Football Scores

The WSJ Numbers Guy (Carl Bialik) demystifies NFL scoring rarities in a recent column. This past week in the playoffs, the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New York Giants 23-11, a score that had never been seen in the annals of NFL score keeping.

At first thought, it seems that a “first” like this would be very rare, but it’s not as rare as you (or I) might think. Some scores are very common — 20-17, for instance, the final score of more than 200 games since 1920, and a score that is easy to attain with the usual scoring of a couple of touchdowns (with or without PAT), and/or field goal or two — but “about two-thirds of scores that have occurred have happened fewer than 10 times,” and and “firsts” occur about 4% of the time now. Contrast that with the early 1950s , during which about 10% of games ended in new scores. This season alone, 11 games (of 264 played) ended in scores that had never been seen in the NFL before (check Pro-Football-Reference.com).

As Bialik points out, we should “expect a diminishing return over time, as there is a fixed amount of scores in the double digits” — about 2,500 of them. And there are still 401 final scores never seen to date! Probably many of those scores require safeties and 2-point conversions in the mix, and with the trickeration now becoming more common in the NFL and in college football, we may see more of those plays!

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