In the Buffalo Bills' last home game, a resounding 34-14 win over the Oakland Raiders, Sean McDermott elected to go for it on 4th down from Oakland's one-yard line.
At the time — within the first minute of the fourth quarter — Buffalo held a 20-7 lead.
Tyrod Taylor reached over the goal line for six points, and a Stephen Hauschka extra point gave the Bills a 27-7 advantage.
Did McDermott make the right call?
Let's examine 4th and goal statistics over the past few seasons in the NFL.
Starting in 2015
- 36.3 percent TD success rate on 4th and goal from the 1
- 11.2 percent of 98-yard drives resulting in a touchdown
- 7.8 percent of 99-yard drives resulting in a touchdown
Starting in 2014
- 36.4 percent TD success rate on 4th and goal from the 1
- 9.7 percent of 98-yard drives resulting in a touchdown
- 6.1 percent of 99-yard drives resulting in a touchdown
Starting in 2013
- 35.5 percent TD success rate on 4th and goal from the 1
- 8.8 percent of 98-yard drives resulting in a touchdown
- 5.0 percent of 99-yard drives resulting in a touchdown
Beginning in 2013, all 51 field goals attempted at the opponent's one-yard line were good. So it's logical that coaches like guaranteed points.
And while the touchdown rates on 4th and goal from the one-yard line may scare teams away from going for it, the touchdown rates of even a 98-yard drive — assuming the fourth-down attempt was stopped for a one-yard loss — are minuscule.
The highest rate of a touchdown on a 98-yard drive starts in the 2015 season, but over that time period, teams have been nearly as likely to throw an interception — 10 percent of the time — as they have been to score a touchdown — 11.2 percent of the time.
In the entire Drew Brees era — circa 2006 — the Saints have had 11 drives start inside their own one-yard line. They've scored a touchdown on one of those drives (nine percent).
Moving out to the five-yard line, New Orleans has had 61 drives, and 25 percent of those have resulted in a touchdown.
This season, the Saints have started eight drives inside their own 10-yard line and scored a touchdown on one of those possessions (12.5 percent).
So far in 2017, the Bills defense has faced five drives that have started inside the opposition's 10-yard line. None have resulted in a touchdown. Moving further away, Buffalo's defense has faced 10 drives that have started inside its opponent's 15-yard line. No scores on those possessions either.
A totally reasonable counter to the analytics behind the fourth and goal decision is that the numbers needed to calculate these figures are league-wide, and can't possibly account for roster makeup on either side of the ball.
Meaning, an offense is much less likely to be successful on 4th and goal from the one-yard line if it's up against the NFL's best defensive line, and conversely, an elite quarterback is much more likely to lead a 90-plus yard drive than a below-average starter.
Still, the recent numbers certainly make one think about the benefits of taking a risk on 4th and goal from the one instead of kicking a field goal.