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

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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