# NFL Field Goal - Break Even Point

I’ve never seen this stat and I’m curious. Does anyone know at what point the chance of making a field goal is 50-50? I’d just like a reference point to say, "OK, at this point, there’s a greater chance to miss the thing than to make it.

I’m not sure you can really say that, as it will depend on the kicker, the weather, the conditions, if the opposing team can block it, and so on. Generally, teams won’t go for the field goal more than about 50 yards out unless the score dictates it. My personal guess would be that anything inside about 40 is easily makeable.

This chart shows the kickers, and breaks their attempts and percentages down by 10-yard bands. You could sum the attempts and misses into an Excel spreadsheet and do the percentages, and it would tell you which 10-yard band contains the magical break point. I suspect that the risk/reward proposition (in the FG/Punt decision) is the biggest reason you don’t see guys trying 55-yarders very often: if you’re trying from halfway downfield, and you miss, not only do you get nothing, but the other team only needs one first down to be in better position than your kicker.

True; this is especially the case since the rule change in which the spot for team taking over on offense after a missed attempt gets the ball spotted from the point of the kick instead of the snap.

The 50-50 distance usually is about 53 yards or so.

This may seem surprisingly far, but remember there’s two situations such goals are attempted(1) the less frequent nothing to loose and (2) the more frequent optional ones.

The best kickers get many more chances than the lesser ones when it’s optional.

I’m not sure how much good knowing the comprehensive magical distance will do you since, in actuality, it would likely vary a great deal between each kicker and for different conditions like turf vs synthetic, indoor vs outdoor, wet vs dry, etc.

Having it for each of those would, however, be interesting and probably of some use.

aahala,
Thanks for the data. The ~53 yard mark surprises me. I certainly understood that there are other factors that effect the decision to go for the field goal or not - not wanting to give up field position, the weather, the kicker etc. I was just concerned with the percentage once the decision to kick was made. FYI, based on the spreadsheet linked earlier, here are the percentages listed:

0-19 yards - 92%
20-29 yards - 94%
30-39 yards 85%
40-49 yards - 65%
50+ yards - 53%

I did a little fudging in Excel and managed to fit a parabola to the data pretty well:

Probability of success (1-100) = -0.0429x[sup]2[/sup] + 1.5911x + 80.411

where x is the distance, in yards, the kicker is attempting. This fit got me an R[sup]2[/sup] of 0.9999, which means it was a very good fit, but shouldn’t be taken as scientific at all. The expected break-even point predicted by this graph is 51-ish yards, which doesn’t mesh with observed results.

When I noticed that kickers missed from being too close as well, I posited the following: you could model a kicker’s performance using cross-range and down-range angle errors that are strongly dependent on the angle and weakly dependent on initial velocity (assuming a minimum velocity is met). The angular error is then multiplied by the distance (roughly) to get the net vertical and horizontal error of the kick. So if he’s kicking a 10 yard field goal, he has to angle it steeply, and his error terms will be large before multiplication; if he’s kicking a 50-yarder, he may have a small error, but it’s compounded by the distance. I think that even a linear dependence on required angle would explain the parabolic shape of the curve.

What exactly does this data mean? FGs are measured from the point of the kick to the goal posts. Since the kick is usually taken 7 yds behind the line of scrimmage and the goalposts are at back of the endzone., the minimum distance is 17 yds. Or does this measure from the line of scrimmage?

One should also note that these are not true “averages” in the sense that not all kickers kick from all distances. Some kickers might have a success rate of only 20% or less from 50 yards. Obviously coaches would not use such kickers in such long attempts so the 53% represents the success rate of only those kickers whom the coach is willing to let try. Obviously the 0-19 yard figure is for all kickers.

This formula also predicts an 80% success rate for a fourth and inches for a TD touch down attempt. I’d think much too low.

One problem with being too close, however, is the angle of the attempt. As the spot of the ball moves towards the sidelines the effectiv edistance between the uprights is narrowed.

And even before that a missed field goal used to be treated like a punt. The defensive team would send one man back to return a missed attempt unless it went into the endzone in which case it was a touchback and spotted on the twenty. In the early 60s, field goal attmpts were almost always attempted on any fourth down from inside the 50 yard line (except when “going for it”) since a miss was as good as a punt. Also the goal posts were then on the goal line.