ANALYSIS OF THE PUNTING DECISION BASED ON 11 YEARS OF PLAY-BY-PLAY DATA
The site reddit told us about data on every single NFL (U.S. National Football League) play since 2002. We read it in and did an analysis of punting. The results are beautiful.
North Americans metaphorically say they’re “going to punt” and people not familiar with American and Canadian Football can be unclear about what they mean. In the UK, “punt” means many things (such as pushing a boat with a stick or visiting a prostitute), but not the North American metaphorical sense.
Loosely put, to punt means to play it safe by not trying something risky that could leave you worse off. In football, it’s kicking the ball into a better field position instead of staying where you are and fighting because if you stay and fight you might lose and your opponent will have you in a bad field position. You punt when your back is to the wall, on your last “down” or opportunity to do something before the opponent automatically gets the ball. Higher risk alternatives to punting are passing or running with the ball. When close to the opponent’s goal, an alternative is trying to kick a field goal. [I realize that’s a bad description but maybe we can crowdsource a better one].
We made some graphs of the punting decision and found some beauty in these strategic behavior data.