Analysis: Why the Giants’ Two-Point Conversion was the Right Decision

by Jacob Herlin
Oct 23, 2018

Pat Shurmur was right to go for two on Monday night

We’ve all been there. It’s the fourth quarter. Your team is down by 14. They need to score twice, unanswered, to have a shot. Maybe they need a successful onside kick in-between. This is exactly the situation Giants fans found themselves in on Monday night. The Giants were down 20-6 against the Falcons when Saquon Barkley scored a rushing touchdown with 4:47 remaining in the fourth quarter. 20-12. The Giants were then faced with a decision – kick the extra point to reduce the lead to 7 points, or go for two and try to set themselves up to win with another touchdown. If they miss the two-point conversion (or the extra point), then they have very little chance of winning – they would need 8 more points just to force overtime. Either way, they would need a stop from their defense in-between to keep the game close enough for the second touchdown to matter.

The Giants went for two and failed. To seal the deal, the Falcons scored a field goal, extending the lead to 23-12. The Giants would score the second touchdown, but it wasn’t enough. The final score was 23-20 Falcons.

I’m here to tell you that going for two after the first touchdown was the correct choice, even though it didn’t work out. After the Saquon Barkley touchdown, the Giants needed three things to happen to win the game in regulation:

  1. another touchdown after this one.
  2. the Falcons not to score any points for the rest of the game.
  3. three points between the two extra point attempts they had left.

They could either kick an extra point, or go for two. Because 1. and 2. had to happen for the Giants to win, it’s correct to make the decision to go for two or not as if both those things are going to happen. Let’s calculate the Giants chances in both cases. (I will also calculate their odds of winning if they decide to kick extra points both times, hoping for overtime.)

We will need two more pieces of information. Giants kicker Aldrick Rosas has a career success rate of 90.3% kicking extra points – let’s say his probability of success is 90%. Let’s also suppose that the Giants’ probability of succeeding in a two-point conversion attempt is 50%. If the Giants go for two:

After First TD Probability After Second TD Probability Total Probability Outcome
Successful 2PC 50% Successful XPT 90% 45% Win
Successful 2PC 50% Missed XPT 10% 5% Overtime
Missed 2PC 50% Successful 2PC 50% 25% Overtime
Missed 2PC 50% Missed 2PC 50% 25% Loss

 

So if the Giants go for two, they have a 45% chance of winning in regulation, a 25% chance of losing in regulation, and a 30% chance of going to overtime. If the Giants go for the extra point after the first touchdown:

After First TD Probability After Second TD Probability Total Probability Outcome
Successful XPT 90% Successful 2PC 50% 45% Win
Successful XPT 90% Missed 2PC 50% 45% Loss
Missed XPT 10% Successful 2PC 50% 5% Overtime
Missed XPT 10% Missed 2PC 50% 5% Loss

 

So if the Giants go for the extra point, they have the same 45% chance of winning in regulation as if they went for two, but have only a 5% chance of taking the game to overtime, and a 45% chance of losing. This is assuming that the Giants will go for two the second time when they’re down by 1. They could of course kick an extra point there instead to intentionally go to overtime. Then the picture looks like this:

After First TD Probability After Second TD Probability Total Probability Outcome
Successful XPT 90% Successful XPT 90% 81% Overtime
Successful XPT 90% Missed XPT 10% 9% Loss
Missed XPT 10% Successful 2PC 50% 5% Overtime
Missed XPT 10% Missed 2PC 50% 5% Loss

 

This strategy – kicking another PAT is the first one is successful – gives an 86% chance of overtime, and a 14% chance of a loss.

Let’s assume that if the game went to overtime, the Giants would have a 40% chance of winning, a 40% chance of losing, and a 20% chance of a draw. (Since overtime was shortened to 10 minutes before the start of this season, there have been two draws in ten overtime games.) Then here are the combined probabilities of a win, loss or draw for the Giants, based on their decision after Barkley’s TD.

Strategy Win Loss Draw
Go for two on first TD 57% 37% 6%
Go for two on second TD 47% 52% 1%
Kick both extra points 34% 48% 17%

 

It ended up not mattering because of Atlanta’s field goal, but Giants fans can take heart in knowing that in this case, Pat Shurmur made the correct, statistically-informed decision.

Jacob Herlin is a Senior Data Analyst for FantasyPros. For more from Jacob, follow him @jacoblawherlin.

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