. He also set a record for most passes completed in a Super Bowl with 43 and most attempts with 62.

He is the first to play in seven Super Bowls and the victory ties him with Charles Haley for most Super Bowl rings.

After all Brady has done in his career, was this his finest moment?

“Tom’s had a lot of great ones,” coach Bill Belichick said. “But, yeah tonight was one of them.”

It’s a triumphant end to a difficult season for Brady, who missed the first four games because of his “Deflategate” suspension and dealt with his mother Galynn Brady suffering through an undisclosed illness. The Super Bowl was the first game she’s attended all season.

“They’re all happy,” he said fighting back tears. “It’s nice to have everybody here and it’s going to be a great celebration tonight.”

He shared a quick moment with her right after the game, but was looking forward to more time with her in the upcoming days.

“It’s kind of madness after the game so I didn’t get much quality time with her but we’ll get it this week,” he said.

But he certainly wasn’t asking for sympathy for his rough road to this title though, chuckling when someone asked about the adversity the Patriots have gone through in the past couple of years.

“We’ve done pretty good over the last few years … so I don’t think anyone’s feeling bad for the Patriots,” he said. “I don’t think anyone feels bad for the Patriots.”

Brady also collected the MVP trophy in 2001, 2003 and 2014.

“It was just a lot of mental toughness by our team and we’re going to remember this one for the rest of our lives,” Brady said.

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