Two-point conversions fail often enough that the inherent risk is understood.
It's time conventional wisdom starts viewing extra point attempts the same way.
Before the NFL moved the kicks back last season, extra points were essentially free. The league-wide success rate on extra points had hovered around 99 percent for the last 20 years. But since the kicks moved to 33-yard attempts, league-wide success has dropped to about 94 percent. Bills kicker Dan Carpenter has hit only 87.7 percent of extra points the last two years.
For the Bills, that means the value of an extra point attempt isn't one point anymore. At Carpenter's success rate, Bills' point-after attempts are only worth about .88 points. That fact should play a larger role in the team's two-point conversion philosophy.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers – one of the league's most aggressive two-point teams – coming to town this week, Rex Ryan was asked again about his two-point conversion philosophy. He reiterated Wednesday that he likes to go for the extra point unless a two-point conversion is needed late in the game.
"But I feel that with us," he said, "there’s a lot of times where I feel really good about kicking the extra point and going up or having a seven-point situation instead of getting six – do you go for that chance? Sometimes, especially early in games, it’s obvious that I like to kick the extra point."
It was essentially the same argument he made at the end of last month: The risk of not converting and only having six points would feel worse to him than the corresponding gain of having eight.
But taking the chance Ryan mentioned could be worth it. The Bills would only need to convert about 44 percent of their two-point conversions to achieve the same expected-point value as a Dan Carpenter extra point, and there's reason to believe the Bills should be able to convert at a much better rate than that.
The league-wide success on two-point conversations the last two years is just under 50 percent (87 for 175), per an analysis of Pro Football Reference data. So even if the Bills converted at an average rate, their expected value would be about .99 points (perhaps marginally less when factoring in the odds of the other team returning a turnover for two points), which is already better than an extra point attempt. When you take into account that they own the league's No. 1 rushing attack and have arguably the league's best running quarterback, it's reasonable that their success rate should be higher.
In situations when the Bills need 2 or fewer yards this season, they've picked up the first down or scored on 50 of 75 plays (66.7 percent). Running back Mike Gillislee is a perfect 13 for 13 in those situations. The Bills are also 4 for 4 on the two-point conversions they have tried this season.
Ryan has said that he likes to attempt the extra point in most situations, and he has a trusty chart that sits with offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn in the coaches' booth to back him on it. And who knows, maybe Carpenter has had some bad luck the last two years and his true rate on extra points is higher than what we've seen through 77 attempts. But based on the numbers we're seeing this season, maybe the Bills should go for two every time and only try the extra point when the game situation clearly makes going for one point the better play.
The Bills certainly won't pick up the two points every time, but it will have been a good decision to try. Extra points are much riskier than they used to be, and as long as the Bills continue to try them, the numbers imply they're leaving points on the field in the long run.