Inside Slant: NFL's new PAT rule unlikely to make big impact

(For all Inside Slant posts, follow this link.)

For a while now, the NFL's extra point has served as a reliable bathroom break for fans. Place-kickers have converted better than 99 percent of their attempts since the start of the 2010 season. You know you're not going to miss anything by stepping away between a touchdown and the ensuing kickoff.

Recent history tells us you won't need to change your routine much, if at all, in 2015. NFL owners approved a rule change that pushes the extra point's line of scrimmage to the 15-yard line, but the bottom line is that it will still be a high-percentage kick that won't often be missed and probably won't incentivize coaches to go for two points. (Under the rule, the two-point conversion remains at the 2-yard line.)

Let's consider the facts.

The extra point will now be a 32- or 33-yard kick, depending on how a place-kicker lines up. Over the past 10 seasons, the conversion rate for kicks of that distance is 91.6 percent. That figure rose to 94.4 percent during the past three years and was 96.7 percent in 2014.

Those percentages, of course, are based on field goal kicks and thus are a collection of results from the left and right hashmarks, as well as the center of the field. In 2015, kickers will again be allowed to choose where to place the ball for extra points. Based on that filter, it's reasonable to expect a higher percentage of extra-point conversions from that distance compared to field goals, assuming the middle of the field is chosen. During the past two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus, NFL place-kickers converted 97.6 percent of all kicks between 30-35 yards when lined up in the middle of the field.

To put those figures in context, let's plug them into the 2014 season. At 97.6 percent accuracy, we would have seen 1,200 of 1,230 extra points converted. Instead of eight misses, there would have been 30.

The NFL has pointed to the results of its 2014 preseason experiment, during which extra points were positioned at the 15-yard line for two week's worth of games. The final result was 94.3 percent (133 conversions in 141 attempts), but as we noted at the time, one miss was by a fill-in punter and several others were by "camp kickers" who never had a chance to make a final roster.

When kicked by NFL-caliber players, then, the extra point isn't likely to be much more exciting in 2015. Even if it is less reliable than expected, it's fair to wonder if fans will be entertained by missed kicks or simply annoyed. Regardless, it's unlikely that we'll see coaches increase their use of an undeniably more entertaining play: the two-point attempt.

Generally speaking, you can expect NFL coaches to do what they've always done: namely, what they've always done. They're not the most innovative lot. A slightly less-automatic extra point is still going to seem a better play to most coaches, based on my conversations, than a two-point conversion that has been successful on 47.4 percent of attempts during the past 10 seasons.

Analytics tells us that going for two is a moderately better choice, as the graphic shows, based on expected points (explained here). But there are few, if any, NFL coaches who utilize analytics to that degree.

That's why many of them thought the only true incentive to opt for two was moving the line of scrimmage to the 1-yard line, an idea that generated too much opposition for consensus. Some coaches, including the Baltimore Ravens' John Harbaugh, thought a two-point attempt from the 1-yard line would be closer to rugby, with players simply pushing the quarterback and ball over the goal line, than an actual football play.

At the moment, however, the NFL seems locked in on making the extra point more difficult rather loosening up on the two-point play. NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino told reporters Tuesday that the league would consider moving the line of scrimmage back farther if the 2015 conversion rate doesn't fall much below 99 percent. So you can head to the bathroom with confidence once again this season. And to paraphrase Jack Buck: We'll see you back here next year.