Football geeks: your 10,705 field goals are ready

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ADDENDUM: This Decision Science News post was covered by Bloomberg TV!

We looked at NFL punts before on Decision Science News. That’s old news. Field goals are the new hotness and Super Bowl Sunday is coming up, so let’s look at a kicker’s chances.

We’ve taken the same database and looked at the probability of getting the ball through the uprights depending on the yard line from which the kick starts. The result is above.

O data, you are so beautiful sometimes.

Those in need of a handy formula for the sidelines might want to use the following approximation. Let D be the yard line you are on:

  • If D>50, you will miss
  • Otherwise, your probability of making a field goal is about 1-.0004*D^2

We tried to fit a logit model, but it wasn’t pretty.

Speaking of beauty, one big data lesson is that data are more beautiful when binned. Here’s the more raw version:

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It seems coaches are aware of the maximum distance at which they have a prayer of making a field goal, and don’t even try otherwise:

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Graphs were made in R using Hadley Wickham’s ggplot2 package. Pointer to the data can be found at our previous post.


Reader Anders made a chart that looks at the count of good and bad field goals by distance (yard line + 17):

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We changed the model we had originally posted for one with just 1 free parameter. Here’s the fit:

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Some folks have asked if some of the longer attempts are noise. It appears so. Here are the descriptions of the attempts from behind the 50 yard line. On a regular attempt, the distance of the field goal is the yard line plus 17, so the case where the yard line is 86 and the field goal distance is suppose to be 68 yards, for example, seems to be a typo.


ydline description
58 (:01) S.Janikowski 76 yard field goal is No Good Center-J.Condo Holder-S.Lechler. A.Cromartie at SD 2 to SD 28 for 26 yards (T.Stewart).
86 N.Rackers 68 yard field goal is No Good Holder-D.Johnson. R.Droughns at NYG 2 to NYG 31 for 29 yards (T.Castille).
83 M.Crosby 69 yard field goal is No Good Short Holder-M.Flynn.
86 R.Bironas 58 yard field goal is No Good Holder-C.Hentrich. P.Buchanon at HST -6 to HST 29 for 35 yards (R.Reynolds). Penalty on HST-C.Anderson Offensive Holding declined.
67 (:05) W.Richey 51 yard field goal is No Good Center-J.Maese Holder-D.Zastudil. D.Townsend at PIT -5 to BLT 45 for 60 yards. Lateral to J.Farrior to BLT 35 for 10 yards (T.Heap). FUMBLES (T.Heap) RECOVERED by BLT-T.Jones at BLT 42. T.Jones to BLT 42 for no gain (J.Gildon).
61 (:01) J.Elam 57 yard field goal is No Good  Center-M.Lepsis  Holder-T.Rouen. C.McAlister at BLT -7 for 107 yards  TOUCHDOWN.
71 (1:46) T.Peterson 48 yard field goal is No Good  Center-D.O’Leary  Holder-T.Maddox. I.Bashir at IND -9 to IND 37 for 46 yards (R.Bailey).
68 (:01) J.Hanson 50 yard field goal is No Good Center-B.Banta Holder-J.Jett. D.Sharper at GB -9 to GB 35 for 44 yards (R.Brown).

The post Football geeks: your 10,705 field goals are ready appeared first on Decision Science News.

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